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

Jim Cullen, Author Monthly Review Press $25 (346p) ISBN 978-0-85345-920-0
The connection between yesterday's Victorian dime-novel denizens and today's African American rap fans, Culture Club's sudden rise to fame in the early 1980s and the demise of the Golden Age of Hollywood are just a few of the fascinating topics tackled in this analysis of popular culture from revolutionary times to the present. Cullen, who teaches history and literature at Harvard and is the author of The Civil War in Popular Culture, shows how cultural innovations are often developed by marginalized populations and (after initial rejection by cultural elites) trickle into the mainstream. Juicy details of representative people or events (e.g., the 1849 Astor Place theater riot, the band Los Lobos) accompany each chapter. Cullen's articulate prose is spiced with wicked wit and he loves a good story. He is also tolerant of the ambiguities inherent in popular culture; his treatment of the rise and fall of minstrel shows demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of complex cultural forces. Cullen looks at popular art not as escapism but as valuable work in its own right, an approach that makes The Art of Democracy a thoroughly engaging look at American culture. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1996
Release date: 01/01/1996
Hardcover - 346 pages - 978-1-58367-065-1
Hardcover - 1 pages - 978-0-85345-919-4
Paperback - 346 pages - 978-1-58367-064-4
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