Academic journal article Journalism History

The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties

Article excerpt

Turner, Fred. The Democratic Surround: Multimedia & American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 365 pp. $32.50.

In The Democratic Surround, Fred Turner takes a unique approach that considers visual arts and music as part of the political communication landscape and emphasizes the importance of museums as a venue for an alternative form of propaganda. Turner divides the book into two parts of four chapters each. The first explains how the democratic surround-Turner's own term-originated during World War II; part two describes how the philosophies behind the democratic surround evolved in the Cold War era.

The rise of fascism created the need for a new type of media. Analysts assumed powerful effects, especially at the hands of those with knowledge to manipulate an audience to accept their ideas and act on them, and blamed the mass media for assisting in the creation of a totalitarian regime. American anthropologists, psychologists, and so- ciologists were tasked with countering the collective mentality and hatred that characterized Hitler's Germany. They took understandings of how culture shaped the development of the psyche and turned them into a prescription for bolstering American morale. They defined an ideal democratic personality as rational, empathetic, committed to diversity, and able to collaborate with others while retaining individuality, and suggested that new, democratic modes of communication needed to be developed to shore up this personality.

A participatory, multimedia experience would create the egalitarian environment American intellectuals sought, and they called on artists of the Bauhaus tradition to execute their vision. The resulting democratic surrounds were arrays of images, words, and sometimes music, built into environments that audiences could enter freely, act spontaneously in, and leave at will. Interestingly, while the democratic surround broke from the perceived constraints of mass media and mass society, it maintained social control. Turner argues that although democratic surrounds left participants free to choose, their choices were limited to what experts presented them.

Turner posits that the Museum of Modern Art was central to efforts at a new kind of propaganda: exhibits intended to nurture the individual democratic personality and the collective sense of national purpose during World War II. The museum's role increased after the war, when emphasis shifted to raising democratic children, rehabilitating veterans whose autonomy had been damaged by military service, and expanding democratic morale to a global scale. In addition to staging propagandistic exhibits in the facility, the museum built centers where children and veterans learned to express themselves through the creation of their own art. …

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