Electric Dreamland: Amusement Parks, Movies, and American Modernity

Overview

More than two thousand amusement parks dotted the American landscape in the early twentieth century, thrilling the general public with the latest in entertainment and motion picture technology. Amusement parks were the playgrounds of the working class, combining numerous, mechanically-based spectacles into one unique, modern cultural phenomenon. Lauren Rabinovitz describes the urban modernity engendered by these parks and their media, encouraging ordinary individuals to sense, ...

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Electric Dreamland: Amusement Parks, Movies, and American Modernity

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Overview

More than two thousand amusement parks dotted the American landscape in the early twentieth century, thrilling the general public with the latest in entertainment and motion picture technology. Amusement parks were the playgrounds of the working class, combining numerous, mechanically-based spectacles into one unique, modern cultural phenomenon. Lauren Rabinovitz describes the urban modernity engendered by these parks and their media, encouraging ordinary individuals to sense, interpret, and embody a burgeoning national identity.

As industrialization, urbanization, and immigration upended society before World War I, amusement parks tempered the shocks of racial, ethnic, and cultural conflict while shrinking the distinctions between gender and class. As she follows the rise of American parks from 1896 to 1918, Rabinovitz seizes on a simultaneous increase in cinema and spectacle audiences and connects both to the success of leisure activities in stabilizing society. Critics of the time often condemned parks and movies for inciting moral decline, but in fact they fostered women's independence, racial uplift, and assimilation. The rhythmic, mechanical movements of spectacle also conditioned audiences to process multiple stimuli. Featuring illustrations from private collections and accounts from unaccessed archives, Electric Dreamland joins film and historical analyses in a rare portrait of mass entertainment and the modern American eye.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Abel

Electric Dreamland innovatively analyzes the early twentieth-century's twin technological entertainments: amusement parks and motion pictures. It demonstrates how crucial railroads and electricity were to both and how their inextricable development erased conventional notions of urban and rural difference. Amusement parks and motion pictures, Lauren Rabonovitz argues, served as unique venues of mass culture for people to adapt to modernity by experiencing its pleasures and dangers first hand and to share in the emergence of a new American national identity.

John F. Kasson

Electric Dreamland is a work of meticulous scholarship and original argument that deepens our knowledge and provokes new insights. Scholars of American popular culture are in Rabinovitz's debt.

Shelley Stamp

Electric Dreamland is part of a growing body of work that builds an inter-medial reading of cinema's relationship to other early-twentieth-century phenomena. It draws on a wealth of archival materials, ephemera, and experiential data to demonstrate the remarkable inter-dependence of amusement parks and early motion pictures. Never again will the two entertainments be seen in isolation.

AfterImage - Patrick Friel

...accessible, but no less rigorous in its scholarship.

Midwest Book Review

An excellent pick for any collection strong in entertainment and social analysis.Midwest Book Review

Choice

thought-provoking, theoretically savvy, and sometimes even amusing study...highly recommended.

Choice

thought-provoking, theoretically savvy, and sometimes even amusing study...highly recommended.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231156608
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 7/24/2012
  • Series: Film and Culture Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Lauren Rabinovitz is professor of American studies and cinema at the University of Iowa. She is the author of For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies, and Culture in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago and Points of Resistance: Women, Power, and Politics in the New York Avant-garde Cinema, 1943-1971.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

1 Introduction: Artificial Distractions 1

2 Urban Wonderlands: The "Cracked Mirror" of Turn-of-the-Century Amusement Parks 24

3 Thrill Ride Cinema: Hale's Tours and Scenes of the World 66

4 The Miniature and the Giant: Postcards and Early Cinema 96

5 Coney Island Comedies: Slapstick at the Amusement Park and the Movies 136

6 Conclusion: The Fusion of Movies and Amusement Parks 162

Appendix: Directory of Amusement Parks in the United States Prior to 1915 175

Notes 195

Films Cited 219

Selected Bibliography 223

Index 229

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