Ernest J. Yanarellaand Lee Sigelman
A collection of essays by political scientists writing about American popular fiction would probably strike most members of the literate public as something of a contradiction in terms. Caught up as it is in the hustle and bustle, the getting and spending of mass consumer culture, contemporary popular fiction presents itself as a perfect expression, an exquisite perversion, of the apolitical qualities defining the narcissistic and spectacular dimensions of American society ( Debord 1970; Lasch 1978). Mass culture, say the critics, is at most a cultural narcotic or a means of binding a society of atomized citizens together ( Lowenthal 1961; Adorno 1969-70), generated by a huge culture industry encompassing the major networks, the leading Hollywood film companies, and the largest publishing houses and magazines. Thus constituted, mass culture crystallizes into an enormous lens through which the mass public interprets social reality and a gigantic mirror by which members of the fragmented citizenry perceive their individual selves ( Mills 1963; Jacoby 1975). Seen in this light, the task of deciphering the meaning and function of mass fiction in contemporary society might better be left to sociologists skilled in the analysis of socialization processes or the mass media of communications than to political scientists.
Why, then, have we called upon a group of political scientists to render political readings of themes from several popular genres populating today's mass fiction market? Indeed, why would students of politics care to devote attention to a body of literature considered by literary critics as low- to middlebrow fiction? One plausible reason might stem from an enduring interest in the writer as a political actor or in fiction as a vehicle of political commentary ( O'Brien 1967; Glicksberg 1975). From the politics of Shakespeare ( Bloom 1964) and Joyce ( Manganiello 1980) to the political fiction of Melville, Conrad, and Dos Passos ( Hay 1963; Rogin 1975; Rosen 1981), the political dimensions of the life and work of great writers have exerted a powerful pull to students
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Publication information: Book title: Political Mythology and Popular Fiction. Contributors: Ernest J. Yanarella - Editor, Lee Sigelman - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1988. Page number: 1.
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