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Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties Hardcover – May 28, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"[A]n entertaining as well as informative book.... Burns provides sharp analysis, explaining just how the industry exercised unprecedented power over the average American’s thoughts about news events such as the McCarthy hearings, social changes such as civil rights protests, and the roles of women and African Americans. This well-researched book contains a nice combination of serious topics and humorous anecdotes, plus an insightful bibliography. VERDICT: Reading a work by Burns is like having a delightful, intelligent conversation with a cultural expert. Highly recommended for TV history enthusiasts as well as general readers."
—Library Journal

Book Description

When the first television was demonstrated in 1927, a headline in The New York Times read, “Like a Photo Come to Life.” It was a momentous occasion. But the power of television wasn’t fully harnessed until the 1950s, when the medium was, as Eric Burns says, “At its most preoccupying, its most life-altering.” And Burns, a former NBC News correspondent who is an Emmy-winner for his broadcast writing, knows about the impact of television.

 

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers chronicles the influence of television that was watched daily by the baby boomer generation. As kids became spellbound by Howdy Doody and The Ed Sullivan Show, Burns reveals, they often acted out their favorite programs. Likewise, they purchased the merchandise being promoted by performers, and became fascinated by the personalities they saw on screen, often emulating their behavior. It was the first generation raised by TV and Burns looks at both the promise of broadcasting as espoused by the inventors, and how that promise was both redefined and lost by the corporations who helped to spread the technology.

 

Yet Burns also contextualizes the social, cultural, and political events that helped shape the Fifties—from Sputnik and the Rosenberg trial to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare.  In doing so, he charts the effect of television on politics, religion, race, and sex, and how the medium provided a persuasive message to the young, impressionable viewers.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press (May 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439902887
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439902882
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,357,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Television is perhaps one of the most widely addictive things in modern life. Eric Burns describes the beginnings of TV from its invention to its acceptance today; but mainly delving into its early stages in the 50's and how it changed American culture and family life. It is written in an interesting style and whether you grew up with television or are of the younger generation it makes for fascinating reading.

The problems and complaints of lessening physical activity is well covered. There are many thoughts given by `authorities' regarding this new product; they vary from; it knit families closer together, improved moral standards, to the descriptions of how viewers would believe anything they saw or heard on their TV set - where the same type of humor would just have been amusing on a radio.
All the changes in life are described, TV dinners and alterations in meal times and school work given by teachers is analyzed.
The comparisons between movie and TV stars is well done, how the fans and even Hollywood treated each in a different fashion. Interesting observations are made about how the men who served in WWII and their families needed to get their minds off of the past and television gave them a much needed respite, " a kind of spoil of war, a down payment on a wondrous world promised". It served as a step in getting back to normal life.

There is good examination of commercial power and many amusing instances of how advertisers changed dialogue or situations in their sponsored programs. You couldn't say `ford a river' in a western if it was sponsored by Chevy.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael OConnor TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For most aging baby boomers, mention of TV in the 1950s usually brings fond memories. Yet, how closely does memory match reality? There were some memorable shows during TV's early years but how much was first-rate and how much was dreck? What shaped the shows we so eagerly devoured? And how did those shows influence our concept of ourselves? Eric Burns examines those long-ago, pioneering days of the orthicon tube in his INVASION OF THE MIND SNATCHERS, TELEVISION'S CONQUEST OF AMERICA IN THE FIFTIES and produces some fascinating insights into the development, growth and impact of the boob tube.

Burns traces the development of television starting with Philo Farnsworth and other early inventors who contributed to TV's development. Once TV caught on, it spread like wildfire, radically changing American lifestyles even as it embraced and projected a rose-colored view of American society. First off, a woman's place was in the home, period. Controversial topics were avoided or watered down to insignificance thanks to nervous network execs not to mention advertisers. Straight-arrow cowboys roamed the TV ranges in sugar-coated romps through America's history. Fifties television was pretty much a white man's world; blacks were seldom featured. Variety shows were big as were quiz shows. We sweated along with those poor contestants in the answer box only to find many shows were - wait for it! - rigged and so on.

Burns makes a number of insightful observations throughout the book on television in the 1950s. Yet, in reading through INVASION OF THE MIND SNATCHERS, I wondered how it could have been different given the society that existed immediately prior to the advent of TV, the bottom-line profit philosophy that quickly dictated programming, etc.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on November 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Burns captures the spirit of the era. His writing is witty and sharp and the depth of his research is evident on every page. Through wonderful anecdotes he tells the tale of TV's effect on America in its first major decade. It's a story that's all the more resonant for being told now -- while our country attempts to discern how the Internet has changed it in the preceding decade. Some of the stories have the "Pleasantville"-like charms of '50s nostalgia; others are more chilling (this was, after all, the decade when gas companies had the word "gas" excised from a program on the Nuremberg trials and when McCarthy was harassing most of the media Burns so deftly portrays). All in all, you will be engrossed by this trip through a decade and its mythmaking.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Andre M. on January 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As with almost any generation, you hear a lot of nonsense and nostalgia about how "good" the "good old days" were when the reality is often that the people saying this were too young to understand the grim realities of that time or are using selective memory to block out what was too painful about the past.

Eric Burns shows in this book that this is the case when baby-boomers wax nostalgically about the "Golden Age" of television which was far more tarnished. Burn reveals the crooked game shows, the insipid "comedies" (ever wonder why "My Little Margie," "Hopalong Cassidy," "Our Miss Brooks," or "I Married Joan" are never shown today? Unlike "Beaver," "Lucy," & Jackie Gleason-THEY WEREN'T REALLY ALL THAT GOOD!)racism (CBS once had the gall to ban black actors from a show about Huckleberry Finn!), and outlandish sponsor-induced censorship!

BTW, if you think Jerry Spriner and Maury Povitch shamelessly exploit the poor and ignorant today, then see the disgusting QUUEN FOR A DAY and STRIKE IT RICH where the contestant who tells the most horrid sob story wins the prizes! Nothing new under the son.

The final chapter, a coda involving Philo T. Farnsworth (the inventor of TV) appearing on a Garry Moore show in 1957 is a priceless, bitterly ironic, and fitting ending to this book.
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Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties
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