Left Intellectuals & Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century America

Left Intellectuals & Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century America

Left Intellectuals & Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century America

Left Intellectuals & Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century America

Synopsis

Since the late nineteenth century, American intellectuals have consistently criticized the mass arts, charging that entertainments ranging from popular theater, motion pictures, and dance halls to hit records, romance, novels, and television are harmful to the public. This critique of popular culture continues today, with condemnations of television shows like NYPD Blue and increasing fears about the purported effects of rap or hip-hop music.

Excerpt

The strongest criticism of the popular arts in the United States in the early twentieth century came from conservative intellectuals. The chief criticisms of popular theater, novels, magazines, and the new motion pictures appeared in the nation's most prestigious journals of literature and opinion and built upon arguments already decades old. Critics attacked mass entertainments for pandering to base passions, interfering with social discipline and disrupting the institutional bulwarks that stabilized society. The lasting result of their criticism and their program to remediate American culture was the sanctioning of a facile stratification of the arts and their respective publics, a hierarchy that would last for generations.

The ill will of the genteel intellectuals toward popular culture stemmed from both contemporary conditions and longstanding ideas. Their discom-

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