Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America

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Fables of Abundance ranges from the traveling peddlers of early modern Europe to the twentieth-century American corporation, exploring the ways that advertising collaborated with other cultural institutions to produce the dominant aspirations and anxieties in the modern United States.

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Overview

Fables of Abundance ranges from the traveling peddlers of early modern Europe to the twentieth-century American corporation, exploring the ways that advertising collaborated with other cultural institutions to produce the dominant aspirations and anxieties in the modern United States.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this imposing, highly illuminating study, Rutgers history professor Lears (The Culture of Consumption) examines not just the rise of modern advertising but also the transformations of American culture that precipitated it and the influence of modern consumerism on our relationship to material objects. He deftly interweaves case histories of famous admen, like George H. Rowell, who founded the trade journal Printers Ink in 1888, and early modernist aesthete Earnest Elmo Calkins, with close readings of particular advertising campaigns and art and literature dealing with commodity culture. Lears's underlying thesis is that advertising, by treating objects of material abundance as signifiers of economic status and social progress, has reinforced America's puritanical alienation from the magic and carnivalesque hedonism of the pre-industrial world. He shows how a 19th-century commodity culture bustling with Barnumesque con men and patent medicine peddlars gave way to today's scientific-managerial consumer industries; and he chronicles the professionalization of an early 20th-century advertising industry headquartered on Manhattan's Madison Avenue. He also explores the intermingling of high and low art and suggests that the work of such artists as Proust and Joseph Cornell succeeds at investing material objects with an aesthetic value that transcends their role as mass produced, disposable goods. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Lears (history, Rutgers Univ.) offers a scholarly, multidisciplinary discussion of the relationship between advertising and culture, straying into literature, art, religion, and other areas to show how advertising has affected culture rather than merely reflecting it. He views as false and even harmful the ad industry's attempt to portray itself as rational rather than emotional and imaginative, arguing that the emphasis on managerialism and rational thought have permeated and impoverished our culture by removing the "magic." In addition, the founders of the major ad agencies are seen as belonging to a different socioeconomic class than the class of those they are trying to reach. Though one often needs an unabridged dictionary at hand to read this densely written work, it provides a cogent assessment of the ad industry's need to be more connected with our past and our culture. Recommended for relevant research collections.-Sue McKimm, Cuyohoga Cty. P.L., Parma, Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465090761
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/24/1994
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 65.00 (w) x 97.50 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Pt. I The Reconfiguration of Wealth: From Fecund Earth to Efficient Factory
1 The Lyric of Plenty 17
2 The Modernization of Magic 40
3 The Stabilization of Sorcery 75
4 The Disembodiment of Abundance 102
Pt. II The Containment of Carnival: Advertising and American Social Values from the Patent Medicine Era to the Consolidation of Corporate Power
5 The Merger of Intimacy and Publicity 137
6 The Perfectionist Project 162
7 The New Basis of Civilization 196
8 Trauma, Denial, Recovery 235
Pt. III Art, Truth, and Humbug: The Search for Form and Meaning in a Commodity Civilization
9 The Problem of Commercial Art in a Protestant Culture 261
10 The Courtship of Avant-Garde and Kitsch 299
11 The Pursuit of the Real 345
12 The Things Themselves 379
Notes 415
Index 477
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