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

Article excerpt

The Republic of Mass Culture, Journalism, Filmmaking and Broadcasting in America Since 1941, 3d ed. James L. Baughman. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 298 pp. $25 pbk.

A distinguishing characteristic of The Republic of Mass Culture is its emphasis on the institutions that constitute the major mass media in the second half of the twentieth century. Although, as noted in its title, the book covers the fields of journalism, filmmaking, and broadcasting, its focus is on television and its impact on the other industries. Perhaps more important, in The Republic of Mass Culture Baughman addresses the interdependence of the three industries and the social milieu in which they operate.

Trained as a historian and now director of the School of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Baughman argues the electronic media, particularly broadcast television, haven't had the impact many believe they have had. Rather, other factors including suburbanization, changing demographics, and a failure to react appropriately to societal and technological change explain the difficulties faced by the motion picture studios and newspapers beginning in the 1950s.

For example, Baughman argues publishers failed to anticipate the impact commuting would have on evening newspapers. He notes that in driving from his or her job in the city to a home in the suburbs, "the individual commuter could not . . . read a newspaper" the way he or she had been able to while "taking a trolley or elevated train to and from work." Further, individual commuters clogged freeways, making it difficult for newspapers to deliver evening editions to suburbs.

Radio proved to be much more resilient and agile, reacting to the emergence of television by developing new formats and taking advantage of changing demographics and the emergence of new forms of music such as rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Throughout the book, a recurring theme is Baughman's belief that the reluctance of Hollywood, television, radio, and news to confront traditional social mores is among the industries' most significant failings.

His skepticism of the prevailing notion of media's impacts on society and each other is one of the book's primary strengths. Another is its comprehensive nature and the meticulousness Baughman applies to his subject. What is also particularly interesting is the book's layout and chapter titles. For example, in chapter 6, "Competing for the Marginal: Television's Rivals, 1958-1970," Baughman explains in detail what was happening with movies, magazines, and newspapers during television's rise to become the dominant mass medium. …

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