My Pilgrim's Progress: Media Studies, 1950-1997by George W. S. Trow
This new book by the author of Within the Context of No Context/i>/i>
In My Pilgrim's Progress, George W. S. Trow gives us a brilliantly original and provocative look at what's happened to America in our time a guided tour of the media, the politics, and the personalities of the last half-century by one of our most persuasive social critics.
This new book by the author of Within the Context of No Context might be subtitled "A son of Roosevelt reads newspapers, goes to the movies, watches television, and tells us how 1950 got to be 1998." Trow takes 1950 as the year the Old World gave way to the New: Winston Churchill had just been named The Man of the Half-Century by Time magazine; George Bernard Shaw was still alive, and so was William Randolph Hearst. But before the next half-decade was out, the world represented by these powerful old men had disappeared.
To illustrate his points, Trow takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the New York Times of February 1950, from the thundering front pages where the terror of the H-bomb is making its first appearance to the early, sketchy, amateur television listings. He finds a piece of Television Personality Reportage in the paper a kind of proto-People magazine profile of the TV "hostess" and "guest" Faye Emerson, and notes: "As to World War II, the Germans lost, and Faye Emerson won."
The son of a tabloid journalist from an old New York brownstone family, Trow was brought up in the Deepest Roosevelt Aesthetic half FDR and half Walter Winchell. But he soon succumbed to the spell of Dwight David Eisenhower and the extraordinary/ordinary qualities of Ike's era. It is the thrust of Trow's book that both theRoosevelt authority and the Ike decencies are completely gone and where are they now that we need them more than ever?
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Even the most casual observer of the media landscape may notice that things are not, now, the way they were 20, 10, even 5 years ago. Self-referential premises crop up in television programs from "Saturday Night Live" to "Sports Night"; newspapers are continuing to take journalism cues from their television counterparts.
George W. S. Trow wrote Within the Context of No Context in the early 1980s; in that long essay, he examined the increase of celebrity worship, rampant consumerism, and other trappings of the media culture of the time. In My Pilgrim's Progress, he "gives himself a little bit of credit" for predicting the television-led landscape that currently blankets the land, and then turns his focus to the legacy of the past and how the upheaval in mass communication over the last 40 years altered that legacy.
Written in Trow's offhandedly conversational style, My Pilgrim's Progress is both a critique of the world at large and a personal memoir. Of course, this is wholly appropriate for someone whose earliest memories of newspapers come courtesy of his father; before Trow knew how to read, his father would pore over the paper with him, offering opinions on every column inch. This world of newspapers became a lens through which Trow could look at the world; the evolution (or, he might say, devolution) of the newspaper since his 1950s childhood is the backbone for his reaction ("the Germans lost [World War II] and Faye Emerson won," he says) to the changes in popular culture, epitomized by the rise in stature of celebrity culture.
Trow's points about assumed consciousness in the media culture of today (just try to create anything today that is not aware of the constructs of the sitcom, he challenges) are made even more pointed by his blending of personal experiences with his opinions on the popular. It's a wholly appropriate structure for the book, given that in today's society, the two are truly intertwined. Where does one stop and the other begin? This aspect of reality as sitcom-defined as it might be is what truly defines American culture at the century's end. My Pilgrim's Progress grapples with its consequences.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.89(w) x 8.62(h) x 1.14(d)
Meet the Author
George W. S. Trow was born in New York in 1943. He attended Exeter and Harvard, where he was a founding editor of the National Lampoon, and was a New Yorker staff writer from 1966 to 1994. In addition to his highly regarded work of cultural criticism, Within the Context of No Context, he is the author of a collection of essays, a novel, and many plays and screenplays. He lives in Columbia County, New York, and in Texas.
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