Electric Dreamland

Electric Dreamland: Amusement Parks, Movies, and American Modernity

LAUREN RABINOVITZ
JOHN BELTON EDITOR
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/rabi15660
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  • Book Info
    Electric Dreamland
    Book Description:

    Amusement parks were the playgrounds of the working class in the early twentieth century, combining numerous, mechanically-based spectacles into one unique, modern cultural phenomenon. Lauren Rabinovitz describes the urban modernity engendered by these parks and their media, encouraging ordinary individuals to sense, interpret, and embody a burgeoning national identity. As industrialization, urbanization, and immigration upended society, amusement parks tempered the shocks of racial, ethnic, and cultural conflict while shrinking the distinctions between gender and class. Following the rise of American parks from 1896 to 1918, Rabinovitz seizes on a simultaneous increase in cinema and spectacle audiences and connects both to the success of leisure activities in stabilizing society. Critics of the time often condemned parks and movies for inciting moral decline, yet in fact they fostered women's independence, racial uplift, and assimilation. The rhythmic, mechanical movements of spectacle also conditioned audiences to process multiple stimuli. Featuring illustrations from private collections and accounts from unaccessed archives, Electric Dreamland joins film and historical analyses in a rare portrait of mass entertainment and the modern eye.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52721-7
    Subjects: Film Studies, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. 1 Introduction: ARTIFICIAL DISTRACTIONS
    (pp. 1-23)

    AT THE TURN OF THE LAST CENTURY, AMERICA GOT SERIOUS about amusement. Nightclubs, restaurants, vaudeville, melodrama theaters, dime museums, penny arcades, and all kinds of commercial entertainments flourished: “artificial distraction for an artificial life,” lamented the minister Rollin Lynde Hartt about these new amusements taking over cities and towns.¹ In his consternation about a new public culture dedicated to the consumption of enjoyment rather than moral and aesthetic uplift, this social critic flags the start of what is today considered popular culture. Among the litany of amusements that preoccupied both the public and the preacher, two stand out for the...

  6. 2 Urban Wonderlands: THE “CRACKED MIRROR” OF TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY AMUSEMENT PARKS
    (pp. 25-65)

    Amusement parks helped to define a new concept of urban modernism—the celebration of motion and speed, the beauty of industrial technologies, and the experience of the crowd. Their modernity lay not in any specific style of architecture but in their sensory overstimulation—their bombardment and exaggeration of sight, sound, and kinesthesia. The amusement park made clear the importance of physical sensation in relationship to visual stimulation as a distinctly modern mode of perception. The estimated two thousand amusement parks across the United States between 1900 and 1915 thus offered a comprehensive reorganization of cultural knowledge that forwarded the importance...

  7. 3 Thrill Ride Cinema: HALE’S TOURS AND SCENES OF THE WORLD
    (pp. 67-95)

    A COMBINATION MOVIE AND AMUSEMENT PARK THRILL RIDE, Hale’s Tours and Scenes of the World coordinated sounds, motion pictures, and mechanical movement to present a new sense of being in the world. Heir to a popular type of early film depicting the moving point-of-view from the front of a train (the phantom train ride), as well as to the virtual voyages of panoramas, scenic railways and pyrodramas, Hale’s Tours recreated the range of perceptions, social relations, expectations, and fears connected with the experience of travel. Hale’s Tours contributed to democratizing and modernizing attitudes about tourism, as people in the twentieth...

  8. 4 The Miniature and the Giant: POSTCARDS AND EARLY CINEMA
    (pp. 97-135)

    FROM THEIR OUTSETS BOTH POSTCARDS (THE MINIATURE) and movies (the gigantic) took on the amusement park—as subject matter and as a location for their dissemination. Movies depicted the parks, the mechanical rides, and the patrons’ unrestrained behavior while the films of these attractions played at the parks themselves. Picture postcards likewise illustrated the parks, their contents, and their participants and were a staple at amusement parks, where they were sold as souvenirs. Postcards and movies promoted amusement parks well beyond the confines of the parks and widely circulated views of them as new icons. They commodified the parks and...

  9. 5 Coney Island Comedies: SLAPSTICK AT THE AMUSEMENT PARK AND THE MOVIES
    (pp. 137-161)

    FULL OF POWER-DRIVEN PRATFALLS, REPETITIVE GYRATIONS, rhythmic punches, and elaborately staged brawls of intersecting parts, slapstick comedy remains one of the best-known genres of motion pictures’ silent era. Even after movies adopted distinct storytelling features of psychologically motivated characters, cause-and-effect plots, and dramatic crises, slapstick comedy preserved a particular inscription of the cinematic body both as the spectacular figure-in-motion and as the laughing spectator in all her or his presence in the theater. Slapstick sustained a more carnal spirit and upheld an enlarged sense of corporeal delight even during the era when the experience of watching movies became increasingly proscribed...

  10. 6 Conclusion: THE FUSION OF MOVIES AND AMUSEMENT PARKS
    (pp. 163-174)

    ON JULY 17, 1955, DISNEYLAND OPENED IN ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA. The opening festivities, restricted to a few thousand Hollywood celebrities and their families, were also broadcast as a two-hour live television program, “Dateline Disneyland,” that was watched by ninety million people.¹ The national marketing and response to the opening of an amusement park illustrates not only that the old parks were being eclipsed by something new but that the fusion of movies and amusement parks represented by Disneyland mattered even more in postwar America. Walt Disney learned his lessons from the old parks and the movie business and applied them to...

  11. APPENDIX: Directory of Amusement Parks in the United States Prior to 1915
    (pp. 175-194)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 195-218)
  13. FILMS CITED
    (pp. 219-222)
  14. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 223-228)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 229-234)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-240)