American Culture in the 1980s

By Graham Thompson | Go to book overview
Save to active project

The Intellectual Context

Decade Culture

If there are several expressions that can help to try and distil the values of a particular historical moment Zeitgeist, ‘spirit of the age,’ ‘sign of the times’ none automatically coincides with the ten-year period known as the decade. Although potentially tempting as an object of study, the tendency to make decade-length periods in American cultural history cohere under catchy epithets now seems clumsy and inadequate. Plenty of the culture produced during the 1920s, for instance, cannot be sufficiently understood by relying on terms like the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties; much is lost by substituting the Great Depression for the 1930s; while using the ‘sixties’ as a signifier for a whole array of positive or negative changes depending on one’s point of view may satisfy the desire for cultural nostalgia, the demands of conservatism, or a belief in the possibility of liberal progress, but does little to provide critical leverage on the decade’s complex social and cultural changes.

This situation is even more obviously a problem for those looking in on the US from the outside. Distance, and an attitude towards area studies that emphasizes national and cultural homogeneity, have tended to result in US culture being looked at through the telescope rather than the microscope. Paul Giles has noted how British and European treatments of American culture, from Henry Salt in the nineteenth century and D. H. Lawrence in the 1920s onwards, have been dominated by the ‘illusion of synchronicity,’1 whereby cultural texts are subsumed within thematic generalizations, the purpose of which is to try to sum up a national cultural condition. Developments in the study of American culture from the 1970s onwards, particularly in the US, increasingly tested the viability of this kind of methodology as the recovery of


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
American Culture in the 1980s


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 236

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?