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DON'T THINK, SMILE!: Notes on a Decade of Denial Hardcover – October, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (October 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807043206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807043202
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,533,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The liberal cause finds a backbone in Ellen Willis's supple collection of essays. Whether writing about feminism, freedom of speech, O.J. Simpson, or The Bell Curve, Willis presents arguments that are always thought-provoking, and always meant to reconnect the current political divide between the economic and cultural concerns of liberals in order to strengthen the liberal position. "The left will continue to lose ground," Willis insists, "unless it gives up the untenable distinction between economics and culture to which it is stubbornly attached." Willis inspires political liberals to stop second-guessing what mainstream America really wants, and to stand behind real concerns about the rights to freedom and pleasure. Don't Think, Smile! has plenty to spar about, but one will do so with a truly invigorating pugilist. --Maria Dolan

From Publishers Weekly

In six provocative essays, Willis, who writes frequently for the Village Voice and other liberal publications, dissects the political agendas and actions of the American Left during the past decade, finding them insufficient to meet most citizens' everyday challenges. Claiming that mainstream political progressives have made a fateful choice to prioritize issues of class and economics over those of "culture" (e.g., race, sex, gender and sexuality), Willis argues that their approach does not acknowledge the complexity of American social structures and her own and most people's desire to have "a freer, saner, and more pleasurable life." Willis is at her best when she prods raw nerves in U.S. politics to illustrate her points, including the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill controversy, Murray and Herrnstein's The Bell Curve and Catherine McKinnon's anti-porn legislation. Viewing most contemporary conservative politics as a "backlash to the sixties," Willis writes with a great deal of wit and compassion. In addition to her firm grasp of the complexities of political discourse, her main strength is her ability to ground her ideological stands firmly in human needs and experience. She is particularly adept at examining how complicated individual responses to events such as Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky or the presumed connection between crime and race are missing from what she sees as the highly politicized, partisan news coverage of those events. Never taking the easy or predictable route, Willis shows an ability to explicate difficult dilemmas. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Ellen Willis (1941-2006) was the first rock critic for the New Yorker, an editor and columnist at the Village Voice, and cofounder of the radical feminist group Redstockings. Her writing appeared in numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and the Nation. She established the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University and published "Beginning to See the Light" and "No More Nice Girls," both reissued from Minnesota in 2012, as well as "Don't Think, Smile!" Her award-winning posthumous collection of rock criticism, "Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music," was published in 2011, also by University of Minnesota Press.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Carie Fox on October 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Willis's style is challenging--she refuses to condescend to the reader--and utterly invigorating. On topics as varied as race relations, the work ethic, Monica Lewinsky, and class wars she manages to cut through the dross. What she says is both exquisitely painful in its candor, and paradoxically optimistic.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on October 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In "DON'T THINK, SMILE: Notes on a Decade of Denial," Ellen Willis offers penetrating insights into the "new austerity," the anti-democratic, anti-radical ethos that has come to be the prevailing and controlling ideology of American life. From her perspective as a left libertarian, she offers a compelling critique of social conservatives on both sides of the aisle: on the right the neoliberal economists and right-wing libertarians (Bennett, Boaz Murray), and on the left, those who seek to revive the mass politics of the era of the liberal consensus (Rorty, Gitlin) by stifling as politically inastute the "balkanizing" multiculturalist thrust of the post-60s cultural left.
Willis makes a good case for cultural politics as the more successful of the two strands leftist practice. She notes that no American has been untouched by the changes in "sexual mores, male female relations, the breakdown or taboos on public experession, the demand for a cleaner environment and a healthy diet, the new centrality of paid work to women's lives, the icreasing racial and ethnic heterogeneity of mainstream American life" ---- all of which grew out of 60s cultural radicalism -- and which has "after three decades and more of ferocious backlash, actively supported by the federal government, accomplished the social equivalent of the putting the toothpaste back in the tube."
She suggests that Americans lack of interest in the agenda of the traditional left may be due to the fact that it is a pale echo of the conservative social agenda of work, more work, family values and upright "Christian" living.
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