Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs

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Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs. Lynn Spigel. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001. 440 pp. $64.95 hbk. $21.95 pbk.

Suburban homes and spaceships. Portable televisions and sexual liberation. These are not the things one usually thinks of when considering the decades following World War II. But that is just the point in Welcome to the Dreamhouse.

According to television historian and feminist media studies scholar Lynn Spigel, when Americans look back, they tend to think in stereotypical and oversimplified ways. Poodle skirts and black leather jackets readily come to mind, and gender roles, as seen in the era's television shows and today's ubiquitous Nickelodeon reruns, were fixed and rosy. But, in examples ranging from Sputnik to NASA, and from Barbie to Dennis the Menace and Peanuts, Spigel brings us a new view of postwar media and visual culture. In addition, she connects these concerns to our ways of looking at the present, as well as the future.

In ten essays, Spigel helps us see the complexity of past, present, and future conceptualizations of popular culture, especially as they are tied to television, advertisements, and other visual media. Each of the book's five sections have two essays, the first a reprint of one published earlier, and the second a new one. In section one, Spigel begins her look at postwar America by asking the reader to reconsider how to think about America's flight to the suburbs along with television in the 1950s. As America's "suburban home companion," television's emergence accompanied changes in public and private culture as more and more people fled to the fringes of the nation's cities. Then, on the heels of this human geographical and architectural shift, in essay two, Spigel illustrates how the makers of portable television appealed to the public. Not just something for the family in the living room, television became a personal item, an ideal device for individuals on the move.

This assessment of television as a vehicle for "domestic space travel" serves as a fitting segue into part two, where Spigel explores America's 1960s fascination with space. The period's "fantastic family sitcom[s]"-Lost in Space, for example-and African Americans' responses to NASA, are featured in this section's pair of essays.

In "Seducing the Innocent," the first of part three's essays, Spigel discusses critics' concerns about the effects of mass media on children, calling for a re-evaluation of their goals and assumptions. Then, in an essay on postwar kid strips, she considers a relationship between Dennis the Menace and Peanuts and the nation's quest for national supremacy during the cold war. …