American Culture in the 1980s

By Neal, Arthur G. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview

American Culture in the 1980s


Neal, Arthur G., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


American Culture in the 1980s Graham Thompson. Edinburgh University Press. 2007.

The book leads off with a chronology of the major American cultural events of the 1980s. Throughout, case studies are developed to effectively illustrate and elaborate major themes. These include, for example, such diverse topics as televangelism, Madonna, Silicon Valley, Cindy Sherman, Split Britches Company, and the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The primary content chapters were divided into Fiction and Poetry, Art and Philosophy, Film and Television, and Music and Performance. In addition, the author has a special chapter on American culture and globalization. The commodification of culture and the compression of time and space are evident within a context of increasing global connectivity. In combination, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the major development in American popular culture during the decade under review.

The author recognizes the artificiality and limitations of taking a decade approach to the study of American culture. Such an approach fails to acknowledge the organic linkages between the past, the present, and the future in cultural developments. Professor Thompson correctly takes issue with such notations as "Ronald Reagan's America" as the key to a decade. The multiple cultural developments of the time span under review preclude any identifiable uniformity or commonality.

The author also critiques the European emphasis on American national character and American identity. Such themes fail to take into account the multiple lifestyles and multiple patterns of linkage to society and experiences on the part of Africans, Asians, and Native Americans as well as by gender, sexual subcultures, religions, and regions of the country. Thompson correctly shows an appreciation of the complexity and heterogeneity of American society. He also recognizes the tensions growing out of the pressures for uniformity within a context of diversity.

The author addresses subfields of American culture by selecting among the many works of the decade for review. For example, the new post-modernists are discussed in the chapter on fiction and poetry. The themes of postmodernism as well as new expressionism are discussed in the chapter on art and photography. …

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