Academic journal article Journalism History

The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America since 1941

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America since 1941

Article excerpt

Baughman, James L. The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America Since 1941, 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 298 pp. $19.95.

By nature, we tend to hit the highlights when teaching history. There is only so much time in a semester or quarter so we are forced to make tough decisions on what to leave in and what to leave out But by focusing on the main points, we constantly struggle with the thought that we are not providing a true picture of the events for our students. When it comes to Hollywood or historical fiction, the omissions and emphases are often on purpose to tell a better story. George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck might have lost some of its power if the movie had spent more time on all of the other influences, besides Edward R. Murrow, that helped to bring down Joseph McCarthy. Glint Eastwood's flags of Our fathers would have lost a bit of the randomness of the celebrated Iwo Jima photograph if he had faithfully depicted Joe Rosenthal as a brave, talented photojournalist instead of the bumbling photographer who took the historic picture almost in spite of himself.

For these reasons, we need books like James L Baughman's The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America Since 1941. For the rise, fall, and reconfiguration of media in the last half of the twentieth century, he puts back the context and important factors that often get lost in the need for brevity or entertainment By pulling together scholarly research, popular histories, and telling anecdotes, he waves the caution flag when we are threatening to lionize, demonize, or oversimplify a person or event. We all know the power of Murrow's London bombing broadcasts and Kate Smith's emotional radio pleas for war bonds, but Baughman puts the events in perspective by reminding us that during the war, people still listened more to local than network radio news and less than 5 percent of Smith's audience actually pledged money to the war effort.

The power of his work is in the breadth of material he draws on to build his arguments. Television muscles into the power position in American media and sets the course for the "mass culture" of his tide, but he weaves in the influences from and changes for newspapers, radio, news magazines, picture magazines, and movies during the rise and dominance of television. …

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