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Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and the Class at the Turn of the Century

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At the turn of the nineteenth century, American capitalism was in crisis, producing too many goods for too few buyers, that crisis was ultimately resolved in a novel, historically decisive manner by creating whole new categories of consumer goods and by appealing to new groups of people who might purchase them. What we now recognise as consumer society originated in that period, and it was mass culture, the first ‘culture industry’, that helped bring it into being.

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Overview

At the turn of the nineteenth century, American capitalism was in crisis, producing too many goods for too few buyers, that crisis was ultimately resolved in a novel, historically decisive manner by creating whole new categories of consumer goods and by appealing to new groups of people who might purchase them. What we now recognise as consumer society originated in that period, and it was mass culture, the first ‘culture industry’, that helped bring it into being.

In a magisterial study of the process, Richard Ohmann surveys the new practices of advertising, mass distribution of goods, and, most important, the birth of the inexpensive mass-audience magazine to analyse the creation of the American professional-managerial class. Drawing upon work in economic, cultural, and social history, he integrates the seemingly disparate phenomena of modern middle-class life in a coherent tale of how the class was formed and came to occupy the foreground in the malign ideological formation, ‘the American Dream.’

Elegantly written, lucidly argued, and brimming with arresting facts and incidents, Selling Culture offers the definitive account of the relation between culture and economy in the transformation of the United States into a mass-consumption, mass-mediated society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Richard Ohmann is an author of rare talents: a theoretically sophisticated critic who never lets theory overpower historical evidence, never loses his eye for the sparkling anecdote or the revealing detail. Selling Culture is a gem of a book.”—Jackson Lears, author of Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America

“Richard Ohmann’s excursions into the realms of American advertising and mass journalism are cultural studies at its best.”—Patrick Brantlinger

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Drawing, in part, from what the author, a former editor of College English, calls "the broad marxist tradition," this is a highly ideological social and economic history of the rise of low-cost, high-circulation monthly magazines in America at the end of the 19th century. The era marked what Ohmann sees as the beginning of a nationwide mass culture rooted in advertising that continues to this day, a culture based on using information and entertainment as commodities. Thanks to developments in technology, Ohmann notes, the U.S. moved from being an industrial country to a marketing one; and along the way, a professional managerial class established itself. Among the magazines given special attention (including a study of the fiction published) are Munsey's, McClure's and Ladies' Home Journal. Topics touched on include the birth of department stores, mail order and chain stores; the rise of the suburbs; and the triumph of advertising agencies, which, according to Ohmann, articulated the goals and formulated the strategies of "the big bourgeoisie." Less politically-minded readers might be tempted to skip the ideological sections and mine this highly researched study for the richindeed lavishamount of raw information it contains on the growth of popular culture. Illustrations. (June)
Booknews
Surveys the new practices of advertising, mass distribution of goods, and the birth of the inexpensive mass-audience magazine at the end of the 19th century, and their role in the creation of the American professional-managerial class. Focuses on magazine publishing, careers of key personalities in the publishing world, and the role of fiction in the magazines. For students and general readers. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781859849743
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Series: Haymarket Series
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.47 (h) x 1.42 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
1 The Experience 1
2 The Origins of Mass Culture 11
3 Explaining Things 31
4 What Capitalists Needed 48
5 Moving the Goods 62
6 Advertising: New Practices, New Relations 81
7 Readers, Consumers: The Professional-Managerial Class 118
8 The Discourse of Advertising 175
9 Charting Social Space 219
10 Fiction's Inadvertent Love Song 287
11 Considerations 340
Notes 365
Index 401
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