Academic journal article American Studies

EVERYTHING WAS BETTER IN AMERICA: Print Culture in the Great Depression

Academic journal article American Studies

EVERYTHING WAS BETTER IN AMERICA: Print Culture in the Great Depression

Article excerpt

EVERYTHING WAS BETTER IN AMERICA: Print Culture in the Great Depression. By David Welky. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 2008.

The Great Depression sparked some of the most important reform movements in American history. In explaining this change, historians have frequently focused on writers and activists on the political left. Surveying what he calls the print mainstream, David Welky notices something else. "Partly consciously and partly unconsciously," Welky argues, "mainstream newspapers, magazines, and books offered interpretations of contemporary difficulties that urged readers to adhere to ideological roots that drew from deep traditions rather than driftinto the perilous seas of reform and perhaps revolution" (4). Distinguishing himself from Michael Denning's The Cultural Front, Welky sees a mainstream media spreading comfortably conservative messages about faith, family, tradition, resilience, and perseverance.

In attending to how mainstream media could uphold traditional pieties, and undermine pluralist, liberal, or radical alternatives, Welky is undoubtedly correct. Welky's book is a welcome reminder of how much of the mainstream media reacted to the Depression by seeking to reaffirm platitudes about American democracy, individualism, and traditional values. If his work leaves us wondering how to explain the substantial political reform that did occur, it helps to understand why the reforms were limited in important ways.

The mainstream media Welky investigates includes the newspaper, magazine, and book industries. After surveying each industry, Welky offers sometimes surprising and often interesting case studies. Conventional choices such as Life magazine or The Grapes of Wrath are complemented by analyses of the 1932 Olympic games and the daily comic strip "The Gumps." In his most interesting chapters, Welky does more than locate conservative messages. Instead, he shows the ways conservative and progressive messages could both proliferate in the same locations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.