My Pilgrim's Progress: Media Studies, 1950-1998

George W. S. Trow, Author Pantheon Books $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-40134-3
Within the Context of No Context, Trow's searing 1980 study of modern media, is a classic of its genre. Taking the claim of the earlier book--that contemporary media, particularly TV, has created an environment in which fictional and cultural experiences are stripped of their real-life referents and instead refer only to one another--Trow examines the Eisenhower years, a period defined by heroic political figures (Ike, Churchill and Adlai Stevenson), commanding cultural institutions (primarily New York's daily newspapers but also movies, books, and television shows) and, personally, by his own intellectual coming of age. Contrasting the American mediascape at mid-century with the quick-cut, high-irony milieu of the late 1990s, Trow argues that the self-referential, overdetermined contemporary media create readers--and more often viewers--defined by severe political and intellectual limits. As always, what distinguishes Trow is not his argument (which sounds many of the same notes as other cultural critics) but his uncommon method. While another writer might mount a dour polemic, Trow is gleefully idiosyncratic. Delving nimbly into journalism, politics, family life and Hollywood image making, he tosses out pyrotechnic mini-analyses of dozens of seemingly random cultural phenomena (Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch, Elvis Presley in 1956, Joan Rivers on QVC, Robert Evans's autobiography, Dallas). Somehow, he miraculously cobbles together a coherent overview. Uniquely contentious, full of elastic cultural analogies and beautiful prose, Trow's book is a true original. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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