- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674048830
- ISBN-13: 978-0674048836
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s
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Opening with a photograph of a 1950s Disneyland home designed in the shape of a TV (by those fun-loving futurists at MIT), this book's text and photos consistently maintain a balance between insightful social commentary and critique and sensitive recapturing of the essence of visual broadcast's dawn.
From Publishers Weekly
Historian Marling (Iwo Jima: Monuments and the American Hero) takes us back to those early days of television, when Ike was in the White House and everybody loved Lucy. The author explains TV's tremendous influence: it allowed Mrs. Eisenhower to give the nation the "Mamie Look," and advertised both Disneyland and the big-business "leisure society" created by the 40-hour workweek. Marling also looks into America's love affair with the automobile ("Drive your Chev-ro-lay through the USA," sang Dinah Shore); the importance of Elvis and Betty Crocker; and Cold War politics, featuring Richard Nixon in the kitchen with Nikita Khrushchev. A nostalgic, informative and sometimes funny view of 1950's American culture. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The post war era is also marked by mass consumption (three quarters of all appliances produced on earth are bought in the US), new icons ("Disney motifs constituted...a kind of civic religion of happy endings, worry free consumption, technological optomism and nostalgia") and conformity ("Now people no longer have any opinions; they have refrigerators") according to the author.
Above all is the author's thesis that the way things look counts for a great deal.
As Seen on TV provides a unique perspective on the visual fifties. The reader can see the genesis of modern developments such as Disney's domination of family entertainment and New Age parenting. At the same time, largely forgotten figures such as Mamie Eisenhauer are dusted off and submitted for reconsideration. The author has strong opinions but is not overly forceful in their expression. The book becomes a guided tour with commentry rather than heated polemic and, as a result, is entertaining while illuminating.
Marling merges era icons, fads, and seminal events more seamlessly into social statement than Halberstam did or Kammen attempted. Her understanding of cars evolving into social statements segues best into the image of Elvis Presley, the "King of Rock and Roll" for whom the "gorp"-covered Cadillac was chariot of choice. (she also credits Martin and Lewis with exposing the entertainment's dual sensibilities during early TV).
Marling also writes of home convenience from new appliances and quick dinners colliding with the rustic, more honorable life many felt had been replaced. This clash inspired and popularized Grandma Moses' idealized portraits of American country life, Walt Disney's scale model re-creation of small-town America at Disneyland (and on the accompanying TV program), and Betty Crocker's shorthand version of motherly mentoring through General Mills' best-selling cookbook. Marling's chapter on Walt Disney's inspirations for creating the park is among the book's most fascinating. But a chapter on "American Bandstand," should Marling have chosen to include it, may have tied even more loose ends together.
The book may also have done with some re-arrangement; the closing chapter accurately and humorously chronicles the 1959 Richard Nixon-Nikita Krushchev "kitchen debate." But its tale of form of function, argued by its most important leaders at the peak of Cold War hysteria, may have been more effective introducing Marling's tale. The book may then have received more social context by stating sooner Nixon's belief, according to Marling, in "style as a manifestation or a symbol of difference and, in difference, multiplicity - the possibility of choice - as...connecting idle consumer fetishism to ideology." This would also have more closely tied the 1950s' garish color imagery with its parallel, grainier black-and-white images (Nixon, the Cold War, and Joe McCarthy, a standout 50s figure seen on TV but not in this book.) Nonetheless, "As Seen On TV" is a fun, informative read for those wishing to understand the reasoning behind an era's unforgettable images.
It appears she came up with a premise -- '50s as visual, seen through the eye of the TV -- and tailored her history to match. It's interesting and thought-provoking as far as it goes. But nothing that doesn't match is considered.
Examples: she describes Elvis Preseley's elaborate greasy hairdo. But nothing about the multitude of jingles on TV for Brylcreem, Vaseline Hair Tonic or Wildroot Cream Oil. She has a whole chapter about Disneyland -- the place and the TV program -- but completely omits the Mouseketeers and the four year run of The Mickey Mouse Club. She describes the fins of major "marque" cars, but omits some of the jazziest fins around such as Dodge. And Dodge sponsored the Lawrence Welk program for many years -- not a peep about Welk.
This book is like a pair of scenic-view binoculars with a broken swivel. It helps you see a lot of details, but in only one direction. There's a lot more to the '50s than this art-limited view.
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The usual suspects are on display here: TV, Disney, sex, hairstyles, fashion, hokey futurism, sex, the rise of suburbia,...Read more