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ENGL 6310/7310 Popular Culture Studies


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Title: ENGL 6310/7310 Popular Culture Studies

ENGL 6310/7310 Popular Culture Studies Fall
2011 PH 300 M 240-540 Dr. David Lavery 10/3/11
Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
Boorstins Epigraphs Technology . . . the knack
of so arranging the world that we dont have to
experience it.Max Frisch My money affairs are
in a bad way. You remember before the wedding,
Anisim brought me some new rubles and half
rubles? I hid one packet, the rest I mixed with
my own . . . But now I cant make out which is
real money and which is counterfeit, it seems to
me they are all false coins. . . . When I take a
ticket at the station, I hand three rubles, then
I think to myself Are they false? And Im
frightened. I can't be well.Anton-Checkhov, The
Popular Culture Studies
When we pick up our newspaper at breakfast, we
expect--we even demand--that it bring us
momentous events since the night before. We turn
on our car radio as we drive to work and expect
"news" to have occurred since the morning paper
went to press. Returning in the evening, we
expect our house not only to shelter us, to keep
us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but
to relax us, to dignify us, to encompass us with
soft music and interesting hobbies, to be a
playground, a theater, and a bar. We expect our
two week vacation to be romantic, exotic, cheap,
and effortless. We expect a faraway atmosphere if
we go to a nearby place and we expect everything
to be relaxing, sanitary, and Americanized if we
go to a faraway place. We expect new heroes every
month, a new literary masterpiece every week, a
rare sensation every night. . . .
Popular Culture Studies
We expect everything and anything. We expect the
contradictory and the impossible. We expect
compact cars which are spacious luxurious cars
which are economical. . . . We expect to eat and
stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever
more neighborly . . . to revere God and to be
God. Never have people been more the masters of
their environment. Yet never has a people been
more deceived and disappointed. For never has a
people expected so much more than the world could
possibly offer. (3-4 my emphasis)
Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
Inventing America
Popular Culture Studies
Edmundo OGorman
  • The Copernican Revolution
  • The Discovery of Columbus
  • America as an Invention
  • America as Europes Dream

Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
American Studies
Popular Culture Studies
Perry Miller
Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
Richard Poirier
Popular Culture Studies
Reflections on America
Popular Culture Studies
When you get there, there isn't any there
there. --Gertrude Stein
Popular Culture Studies
For some reason Americans are terrified of the
very idea of passionate love going on past middle
age. Are they afraid of being alive? Do they want
to be dead, i.e., safe? May Sarton, Journal of
Popular Culture Studies
To furnish a barren room is one thing. To
continue to crowd in furniture until the
foundation buckles is quite another. To have
failed to solve the problem of producing goods
would have been to continue man in his oldest and
most grievous misfortune. But to fail to see that
we have solved it, and to fail to proceed to the
next task, would be fully as tragic. --John
Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society
Popular Culture Studies
Americans continually find themselves in the
position of having killed someone to avoid
sharing a meal which turns out to be too large to
eat alone. --Philip Slater, Earthwalk
Popular Culture Studies
America is striving to win power over the sum
total of things, complete and absolute mastery of
nature in all its aspects. . . . To occupy God's
place, to repeat his deeds, to recreate and
organize a man-made cosmos according to man-made
laws of reason, foresight and efficiency that is
America's ultimate objective. . . . It destroys
whatever is primitive, whatever grows in
disordered profusion or evolved through patient
mutation. --Robert Jungk, Tomorrow is Already
Consider to what extent an "antique" is prized
because it is excellently made and beautiful and
to what extent it is prized because it is an
antique and as such is saturated with another
time and another place and is therefore resistant
to absorption by the self just as a pine piling
saturated in creosote resists corrosion by the
sea and thus possesses a higher coefficient of
informing power for the naught of self. If you
say that a writing table made by Thomas Sheraton
is of value because it is excellently made and
beautiful, how would you go about making a
writing table now that would be similarly prized
as an antique two hundred years from now? The
real question of course is whether the
twentieth-century self is different from the
eighteenth-century self, both in its reliance on
"antiques" to inform itself and in its ability to
make a writing table which is graceful and useful
and for no other reason. Was a well-to-do
eighteenth-century Englishman content to buy a
Sheraton writing table, or would he have
preferred a fifteenth-century "antique"? Walker
Percy, Lost in the Cosmos The Last Self-Help Book
Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
Why is it almost impossible to gaze directly at
the Grand Canyon under these circumstances as a
sightseer and see it for what it isas one picks
up a strange object from one's back yard and
gazes directly at it? It is almost impossible
because the Grand Canyon, the thing as it is, has
been appropriated by the symbolic complex which
has already been formed in the sightseer's mind.
Seeing the canyon under approved circumstances is
seeing the symbolic complex head on. The thing is
no longer the thing as it confronted the
Spaniard it is rather that which has already
been formulated by picture postcard, geography
book, tourist folders, and the words Grand
Canyon. As a result of this preformulation, the
source of the sightseer's pleasure undergoes a
shift. Where the wonder and delight of the
Spaniard arose from his penetration of the thing
itself, from a progressive discovery of depths,
patterns, colors, shadows, etc., now the
sightseer measures his satisfaction by the degree
to which the canyon conforms to the preformed
complex. If it does so, if it looks just like the
postcard, he is pleased he might even say, "Why
it is every bit as beautiful as a picture
postcard!" He feels he has not been cheated . . .
. Is looking like sucking the more lookers, the
less there is to see? --Walker Percy, The Message
in the Bottle
At different times in our history, different
cities have been the focal point of a radiating
American spirit. In the late eighteenth century,
for example, Boston was the center of a political
radicalism that ignited a shot heard round the
world a shot that could not have been fired any
other place but the suburbs of Boston. . . . In
the mid-nineteenth century, New York became the
symbol of the idea of a melting-pot America or at
least a non-English one as the wretched refuse
from all over the world disembarked at Ellis
Island and spread over the land their strange
languages and even stranger ways. In the early
twentieth century, Chicago, the city of big
shoulders and heavy winds, came to symbolize the
industrial energy and dynamism of America. . .
. Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas,
Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character
and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high
cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus
girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to
the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims
the spirit of a culture in which all public
discourse increasingly takes the form of
entertainment. Our politics, religion, news,
athletics, education and commerce have been
transformed into congenial adjuncts of show
business, largely without protest or even much
popular notice. The result is that we are a
people on the verge of amusing ourselves to
death.Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
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The commonly accepted notion that Americans are
materialists is pure bunk. A materialist is one
who loves material, a person devoted to the
enjoyment of the physical and immediate present.
By this definition, most Americans are
abstractionists. They hate material, and convert
it as swiftly as possible into mountains of junk
and clouds of poisonous gas. As a people, our
ideal is to have a future, and so long as this is
true we shall never have a present. --Alan Watts,
Does It Matter?
Popular Culture Studies
Someone once wrote a definition of the difference
between English and American humor. . . . He said
that the English treat the commonplace as if it
were remarkable and the Americans treat the
remarkable as if it were commonplace. --James
Popular Culture Studies
If America didn't have Blacks it would be
Switzerland. Attributed to Roy Blount
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American life is a powerful solvent. --George
Popular Culture Studies
A new, unsteady kind of creature lurches forth on
the deserted streets of America these days. It is
the Walking Driver. You can tell immediately that
these beings are not true pedestrians they
waddle, they are unsteady, they have little
back-of-the-head vision, they seem unused to the
true weight of their bodies. They are not bipeds,
nor are they four-legged creatures they are
semi-bipeds, sitting, folded creatures. A Martian
observing the lunch hour in one of our cities
said to me that an American without a car is
gravely ill, like a snail that lost its shell. In
fact, an American body is only a "body" when it
is inside an automobile. What we see "walking" is
only part of the body. . . . --Andrei Codrescu,
"The New Body
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The American body, my friend explained, is an
aggregation of man and machine. The latest
addition to it is the computer. Very soon, a body
not seated in front of a blinking screen can be
considered as ill as a body outside of a car. My
Martian friend, who has been a passionate
observer of Homo Americanus since the nineteenth
century, foresees a day when all newly born
humans will have a plug inserted in the small of
their back. There is no doubt that the new
symbiosis has occurred. --Andrei Codrescu, "The
New Body
Popular Culture Studies
"America's critical role in the planetization of
humanity does seem to be that of the catalytic
enzyme that breaks down all the traditional
cultures of the world, be they Asiatic, Islamic,
or European. With Disneyland in Paris and Tokyo,
the United States is well on its way to
dissolving all the world cultures, and I do not
think any nativistic revolt of Islam will succeed
in stopping it any more than Marxist-Leninism
did." (79) --William Irwin Thompson, The American
Replacement of Nature
For what underlay our clearing of the continent
were the ancient fears and divisions that we
brought to the New World along with the primitive
precursors of the technology that would assist in
transforming the continent. Haunted by these
fears, driven by our divisions, we slashed and
hacked at the wilderness we saw so that within
three centuries of Cortes's penetration of the
mainland a world millions of years in the making
vanished into the voracious, insatiable maw of an
alien civilization. Musing on this time scale,
one begins to sense the enormity of what we
brought to our entrance here. And one begins to
sense also that it was here in America that
Western man became loosed into a strange,
ungovernable freedom so that what we now live
amidst is the culminating artifact of the
civilization of the West. --Frederick Turner,
Beyond Geography
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The View from Abroad
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I think that in no country in the civilized world
is less attention paid to philosophy than in the
United States. . . . in most of the operations of
mind, each American appeals only to the
individual effort of his own understanding. . .
. --Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Popular Culture Studies
America is therefore one of the countries where
the precepts of Descartes are least studied, and
are best applied. Nor is this surprising. The
Americans do not read the work of Descartes,
because their social conditions deter them from
speculative studies but they follow his maxims,
because this same social condition naturally
disposes their minds to adopt them. In the midst
of the continual movement which agitates a
democratic community, the tie which unites one
generation to another is relaxed or broken every
man there readily loses all trace of the ideas of
his forefathers, or takes no care about them. . .
. Americans are constantly brought back to their
own reason as the obvious and proximate source of
truth. It is not only confidence in his fellow
man which is destroyed, but the disposition for
trusting the authority of any man whatsoever.
Every one shuts himself up in his own breast, and
affects from that point to judge the
world. --Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in
Popular Culture Studies
The distinctive vice of the new world is already
beginning to infect old Europe with its ferocity
and is spreading a lack of spirituality like a
blanket. Even now one is ashamed of resting, and
prolonged reflection almost gives people a bad
conscience. One thinks with a watch in one's
hand, even as one eats one's midday meal while
reading the latest news of the stock market one
lives as if one always might "miss out on
something." Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Popular Culture Studies
There is no country on earth where the
"power-word," the magic-formula, the slogan or
advertisement is more effective than in America.
We Europeans laugh about this, but we forget that
faith in the magical power of the word can move
more than mountains. Christ himself was a word,
the Word. We have become estranged from this
psychology, but in the American it is still
alive. It has yet to be seen what America will do
with it. Thus the American presents a strange
picture A European with Negro behavior and an
Indian soul. He shares the fate of all usurpers
of foreign soil. Certain Australian primitives
assert that one cannot conquer foreign soil,
because in it there dwell strange
ancestor-spirits who reincarnate themselves in
the newborn. There is a great psychological truth
in this. . . . C. G. Jung, "Mind and Earth"
The foreign land assimilates its conqueror. But
unlike the Latin conquerors of Central and South
America, the North Americans preserved their
European standards with the most rigid
Puritanism, though they could not prevent the
souls of their Indian foes from becoming theirs.
Everywhere the virgin earth causes at least the
unconscious of the conqueror to sink to the level
of its indigenous inhabitants. Thus, in the
American, there is a discrepancy between
conscious and unconscious that is not found in
the European, a tension between an extremely high
conscious level of culture and an unconscious
primitivity. This tension forms a psychic
potential which endows the American with an
indomitable spirit of enterprise and an enviable
enthusiasm which we in Europe do not know. The
very fact that we still have our ancestral
spirits, and that for us everything is steeped in
history, keeps us in contact with our
unconscious, but we are so caught in this contact
and held so fast in the historical vice that the
greatest catastrophes are needed to wrench us
loose and to change our political behavior from
what it was five hundred years ago.
Our contact with the unconscious chains us to the
earth and makes it hard for us to move, and this
is certainly no advantage when it comes to
progressiveness and all the other desirable
motions of the mind. Nevertheless I would not
speak ill of our relation to good Mother Earth.
Plurimi per transibunt but he who is rooted in
the soil endures. Alienation from the unconscious
and from its historical conditions spells
rootlessness. That is the danger that lies in
wait for the conqueror of foreign lands, and for
every individual who, through one-sided
allegiance to any kind of -ism, loses touch with
the dark, maternal, earthy ground of his
being. C. G. Jung, "Mind and Earth"
Europe visibly aspires to be governed by an
American commission. Its entire policy is
directed to that end. Not knowing how to rid
ourselves of our history, we will be relieved of
it by a fortunate people who have almost none.
They are a happy people and they will force their
happiness on us. Paul Valery
A character in Evelyn Waugh's Put Out More Flags
said that the difference between prewar and
postwar life was that, prewar, if one thing went
wrong the day was ruined postwar, if one thing
went right the day would be made. America is a
prewar country, psychologically unprepared for
one thing to go wrong. --Anthony Burgess, "Is
America Falling Apart?
Popular Culture Studies
The Japanese may make all the televisions but the
Americans make all the images.
Popular Culture Studies
America and the Ersatz
Popular Culture Studies
Now, from America, empty indifferent things are
pouring across, sham things, dummy life. . . . A
house, in the American sense, an American apple
or a grapevine over there, has nothing in common
with the house, the fruit, the grape into which
went the hopes and reflections of our
forefathers. . . . Live things, things lived and
conscient of us, are running out and can no
longer be replaced. We are perhaps the last still
to have known such things. --Rainer Maria Rilke
Popular Culture Studies
Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007). French sociologist,
communication theorist, and media critic.
Laughter on American television has taken the
place of the chorus in Greek tragedy. It is
unrelenting the news, the stock exchange
reports, and the weather forecast are about the
only things spared. But so obsessive is it that
you go on hearing it behind the voice of Reagan
or the Marines disaster in Beirut. Even behind
the adverts. It is the monster from Alien
prowling around in all the corridors of the
spaceship. it is the sarcastic exhilaration of a
puritan culture. In other countries the business
of laughing is left to the viewers. here, their
laughter is put on the screen, integrated into
the show. It is the screen that is laughing and
having a good time. You are simply left alone
with your consternation. (49)
Popular Culture Studies
The glass facades merely reflect the environment,
sending back its own image. This makes them much
more formidable than any wall of stone. It's just
like people who wear dark glasses. Their eyes are
hidden and other see only their own reflection.
Everywhere the transparency of interfaces in
internal refraction. Everything pretentiously
termed 'communication' and 'interaction'walkman,
dark glasses, automatic household appliances,
hi-tech cars, even the perpetual dialogue with
the computerends up with each monad retreating
into the shade of its own formula, into its
self-regulating little corner and its artificial
immunity." (59-60)
Popular Culture Studies
Popular Culture Studies
There is nothing more mysterious than a TV set
left on in an empty room. it is even stranger
than a man talking to himself or a woman standing
dreaming at her stove. It is as if another planet
is communicating with you. Suddenly the TV
reveals itself for what it really is a video of
another world, ultimately addressed to no one at
all, delivering its images indifferently,
indifferent to its own messages (you can easily
imagine it still functioning after humanity has
disappeared). (50)
Robert Frank, Restaurant, U.S. 1 Leaving
Columbia, South Carolina (1955)
Popular Culture Studies
In America the arrival of night-time or periods
of rest cannot be accepted, nor can the Americans
bear to see the technological process halted.
Everything has to be working all the time, there
has to be no let-up in man's artificial power,
and the intermittent character of natural cycles
. . . has to be replaced by a functional
continuum that is sometimes absurd. . . . "The
skylines lit up at night, the air-conditioning
systems cooling empty hotels in the desert and
artificial light in the middle of the day all
have something both demented and admirable about
them. The mindless luxury of a rich civilization,
and yet of a civilization perhaps as scared to
see the lights go out as was the hunter in his
primitive night. There is some truth in all this.
But what is striking is the fascination with
artifice, with energy and space. (50-51)
Popular Culture Studies
From a historical standpoint, America is
weightless. (52)
Popular Culture Studies
Europeans experience anything relating to
statistics as tragic. They immediately read in
them their individual failure and take refuge in
pained denunciation of the merely quantitative.
The Americans, by contrast, see statistics as an
optimistic stimulus, as representing the
dimensions of their good fortune, their joyous
membership of the majority. Theirs is the only
country where quantity can be extolled without
Popular Culture Studies
In the future, power will belong to those peoples
with no origins and no authenticity. . . . Look
at Japan, which to a certain extent has pulled
off this trick better than the US itself,
managing in what seems to us an unintelligible
paradox, to transform the power of territoriality
and feudalism into that of deterritoriality and
weightlessness. Japan is already a satellite of
the planet Earth. but America was already in its
day a satellite of the planet Europe. Whether we
like it or not, the future has shifted towards
artificial satellites.
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In Don DeLillo's White Noise, the small
Midwestern town where Hitler Studies professor
Jack Gladney teaches at the College on the Hill
is threatened by an "airborne toxic event" spread
by a nearby chemical factory. Soon after the
accident, Gladney speaks with a technician from
SIMUVAC, a member of a "simulated evacuation"
task force delegated to the creation of a working
model of "events" like the one that has just
taken place. "But this evacuation isn't
simulated," Gladney observes. "It's real." "We
know that," the technician acknowledges. "But we
thought we could use it as a model." Asked, then,
how the actual event is going, he replies The
insertion curve isn't as smooth as we would like.
There's a probability excess. Plus which we don't
have our victims laid out where we'd want them if
this was an actual simulation. In other words
we're forced to take our victims where we find
them. . . . You have to make allowances for the
fact that everything we see tonight is real.
There's a lot of polishing we still have to do. .
. .
In the Space Age, acoustician R. Murray Schafer
shows in The Tuning of the World that despite an
obsessesion with "high fidelity" in sound
reproduction, we live, in the midst of our
simulations, in perhaps the lowest fidelity
soundscape in human history (41). Against the
perpetual background noise of both indoor and
outdoor environments, the perpetual hum and drone
of generators, motors, air-conditioning, flowing
electricity, "Moozak" (the "audio analgesia of
earthly boredom" as Schafer calls it), radio and
television, individual, "discrete" sounds have
lost virtually all definition.
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HYATT THE PERFECT WORLD Andrei Codrescu   I went
to the Hyatt House in Indianapolis recently, and
I have come back to report that it can support
human life indefintely. Its climate very much
resembles that of the earth. There are green
plants hanging from protruding formations, and
once I stumbled into a circle of extremely real
looking potted shrubs around a black piano. The
air is neither too thin nor too thick and is
slightly scented by the thousands of bodies
scrubbed with hotel soap that stumble out of its
showers every morning. The creators of the Hyatt
have contrived to take a perfect late summer day
on earth and are able to play it over and over,
no matter what season or time is experienced on
the outside.
Popular Culture Studies
I had a good look at the city of Indianapolis out
the window of my room and the air outside
appeared to my naked eye to be cold, crisp and
turbulent. I experienced none of those conditions
behind the plate glass window that separated me
from the city. I would have liked to go out
there, to walk around, but I immediately
suppressed that nostalgic impulse by reminding
myself that, thanks to modern art which isolates
the eyes from all the other senses, I could
safely view the world without actually mucking
about in it.   But the most remarkable aspect of
the Hyatt was the supportive nutritive system. On
several floors discrete little feeding stations
functioned smoothly. All of them produced several
varieties of nachos, Bloody Marys, and fried
zucchini. The ones on the lower floors also
stacked large slabs of recently killed meat so
that, I became convinced, an advanced system of
communication existed between the Hyatt and the
outside world.
As I rose silently in the glass bubbles of the
elevators, I surveyed the seemingly endless tiers
of this perfectly ordered world. In a large room
businessmen stood before gadgets with drinks in
their hands. In another large room writers read
poems to appreciative audiences with pockets
bulging with their own poems. This was the room
where I too was expected. I pulled the paper from
my pocket. At the top it said "Hyatt, the Perfect
World." I began to read.
  • In a Cathy comic stripCathy Guisewite's
    ruthlessly perceptive daily chronicle of modern
    spacinessCathy and her boyfriend Irving
    introduce us, in a Sunday comic show-and-tell, to
    all the new material possessions in their
    repertoire, all of which are "state of the art
    and none of which is ever used
  • an "anodized aluminum multi-lens three-beam mini
    excavation spotlight that live its life in the
    junk drawer with dead batteries" a "high-tech,
    epoxy-finished, heavy-gauge steel grid hanging
    unit for home repair tools that required
    two carpenters to install and is now used as a
    scarf rack
  • safari clothes that will never be near a
  • "aerobic footgear that will never set foot in an
    aerobics class"
  • a "deep-sea dive watch that will never get damp"
  • "architectural magazines we don't read filled
    with pictures of furniture we don't like"

  • "financial strategy software keyed to a checkbook
    that's lost somewhere under a computer no one
    knows how to work"
  • an "art poster from an exhibit we never went to
    of an artist we never heard of.
  • Guisewite brilliantly labels this post Me Decade
    conspicuous consumption, "abstract materialism"
    materialism about as "realistic" or
    representational as a Jackson Pollock canvas.
    "We've moved past the things we want and need and
    are buying those things that have nothing to do
    with our lives," Cathy herself tells us in the
    cartoon's final frame. In the 1980s, the age of
    the yuppie, we perfected the art of what Time
    magazine has called "transcendental acquisition."

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It was wonderful to find America, but it would
have been more wonderful to miss it. --Mark Twain
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The Daily Show
John Oliver on Ironic Distance John Oliver on
Bushs offer to have Rove appear before the
congress "The Long Kiss Dubai" Holocaust Denial
Conference "Petty Woman" Gay Nazis The
Republicans Play the Rapture Card "Tangled Up in
The Colbert Report
Colbert at the White House Correspondents'
Dinner Lithgow Does Gingrich's Press
Release Heard on "The Colbert Report" Pap
Smears at Walgreen's Colbert Decries the Casting
of a British Superman Blaming God Heard on "The
Colbert Report" Carrie-ing America
"Holy Fing Shit Profanation, Parody, and
Bleeping American Unreality in The Onion, The
Daily Show, and The Colbert Report Giving and
Taking Offence, University of Aveiro, Portugal
Jon Stewart
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
The Pythia of Delphi has now been replaced by a
computer which hovers over panels and punch
cards. The hexameters of the oracle have given
way to sixteen-bit codes of instruction. Man the
helmsman has turned the power over to the
cybernetic machine. The ultimate machine emerges
to direct our destinies. Children phantasize
flying their spacecrafts away from a crepuscular
Earth.--Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society . . .
the emphasis on surface the blankness of the
protagonist his striving toward
self-sufficiency, to the point of displacement
from the recognizable world. . . . Does the icy
quality of an artificial outer space, the
self-conscious displacement and blankness of car
commercials, MTV, and "Miami Vice," correspond to
a glacial inner space?--Todd Gitlin, "We Build
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
In a late 1980s issue of Marketing Week, a
columnist laments the post-Jetsons lack of real
Space Age advertising and calls for campaigns
more in keeping with an era of Star Wars and SDI
(Myers 12). Surely he cannot read magazines or
watch television. Advertisements could not be
spacier than they are now. Never slow to
capitalize on the tacit tendencies of the
cultural psyche, advertisments, "soak . . . up
certain ideals in circulation at the moment, and
squeeze . . . a version of them back at us."
According to Todd Gitlin, ads present "the
incarnation of a popular ideal--or rather, the
ideas of that ideal held by the marketer." An
advertisement is thus, in a sense, a "tiny
utopia." The commercial "conveys what we are
supposed to think is the magic of things those
things which, if we buy them, are supposed to
work miraculous transformations in our lives"
("We Build Excitement" 141). In the Space Age, it
seems, the advertising industry has realized that
virtually anything can now be sold to us through
appeals to our otherworldliness.
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Space Boosters
In their 1953 novel The Space Merchants, Frederik
Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth imagined a Madison
Avenue advertising agency given the task of
convincing the human race that it should migrate
to an uninhabitable Venus. In Ridley Scott's 1982
film Blade Runner, we see an early twenty first
century Los Angeles cityscape in which huge,
floating video billboards beam promises that "a
new life awaits you in the off-world colonies."
Neither of these science fiction prophecies has
come true (though Sony has now developed
multistory video billboards), but they now hardly
seem fantastic to us, for though we are not yet
being sold Venusian real estate, we are being
sold unearthliness.
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Space Boosters
In 1981, I lived and taught in Shanghai, People's
Republic of China. When I left with my family on
a long Pan Am flight to an alien world, the space
shuttle Columbia, then on its maiden voyage,
orbited the Earth. It touched down soon after our
arrival in Asia. In the Far East edition of Time,
I read that the successful mission had given
post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America a "mighty
lift" and President Reagan, convalescing from an
assassination attempt, waxed eloquently to the
Columbia's heroes, telling them (I learned),
"Through you, we feel as giants once again. On
my return to the United States later that summer,
badly culture-shocked from my time in the
People's Republic, I struggled to acclimate
myself again to the frenetic, spacy American way
of life. More than ordinarily attuned to its
peculiarities and absurdities, I began to notice
a new kind of advertisement appearing with
surprising frequency on television (and, I might
note, I watched television with open-eyed wonder
after months without it in Shanghai). The image
of space was, throughout the decade, everywhere.
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Space Boosters
--I saw Space Age microphotography--designed, we
are told, to view the Earth from space--reveal
the epidermis of a woman's skin in order to
convince us of the positive effects of an
antiaging cream. --I saw the three-ply lamination
of Glad garbage bags fuse together, set against
the backdrop of interstellar space. --I saw
Maybelline Dial-a-Lash tubes shoot off from
launching pads. --I saw a fashion model, standing
on the lunar surface, wear Revlon lipstick said
to exhibit "out-of-this-world colors. --I saw a
Technics turntable orbit the Earth. --I saw the
Cincinnati Bell logo transformed into a space
Popular Culture Studies
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--I saw an ad for Always Plus Night Super Maxi
Pads depict the feminine hygiene product as a UFO.
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--I saw a ready-to-assemble "wall
system"--labeled, of course, as a "Space Age"
product--offer "new heights in organization" and
"infinite" possibilities for creativity, solving
storage needs by allowing the owner to "fill
unlimited space.
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
--I saw a United Negro College Fund appeal,
showing African-American scholars in graduation
robes and mortar boards set against yet another
cosmic backdrop. (For, after all, this
solicitation for contributions informs us that
the mind is as "vast as space.") --I saw Tasters
Choice--like Tang before it--offered to us as the
choice of astronauts (the shuttle astronauts in
this case). --I saw a spot for Home Box Office
show a family in its living room flying through
space, watching HBO .--I saw an insurance
company's famous "piece of the rock" appear in a
cosmic landscape resting on an Earth seemingly
without atmosphere (the moon appears only miles
away), orbited by a ranch-style, two-stall garage
home, a sports car approaching on a highway
through space, and a floating sailboat followed
by frolicking dolphins--all in keeping with
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the advertisement's promise that "With the
Prudential, the sky's the limit. --I saw cartoon
children carried into space by Bubblicious
balloon bubbles. ("It tastes so unreal it'll blow
you away.) --I saw, during a decade in which
(inspired by Reagan-era deregulation) it became
increasingly difficult to distinguish Saturday
morning television programming from its
advertising, "kidvid" become more and more spacy.
(A television critic notes that producers--under
the influence of both George Lucas's and Ronald
Reagan's "Star Wars"--came to agree that "outer
space, high tech and faraway enemies in a distant
future are a safer, tidier, less complicated way"
to capture an audience (Engelhardt 1986, 88-89).
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--I saw a vacuous blonde, female astronaut in a
lunar lander proclaim to her companions, "Go
ahead without me. I've got a run!" ("She would
have been the first woman on the moon if only
she'd worn Sheer Business Panty Hose.") --I saw
Timex watches link together to form Star
Wars-type spacefighters, accompanied by a montage
of images of a man and a woman in space suits on
an alien world, while a voice-over tells us that
"Timex performs with all the accuracy and beauty
of the cosmos. --I saw a special new antiplaque
electric tooth-brush ("Interplak"), bearing a
striking resemblence to the starship Discovery in
2001 A Space Odyssey, majestically dock into its
recharger on a bathroom sink --choreographed to a
Strauss waltz.
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Space Boosters
--I saw a man, traveling through a magically real
yet alien landscape (Earth visible on the
horizon), have a "vision of the future," not, we
are told, of "space travel" or "time machines,"
but of the financial welfare of his family
(through the assistance of Equitable Insurance).
Upon his arrival home, he then witnesses his
garage door open--like the entrance to the mother
ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind--to
disclose a blaze of white light out of which
emerges a figure we take to be an alien but which
turns out in fact to be his daughter, excitedly
pronouncing, "Daddy!"
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--I saw woofers and tweeters of a Delco-GM Sound
System become a formation of flying saucers
beckoning us to "Ride into the Sound Set.
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--I saw a youth, dressed in Levi's jeans,
launched toward distant skies while a voice
explains that in the famous jeans "the mind knows
no limits. --I saw an ad for a Chevrolet pickup
truck instruct us not to "leave Earth without it"
and insist that a new model has "brakes so good
they're almost extraterrestrial. --I saw two
female astronauts extol the benefits of a new
roll-on deodorant called "Real" "We have seen
the future and it is Real.
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--I saw "Almost Home" chocolate-chip cookies
float in space in order to optimally display
their "almost out of this world" taste.
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
--I saw a man in a cumbersome space suit EVA into
the cockpit of a new Toyota compact and then--so
impressed is he with the car--leap in ecstasy out
of the frame, beyond the limits of gravity, never
to come down. ("Oh what a feeling!") --I saw the
new Hyundai Sonata, introduced to us as a "space
vehicle," soar off into the cosmos at the
commercial's close.
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Space Boosters
--I saw an image of a patch of lawn, complete
with a house, shade trees, and two family dogs,
floating in outer space, evidently removed from
the Earth by cutting along a still visible dotted
line surrounding the property, advertising the
Invisible Fence "dog containment system."
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Space Boosters
--I saw a solicitation for new members of the
National Space Society illustrate its motives and
goals through two paintings The Ultimate Sandbox
(by Michael Whelan) showing a little girl in a
"Miss Piggy" space suit building a sand castle on
the moon and Leonardo's Finale (by David Brian),
in which the great Renaissance man, sitting in
his study surrounded by drawings and plans for
future discovery, holds a prototype model of the
space shuttle in his hands. --I saw three former
Apollo astronauts ("Schirra, Apollo 7," "Bean,
Apollo 12," "Gordon, Apollo 12"), looking for all
the world like has-been athletes, testify--in
extreme, unflattering close-ups--that Actifed
relieved their snuffy noses in spaces. --I saw an
Always Ultra-Thin Panty Liner become an
unidentified flying object.
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Space Boosters
--I saw a small, evidently sick young girl lying
in bed, a thermometer in her mouth, securely
wrapped in sheets with a sky and cloud pattern
(which, because they fill the frame of the
advertisement, make her appear to be floating),
reassuringly touch a space helmet--all beneath a
headline that reads "When your little space
traveler has a fever . . ."
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Popular Culture Studies
--I saw both Motorcraft spark plugs and oil
filters blast off, as if from launching pad, from
the hoods of Ford automobiles toward distant
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Popular Culture Studies
--I saw the Chevrolet Astro minivan circle in
orbit about the Earth and yet (we are promised)
still remain small enough to "fit right in your
garage! --I saw--in yet another image
plagiarized from Close Encounters of the Third
Kind (promoting McDonald's "Spaceship Happy
Meals")--children look up at the sky with true
cosmic yearning (fantasizing, no doubt, about
"flying their spaceships away from a crepuscular
Earth"). --I saw a poster in a McDonald's
restaurant (advertising a "Space Age Calendar")
instruct parents to "help your child into outer
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
--I saw the traditional Jewish child's toy top,
the dreidel, no longer satisfactory, undergo a
Space Age sea change into an "Outer Space
Dreidel" (made in Taiwan)--a battery-powered
model that not only lights up but "makes outer
space sounds! --I saw, prior to the feature
presentation, a short subject, sponsored by
theater owners and intended to discourage
littering, depict an interstellar cloud of snack
bar-debris--popcorn, Raisinettes, straws, nachos,
Milk Duds--out of which an exemplary soft-drink
cup/rocket speeds toward the brightly lit landing
dock of a trash receptacle/space station. --I saw
a cartoon Albert Einstein plug the "genius" of
Betamax while ensconced in an armchair in a
living room floating in the cosmos.
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Space Boosters
--I saw a Canon Typestar typewriter blast into
orbit ("A new Typestar lifts off"), its
"lift-off" correction key in turn lifting off
from it, like a communications satellite out of
the cargo bay of the space shuttle.
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--I saw the "baby of today" in the "diaper of the
future" (actually old-fashioned 100 percent
cotton!) orbit about the Earth in the arms of a
New Age father whose legs--evidently his means of
cosmic propulsion--dissolve into beams of light.
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
--I saw Concept Custom Length electric guitar
strings ("The Final Frontier" in guitar strings)
advertised by an image of a spaceman strolling
the lunar landscape, an American flag planted in
the moon to his left, the Earth visible in the
background and I saw Kahler guitar strings, in
comparable "far-out" imagery, become in effect
the orbital path of a space vehicle made of
tuning pegs.
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Space Boosters
--I saw the Nady Systems Lightning Guitar and
Thunder Bass--instruments with "the right
stuff"--billed as the first electronic guitars of
the Space Age and advertised in copy divided into
sections entitled "Countdown," "Liftoff," "All
Systems Go," "Ground Control," and "Link Up" and
in the usual "product in orbit" imagery and I
saw the Carvin V220 guitar blast off from Earth
in an ad whose headline proclaims the instrument
to be "One Step Beyond."
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
--I saw an ad for a Kenwood stereo satellite
receiver announce the company's proud claim that
"after conquering Earth, we headed into space."
(An image from the Japanese science fiction film
The Mysterians 1959 appears at the top.) "We've
been a force in home and car audio on this planet
for over 25 years. But now we're aiming even
higher." "Get on board now," we are warned in a
class Space Age threat. "Or get left behind.
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
--I saw a space colonist, showered by the spores
of a huge, menacing flower on an alien planet,
plagued by allergies ("No matter where you go,
there's going to be pollen"), at least until he
uses Contac. --I saw us encouraged to give to the
college of our choice through an image of a young
boy in a Day the Earth Stood Still space suit and
his dog standing beside a space capsule /
doghouse accompanied by the following text
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Popular Culture Studies
Today he's off exploring the back yard. Tomorrow,
he may be off exploring new galaxies. But before
kids of today can conquer the frontiers of
outerspace, they'll have to conquer the
complexities of mathematics, physics and
chemistry. That's where you come in. For only
with your help can they be assured of the
first-rate college education they'll need. . . .
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
So please invest in the future. Give generously
to the college of your choice. You'll be helping
launch America to a successful future."Help him
get America's future off the ground," the public
service advertisment's headline pleads.
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
--I saw a woman, once "in the dark about blinds,"
open her Levelors --blinds "enlightened by Space
Age technology"--to watch, as if from the
Archimedean point, an Earthrise. --I saw a woman
in Sheer Energy slippers blast off from the
Earth's surface--finally able, with their
support, to overcome the harsh demands gravity
has placed on her feet and distance herself from
its draining effect on her energy.
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--I saw a new breakfast cereal from
Ralston-Purina called Freakies--marketed as
"multigrain . . . crunchy honey-tasting
spaceships with marshmallow"--offer "out of this
world fun with earthly nutrition.
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--I saw the legendary Barbie herself enter into
space. "Barbie's on the Moon," proclaimed the
cover of an issue of Barbie magazine, and there
she was, in her "Astronaut Barbie" manifestation.
(Later, in the "Barbie Drama" section, I learned
that being the first woman on the moon was all a
dream, though a spacy date with Ken at the "Lunar
Lounge" made it all come true!)
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--I saw in a Space Age toy store a new line of
dolls called the Shimmerons, a species of alien
Barbie clones. "Lacy-Spacy--Out of this World . .
. Space Cadets" with spindly bodies and sparkling
wardrobes, they have come to Earth--according to
their back-of-the package mythology --because our
planet offers not only the cosmos' best shopping
but also the most awesome parties! ("What on
Earth are they doing here? Well the Shimmerons
wanted to discover why the Planet Earth is number
one for teenage fun, and show you how fun is done
on the Planet Shimmeron." "Here on Earth, the
Shimmerons are discovering skateboards, hot dogs,
rock music, and shopping malls!")
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--I saw us encouraged to "Expect the World of ABC
News," for, as their advertisement--showing the
Earth from space, coupled with a cosmic telephoto
lens and an extraterrestrial Peter Jenningsmade
clear, the network evidently covers the planet
from the Archimedean point.
Space Boosters
Popular Culture Studies
--And I saw that entrepeneurial plans are afoot
(I cite but three examples) (1) to bury people in
space (several companies have marketed such
schemes, one of which involves a
three-hundred-pound spacecraft containing no
fewer than fifteen thousand "cremains" launched
into polar orbit "Ashes of the Stars") (2) to
offer extraterrestrial vacations (Davies
"Orbital Jaunts" 32-33) and (3) to develop
robotic "space pets" (Liversidge).
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
Space has, no doubt, been sold to us along with
our meat and potatoes for some time now. As early
as the 1960s, space ads--like those represented
here--exhibited most of the ascensionistic cliche
's we find in later ones. Nor is the cosmic
exaggeration of such advertising really new. It
can be understood as an extension of what Daniel
Boorstin describes as "Booster Talk The Language
of Anticipation," a way of speaking about things
in which "what may be is contemplated as though
it were in actual existence" (Boorstin is quoting
an early nineteenth-century British observer of
American ways). Booster Talk is not
misrepresentation--or at least it does not seem
that way to Americans--but rather a kind of
clairvoyance, "not exaggerating but only
anticipating--describing things which had not yet
'gone through the formality of taking place'"
(Americans 296-98). But why, in the decade of the
space shuttle, did the pace and intensity of the
pitch increase so prominently?
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Interestingly enough, in 1965 the Italian
journalist Oriana Fallaci found the possibility
that space might be marketable beyond belief. In
If the Sun Dies 135-37), she contemplated the
possibility that the astronauts might be
commercialized but is told by a NASA spokesman
that the idea is ludicrous "Can you imagine a
billboard in Times Square with a photograph of
Gordon Cooper one of the original Apollo 7
astronauts smoking a certain brand of cigarette?
The cigarette of space! Up in space Gordon Cooper
smokes only . . . Inconceivable! None of them. .
. ." This was, of course, years before an
astronaut became head of a major airline, and
famed test-pilot (and hero of Tom Wolfe's The
Right Stuff) Chuck Yeager lent his image in
support of his favorite spark plugs.
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Even as she wrote, Fallaci herself was already
helping to advertise space. She confesses, "When
I returned to Milan I stuck up in my study a huge
map of the moon that had been sent to me by the
advertising office of Nestle's Powdered Milk. On
the Mare Copernicum was printed Feed Your Babies
on Nestle's Powdered Milk, but it looked
beautiful to me." Only two years later Kubrick's
2001 A Space Odyssey demonstrated conclusively,
with its open display of brand names in
extraterrestrial settings, that "space was
finally going to be conquered by Coca-Cola and AT
T."2 And by 1970, when Norman Mailer published
Of a Fire on the Moon, it had already become
apparent that "a new kind of commercial was being
evolved. NASA was vending space" (45).
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But only in the 1980s did the vending become
blatant a prominent feature of our cultural
landscape. (As Andre' Marchand's Advertising the
American Dream shows, advertising "paved the way"
for all that we think of as modern now it paves
the way for the postmodernism of the
extraterrestrial.) "The master fantasy of the
Reagan era," which informs the "little utopias"
of the Space Age advertising chronicled here, may
now be, as Todd Gitlin suggests, "the fantasy of
thrusting, self-sufficient man, cutting loose,
free of gravity, free of attachments" ("We Build
Excitement" 143). Implicit in most advertising,
according to John Berger, is the following hidden
transaction "The spectator-buyer is meant to
envy the person he will become if he buys the
product. He is meant to imagine himself
transformed by the product into an object of envy
for others, an envy which will then justify his
loving himself." Thus, Berger concludes, the
"publicity image" of an advertisment "steals love
of oneself as one is, and offers it back for the
price of the product" (134).
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
Is it too much to say that the Space Age
advertisements catalogued here--which sell, in a
package deal, not just mascara, or a Betamax, or
Big Macs, but a hyperreal longing for
space-steal--or seek to steal, not just our love
of ourselves, but our very earthliness? But it
does not, as in the normal marketing dialectic,
then offer it back. In a "bait and switch"
duplicity, it would rob us of it
permanently. And we seem so ready and willing to
have it stolen. As Boorstin observed (in The
Image A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America) at
the very beginning of the Space Age, Americans
are ruled by a powerful will-to-illusion.
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
When we pick up our newspaper at breakfast, we
expect--we even demand--that it bring us
momentous events since the night before. We turn
on our car radio as we drive to work and expect
"news" to have occurred since the morning paper
went to press. Returning in the evening, we
expect our house not only to shelter us, to keep
us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but
to relax us, to dignify us, to encompass us with
soft music and interesting hobbies, to be a
playground, a theater, and a bar. We expect our
two week vacation to be romantic, exotic, cheap,
and effortless. We expect a faraway atmosphere if
we go to a nearby place and we expect everything
to be relaxing, sanitary, and Americanized if we
go to a faraway place. We expect new heroes every
month, a new literary masterpiece every week, a
rare sensation every night. . . .
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We expect everything and anything. We expect the
contradictory and the impossible. We expect
compact cars which are spacious luxurious cars
which are economical. . . . We expect to eat and
stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever
more neighborly . . . to revere God and to be
God. Never have people been more the masters of
their environment. Yet never has a people been
more deceived and disappointed. For never has a
people expected so much more than the world could
possibly offer. (3-4 my emphasis)
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
When Boorstin wrote these words in the early
1960s, he thought he was speaking
figuratively. In 1983, I went to see E.T. The
Extraterrestrial in a movie theater in
Huntsville, Alabama (a city which, because it is
home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center,
takes pride in its nickname "The Rocket City").
At this, my second viewing of Steven Spielberg's
touching story of the triumph of the values of
the heart, I watched with interest a preliminary
commercial for Atari (screened before the film, I
surmised, because producers and distributors had
convinced the game company the demographics of a
typical E.T. audience indicated openness to such
a sales pitch). In the ad--which exhibited
special effects not unlike Tron's--a young man
sits, back to the camera, dreaming up ideas for
video games, and the games he invents
miraculously materialize around him, filling the
screen. As his dreams become wilder and wilder,
as he imagines "Asteroids" and "Space Invaders,"
he finds himself floating--as does the
audience--in interstellar space.
Popular Culture Studies
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The image is a common one now, of course I'd
seen it all before. But it struck me that day in
that context that it presented an ironic
counterpoint to the evocative tale of
homesickness I was about to watch. Here, during a
single Space Age afternoon's entertainment, I was
being asked to imagine myself as unearthly, and
then to feel the pathos of a poor alien creature
trapped far from home. I suspect that, against
its own better wisdom, E.T. has promoted in many
of its viewers not that supreme value which E.T.
himself cannot live without--the need for a
place, for a home--but rather extraterrestrial
urges. The desire to become precisely that which
tortures E.T., robbing him eventually of his very
life (at least momentarily), extinguishing his
heart-light, the longing to become homeless and
displaced ourselves, is so prominent now, so much
an everyday search image, that it would not
surprise me if many viewers of the film--if they
could trade places with Elliott--might reply
affirmatively to E.T.'s petition at the movie's
close to "Come."
Popular Culture Studies
Space Boosters
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