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Commerce and Mass Culture

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Commerce and Mass Culture

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Active Radio

Pacifica’s Brash Experiment

Jeffrey Land

In April 1949, KPFA in Berkeley, California, went on the air. From the beginning, the station broadcast an utterly new combination of political commentary and cultural discussion that reflected founder Lewis Hill’s vision of a radio station dedicated to creative expression and dissent. In this fascinating account, Jeff Land tells the heroic story of the Pacifica radio network, exploring not only its role in the culture and politics of the postwar world but also the practical model it pioneered for liberatory alternatives to commercial mass media.

A network of five stations (in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Houston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.), Pacifica has been actively involved in nearly every progressive political movement of the past fifty years. The network has risked the loss of its licenses and made errors of judgment and taste; its transmitters were bombed; its personnel have been arrested and jailed. Yet it pioneered a number of media innovations, listener sponsorship and call-in radio among them. It has made history: on Pacifica stations, Seymour Hersh broke the My Lai story; the FBI’s illegal internal surveillance program was first publicly revealed; the Firesign Theater gave its first performance; and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” made its public debut.

Using tape archives of radio programs, interviews with participants, and unpublished material on Pacifica, Land chronicles the turmoils and triumphs of this radio network that served as a model for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. Rich in anecdote, Active Radio is both an engaging account of Pacifica’s past and an assessment of its significance to postwar culture in the United States.

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Citizen Spy

Television, Espionage, and Cold War Culture

Michael Kackman

In Citizen Spy, Michael Kackman investigates how media depictions of the slick, smart, and resolute spy have been embedded in the American imagination. Looking at secret agents on television and the relationships among networks, producers, government bureaus, and the viewing public in the 1950s and 1960s, Kackman explores how Americans see themselves in times of political and cultural crisis. 

During the first decade of the Cold War, Hollywood developed such shows as I Led 3 Lives and Behind Closed Doors with the approval of federal intelligence agencies, even basing episodes on actual case files. These “documentary melodramas” were, Kackman argues, vehicles for the fledgling television industry to proclaim its loyalty to the government, and they came stocked with appeals to patriotism and anti-Communist vigilance. 

As the rigid cultural logic of the Red Scare began to collapse, spy shows became more playful, self-referential, and even critical of the ideals professed in their own scripts. From parodies such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart to the more complicated global and political situations of I Spy and Mission: Impossible, Kackman situates espionage television within the tumultuous culture of the civil rights and women’s movements and the war in Vietnam. Yet, even as spy shows introduced African-American and female characters, they continued to reinforce racial and sexual stereotypes. 

Bringing these concerns to the political and cultural landscape of the twenty-first century, Kackman asserts that the roles of race and gender in national identity have become acutely contentious. Increasingly exclusive definitions of legitimate citizenship, heroism, and dissent have been evident through popular accounts of the Iraq war. Moving beyond a snapshot of television history, Citizen Spy provides a contemporary lens to analyze the nature—and implications—of American nationalism in practice. 

Michael Kackman is assistant professor in Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas, Austin.

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Hollywood Independents

The Postwar Talent Takeover

Denise Mann

Hollywood Independents explores the crucial period from 1948 to 1962 when independent film producers first became key components of the modern corporate entertainment industry. Denise Mann examines the impact of the radically changed filmmaking climate—the decline of the studios, the rise of television, and the rise of potent talent agencies like MCA—on a group of prominent talent-turned-producers including Burt Lancaster, Joseph Mankiewicz, Elia Kazan, and Billy Wilder.

 

In order to show how these newly independent filmmakers negotiated through an increasingly fraught, reactionary creative atmosphere, Mann analyzes the reflexive portraits of their altered working conditions in such films as A Face in the Crowd, Sweet Smell of Success, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These artists, she shows, took on the corporate middle-managers at television networks and talent agencies as a way of challenging the status quo without risking censorship or blacklisting.

 

This period saw the evolution of film production from the studio-governed system to one of entrepreneurs. Out of this new arrangement, which encouraged greater creative freedom, emerged a nascent form of independent art cinema that sowed the seeds of the Hollywood Renaissance that followed.

 

Denise Mann is associate professor of film, TV and digital media at UCLA. She is coeditor of Private Screenings: Television and the Female Consumer (Minnesota, 1992).

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Making Easy Listening

Material Culture and Postwar American Recording

Tim Anderson

The period between the Second World War and the mid-1960s saw the American music industry engaged in a fundamental transformation in how music was produced and experienced. Tim Anderson analyzes three sites of this music revolution: the change from a business centered around live performances to one based on selling records, the custom of simultaneously bringing out multiple versions of the same song, and the arrival of in-home high-fidelity stereo systems. 

Making Easy Listening presents a social and cultural history of the contentious, diverse, and experimental culture of musical production and enjoyment that aims to understand how recording technologies fit into and influence musicians’, as well as listeners’, lives. With attention to the details of what it means to play a particular record in a distinct cultural context, Anderson connects neglected genres of the musical canon—classical and easy listening music, Broadway musicals, and sound effects records—with the development of sound aesthetics and technical music practices that leave an indelible imprint on individuals. Tracing the countless impacts that this period of innovation exacted on the mass media, Anderson reveals how an examination of this historical era—and recorded music as an object—furthers a deeper understanding of the present-day American music industry. 

Tim J. Anderson is assistant professor of communication at Denison University.

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Sex And Money

Feminism and Political Economy in the Media

Eileen R. Meehan

It all comes down to sex and money: how the media are organized, how they work, what they say, who gets to say it and to whom. That is the message this book delivers—and then parses for its meaning to society and culture. Forcefully and persuasively, this groundbreaking volume uses the media to show how questions of gender and economics are inextricably linked to issues of power in Western capitalist societies. Integrating political economy and feminism, it offers a new understanding of communication at the personal, experiential, institutional, and structural levels-and exposes all the subtle and complex ways in which sex and money are sutured into individuals’ daily lives. Contributors: Robin Andersen, Fordham U; Ellen Balka, Simon Fraser U; Amy Beer; Carolyn M. Byerly, Ithaca College; Ramona Curry, U of Illinois; Fred Fejes, Florida Atlantic U; Nancy Hauserman, U of Iowa; Michèle Martin, Carleton U, Canada; Stana Martin, Central Missouri State U; Lisa McLaughlin, Miami U, Ohio; Roopali Mukherjee, Indiana U; Angela R. Record; Karen Ross, Coventry U; H. Leslie Steeves, U of Oregon; Angharad N. Valdivia, U of Illinois; Janet Wasko, U of Oregon; and Justin Wyatt.

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Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent

Matthew Bernstein

The long, colorful career of Walter Wanger (1894-1968) is one of Hollywood’s greatest untold stories. An intellectual and a socially conscious movie executive who produced provocative message movies and glittering romantic melodramas, Wanger’s career started at Paramount studios in the 1920s and led him to work at virtually every major studio as either a contract producer or an independent. He produced a series of American film classics, including Queen Christina, Stagecoach, Foreign Correspondent, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as a few notable flops, such as Cleopatra. This comprehensive biography brings to life a distinctive film personality and offers a new appreciation of the role of the producer in the history of American cinema.

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