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Popular Culture in America was first published in 1987. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
This book collects some of the best work from the journal Cultural Correspondence (1975–83), which editor Paul Buhle calls "the first political journal of culture to assume its readers (and writers) watched television." The twenty-four contributors are part of a new generation of cultural critics and historians who are self-conscious products of the mass culture of the fifties and sixties. Their work attempts to update an elementary democratic principle - that people seek understanding and solutions, real or fanciful, through the mechanisms available to them. Although these writers condemn the manipulative qualities of commercial culture, they just as vehemently reject most of what has passed for Marxist (or liberal or conservative) orthodoxy on popular culture. Americans, they argue, have had a unique opportunity as well as a unique need to make the most of popular culture; the collective cultural experience is our only shared past. The richness and vitality of that culture is the focus of this book.
The thirty-four essays work toward an understanding of American mass culture not through abstraction but by exploring the real pleasures of ordinary people's lives. Pulp literature (utopian and horror themes, sports and nurse novels, and contemporary science fiction); radio thrillers; TV horror movies: television evangelists; sitcoms; music (polka, country-western, blues, jazz, and rock 'n roll); comic strips (Krazy Kat, Dick Tracy, Zippy); women's humor—these and other topics are given sensitive, detailed—sometimes humorous—attention. Paul Buhle's essay, "The 1960s Meet the 1980s," discusses popular culture scholarship, drawing on a wide range of theory—the Frankfort School, art history, literary criticism, and social science approaches. Buhle argues for the importance of this scholarship as a way of understanding "that missed connection between the cultural promise of a richly diverse, democratic society and the reality at hand."