Academic journal article Journalism History

Anti-Intellectualism in American Media: Magazines and Higher Education

Academic journal article Journalism History

Anti-Intellectualism in American Media: Magazines and Higher Education

Article excerpt

Claussen, Dane S. Anti-Intellectualism in American Media: Magazines and Higher Education, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004. 280 pp. $29.95.

This well-written and important book contends that "[t]he study of anti-intellectualism in American society has to date neglected the role of the mass media in maintaining the hegemony of an anti-intellectual American culture." With evidence culled largely from four popular American magazines (Time, Life, Reader's Digest, and the Ladies' Home Journal) published over more than a fifty-five-year period (1944-1998), the author identifies three threads of anti-intellectualism in education and lifestyle reporting: "religious anti-rationalism" (defined here as a trend toward social conformity and against challenging authority), "populist anti-elitism" (the notion of education as "common sense" for "common people"), and "unreflective instrumcntalism" (the belief "that knowledge is worthless unless it immediately and directly leads to material gain, such as profits or higher wages").

Claussen's discussion of these themes raises questions painfully familiar to most of us, ranging from why so much of higher education has turned into a customer-service industry to why Americans prefer their national "heroes" and leaders, including the president, to be "typical" and "not too smart." As this book reveals, while these may seem to be current phenomena, they have been enduring conditions, in fact, over the past half-century.

The author makes a good case for his two main theses about media: as influential and far-reaching national media, magazines are a medium worthy of cultural analysis; and public ideas about higher education have been greatly influenced by journalistic coverage. Yet the large amount of theoretical and historical context provided in the first half of the book, including the fact-filled, introductory overview of the evolution of higher education since the GI Bill after World War II, convinces us that the fault for anti-intellectualism cannot lie only, or even primarily, in media. …

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