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Michael G. Kammen has 1 media appearance.

Oct
24
Michael Kammen
Booknotes, Sunday, October 24, 1999
Michael Kammen discusses American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the Twentieth Century.

Intellectuals are often accused of viewing mass entertainment with contempt, fear, or condescension. The rise of cultural-studies programs in prestigious universities, however, reveals that this perception couldn't be further from the truth. In "American Culture, American Tastes," Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael G. Kammen explores the origins and implications of this new way that academics and critics celebrate, rather than condemn, popular tastes. In principle, Kammen supports recent scholarly forays into the effects of mass production and consumerism on Americans' leisure time. He is concerned, however, that the audience's relationship to contemporary media is greatly underappreciated. In attempting to distinguish "popular" from "mass" culture, Kammen argues that with films, music, radio, and popular fiction, certain "highbrow middlebrow, and lowbrow" levels emerged, targeting specific social classes or communities. These levels were quite permeable, however, and certain works, such as Shakespeare's plays and Charlie Chaplin's slapstick comedies, allowed audiences to transcend rigid categories of taste. In the television era, Kammen believes, leisure has become more passive and homogenized, however, and the era of democratic consumption that many modern intellectuals champion may be near an end. To combat this trend, Kammen, like Russell Jacoby, longs to resurrect "public intellectuals," such as H.L. Mencken and Dwight Macdonald, who pointedly combined a learned appreciation of popular culture with a genuine concern for preserving the vivacity of public life. In a field dominated by Marxists and feminists, this call for liberal cultural "authority" will raise some hackles in academe, but praise among general audiences. —John M. Anderson (timspalding)… (more)
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