Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars

Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars

by Joel Dinerstein
     
 

ISBN-10: 1558493832

ISBN-13: 9781558493834

Pub. Date: 04/04/2003

Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press

In any age and any given society, cultural practices reflect the material circumstances of people's everyday lives. According to Joel Dinerstein, it was no different in America between the two World Wars-an era sometimes known as the "machine age"-when innovative forms of music and dance helped a newly urbanized population cope with the increased mechanization of

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Overview

In any age and any given society, cultural practices reflect the material circumstances of people's everyday lives. According to Joel Dinerstein, it was no different in America between the two World Wars-an era sometimes known as the "machine age"-when innovative forms of music and dance helped a newly urbanized population cope with the increased mechanization of modern life. Grand spectacles such as the Ziegfeld Follies and the movies of Busby Berkeley captured the American ethos of mass production, with chorus girls as the cogs of these fast, flowing pleasure vehicles.

Yet it was African American culture, Dinerstein argues, that ultimately provided the means of aesthetic adaptation to the accelerated tempo of modernity. Drawing on a legacy of engagement with and resistance to technological change, with deep roots in West African dance and music, black artists developed new cultural forms that sought to humanize machines. In "The Ballad of John Henry," the epic toast "Shine," and countless blues songs, African Americans first addressed the challenge of industrialization. Jazz musicians drew on the symbol of the train within this tradition to create a set of train-derived aural motifs and rhythms, harnessing mechanical power to cultural forms. Tap dance and the lindy hop brought machine aesthetics to the human body, while the new rhythm section of big band swing mimicked the industrial soundscape of northern cities. In Dinerstein's view, the capacity of these artistic innovations to replicate the inherent qualities of the machine-speed, power, repetition, flow, precision-helps explain both their enormous popularity and social function in American life.

University of Massachusetts Press

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781558493834
Publisher:
University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date:
04/04/2003
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
794,357
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Table of Contents

Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Bodies and Machines3
1The Tempo of Life Is Out of Control ... and Then Righted29
2The Jazz Train and American Musical Modernity63
3African American Modernism and the Techno-Dialogic: From John Henry to Duke Ellington105
4Swinging the Machines: Big Bands and Streamliner Trains137
5The Standardized White Girl in the Pleasure Machine: The Ziegfeld Follies and Busby Berkeley's 1930s Musicals182
6Tap Dancers Rap Back at the Machine221
7America's National Folk Dance: The Lindy Hop250
8The World of Tomorrow ... in the Groove: Swinging the New York World's Fair, 1939-40283
Conclusion: The Continuing Importance of Swinging the Machine312
Notes325
Index401

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