Popular Ideologies: Mass Culture at Mid-Century

Article excerpt

Popular Ideologies: Mass Culture at Mid-Century Susan Smulyan. University of Pennsylvania Press 2007.

Professor Smulyan concentrates on the reformulation of popular culture in the years following World War II. She draws on the concept of "popular ideologies" as a guide to her analysis of the acceleration changes that were occurring at midcentury. The content of her book includes such topics and themes as minstrel shows as a disappearing cultural form, and " the magic of the nylon" as a Dupont creation that transformed gender identities and behavioral patterns. The military occupations of Germany and Japan attempted to promote American values through widespread showing of a large number of selected films. Showing the film did not succeed in promotion ideology, but it did make a contribution to globalizing an interest in Hollywood productions. The author also examines popular ideologies by reviewing the large number of post-war novels focusing on the deception, manipulation, and persuasive effects of the advertising industry and organizational life.

The chapter on "minstrel laughs" focused on the transition from amateur productions at the local level to mass culture. The minstrel show provided entertainment by providing a context for the middle class to test local talent on the stage or as scriptwriters. Minstrel shows peaked in popularity in the late 1800s and had become objectionable as a form of entertainment by the 1960s. With the passing of time, the minstrel shows became commodified by publishers who made available an instruction book and the entire script for a theatrical production. In retrospect, minstrels were a shameful part of the culture of racial prejudice and oppression.

Professor Smulyan examines the linkage of a series of events following the invention of nylon with the ideological refinement and construction of gender. In the laboratories of Dupont, efforts were directed in the 1930s toward developing a finished fiber that would have the elasticity, luster, and strength of silk. The luster sheerness, and elasticity of nylon were drawn upon to promote the eroticism of women's legs. The cultural emphasis came to be placed on showing legs, rather than hiding them, as nylon came to replace silk in the production and advertising of women's stockings. …