The Art of Democracy

The Art of Democracy: A Concise History of Popular Culture in the United States

JIM CULLEN
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 346
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfnq1
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  • Book Info
    The Art of Democracy
    Book Description:

    "Cullen's strength comes from his understanding of how the different strands of American society intertwine in imaginative, unpredictable ways ... The shape and vitality of pop culture's next era will depend, at least in part, on commentators like Cullen."-Washington Post Book World

    "A thoroughly engaging look at American culture ... Cullen's articulate prose is spiced with wicked wit and he loves a good story ... Demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of complex cultural forces."-Publishers Weekly

    "Reflecting both the strengths and weaknesses of an unusually dynamic area of historical scholarship,The Art of Democracyis one of the best surveys of the history of American popular culture."-Journal of American History

    "An exceptionally well-written and engrossing introduction to the nonelitist art forms of American popular culture ... Highly recommended."-Library Journal, starred review

    "Should be kept on hand to restore our faith in the things that matter to us."-American Studies

    Popular culture has been a powerful force in the United States, resonating within the society as a whole and at the same time connecting disparate and even hostile constituencies. The novels of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the theater and minstrel shows of the mid-19th century, movies and the introduction of television and computers in the 20th century are the building blocks that Jim Cullen uses to show how unique and vibrant cultural forms overcame initial resistance and enabled historically marginalized groups to gain access to the fruits of society and recognition from the mainstream.

    This updated edition contains a new preface and final chapter which traces the history of contemporary computing from its World War II origins as a military tool to its widespread use in the late 20th century as a tool for the masses. Cullen shows how the computer is reshaping popular culture, and how that culture retains its capacity to surprise and disturb.

    The highly acclaimed first edition ofThe Art of Democracywon the 1996 Ray and Pat Brown Award for "Best Book," presented by the Popular Culture Association.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-379-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface & Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jim Cullen
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-8)

    The art of democracy was written as an introductory history of the U.S. experience with popular culture, an experience that shares important parallels with other societies, but one that has had a unique trajectory and global influence. There has long been a need for this kind of book for the scholar, student, and general reader.

    One reason for this need is that popular culture has only recently been considered a subject for serious scholarly inquiry. For most of the twentieth century, it has been denigrated by intellectuals of all ideological stripes as either meaningless escapism or a dangerous narcotic.¹ While...

  5. CHAPTER ONE NOVEL APPROACHES: THE RISE OF POPULAR CULTURE
    (pp. 9-32)

    Perhaps the simplest, though not the most precise, way to begin telling the story of popular culture in the United States is to state that it did not exist until the nineteenth century. That is because (as I will be defining it in the next few pages) popular culture depends on the existence of a modern working class to use it, as well as to play a pivotal role in creating it. The phenomena we think of as “modern”—urbanization, mass migration, technological innovation, and other elements of the Industrial Revolution—reached a kind of critical mass in the three...

  6. CHAPTER TWO DEMOCRATIC VISTAS: THE EMERGENCE OF POPULAR CULTURE, 1800-1860
    (pp. 33-86)

    Rarely have five words had more revolutionary impact on a society than these did in the United States, and rarely have five words embodied more omission, ambiguity, and outright hypocrisy. This presumably “self-evident” assertion from the Declaration of Independence was intended to be a definitive statement—a “truth”—but it ultimately raised far more questions than it answered. In the secular context in which it was written, what does it mean to say that all men are created equal? Does it mean that everyone is born with equal capacities, intellectual and otherwise? That is patently untrue. Does it mean that...

  7. CHAPTER THREE STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT: THE SEGMENTATION AND CONSOLIDATION OF POPULAR CULTURE, 1860-1900
    (pp. 87-134)

    In 1891, new york’s metropolitan museum of art for the first time opened its doors to the public on Sunday afternoons. The museum, which had been privately funded and operated by some of the city’s richest citizens since its creation in 1870, had long espoused a presumably democratic mission of enlightenment and the diffusion of “culture” to all. (In this regard, it echoed themes of similar institutions in Boston and Chicago.) But by remaining closed on Sundays—the day most working people could actually visit—access was effectively restricted to the leisured few.

    Under pressure from New York’s largely Democratic...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR MEDIATING COMMUNITIES: POPULAR CULTURE AND MODERN TECHNOLOGY, 1900-1945
    (pp. 135-200)

    “I am very doubtful there is any commercial feature in it, and fear that they will not earn their cost,” Thomas Alva Edison wrote of his latest invention in 1893. “These zoetropic devices are of too sentimental a value to get the public to invest in.”¹ Strictly speaking, Edison was right: his “zoetropic device” had only limited appeal. As he knew, though, it was an important step toward what would become motion pictures, in which the public ultimately invested a great deal indeed. But it took a decade and the contributions of Edison’s competitors before the movie camera’s financial potential...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE SMALL SCREENS: POPULAR CULTURE IN THE AGE OF TELEVISION AND BEYOND, 1945-2000
    (pp. 201-288)

    A half-century after the end of World War II, the United States was the richest, most powerful nation in the world—probably the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever known. Even many of the poorest Americans in 1995 enjoyed a standard of living more affluent ones living fifty years earlier could only envy, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the United States the sole remaining global power. And yet Americans at the end of the century looked back to the tumultuous decades of the thirties and forties with a sense of nostalgia, even longing,...

  10. CHAPTER SIX HARMONIC CONVERGENCE? ACROSS THE DIGITAL FRONTIER
    (pp. 289-318)

    When the twentieth century began, a variety of new media technologies—film, radio, sound recording—promised to transform American life. As the preceding chapters have described, the technical refinements of these media evolved in often haphazard ways, and the people responsible for some of the most important innovations were not necessarily those who reaped the benefits. Nor were these technologies used in the ways their creators anticipated: filmprojection, radiobroadcasting, and recordretailingtook a decade or more to emerge. It was not until about 1925 that the popular culture infrastructure of the twentieth century can be truly said...

  11. FURTHER READING: A NOTE FOR THE SECOND EDITION
    (pp. 319-354)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 355-372)