Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs

Duke University Press
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In Welcome to the Dreamhouse feminist media studies pioneer Lynn Spigel takes on Barbie collectors, African American media coverage of the early NASA space launches, and television’s changing role in the family home and its links to the broader visual culture of modern art. Exploring postwar U.S. media in the context of the period’s reigning ideals about home and family life, Spigel looks at a range of commercial objects and phenomena, from television and toys to comic books and magazines.
The volume considers not only how the media portrayed suburban family life, but also how both middle-class ideals and a perceived division between private and public worlds helped to shape the visual forms, storytelling practices, and reception of postwar media and consumer culture. Spigel also explores those aspects of suburban culture that media typically render invisible. She looks at the often unspoken assumptions about class, nation, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation that underscored both media images (like those of 1960s space missions) and social policies of the mass-produced suburb. Issues of memory and nostalgia are central in the final section as Spigel considers how contemporary girls use television reruns as a source for women’s history and then analyzes the current nostalgia for baby boom era family ideals that runs through contemporary images of new household media technologies.
Containing some of Spigel’s well-known essays on television’s cultural history as well as new essays on a range of topics dealing with popular visual culture, Welcome to the Dreamhouse is important reading for students and scholars of media and communications studies, popular culture, American studies, women’s studies, and sociology.
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About the author

Lynn Spigel is Professor of Radio, Television, and Film at Northwestern University. She is the author of Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jun 1, 2001
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Pages
440
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ISBN
9780822383178
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Language
English
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Genres
Performing Arts / Television / History & Criticism
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Toward the end of the twentieth century, science fiction television took a dark turn. Series like The X-Files, Millennium, and Dark Skies wove menacing technologies, paranormal forces, and shadowy government agencies into complex tales of corruption and cover-ups. Mind control, alien abductions, secret government laboratories, and implacable “men in black” moved from the fringes to the mainstream of American culture, making weekly appearances in living rooms everywhere. Other series that played on fears of new technologies—such as virtual reality—set the stage for unfamiliar kinds of exploitation, while Dark Angel offered glimpses of a near-future wasteland devastated by a technological catastrophe.

In The Paranormal and the Paranoid: Conspiratorial Science Fiction Television, Aaron John Gulyas explores the themes that permeated and defined science fiction television at the turn of the millennium. The author traces the roots of this phenomenon in an earlier generation of series including The Invaders, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Project U.F.O. and examines how changes in the cultural landscape led to the proliferation of these types of shows. This book delves into the internal mythology of shows like The X-Files, resurrects now-forgotten series like Wild Palms and VR.5, and provides an important glimpse into American culture at the close of the twentieth century.

While exploring the pervasive grimness of these shows, Gulyas also examines how they offer hope in the form of heroes—like agents Scully and Mulder—who relentlessly dug through the tissue of lies and distortions to find and expose the truth. The Paranormal and the Paranoid will appeal to scholars of media studies, sociology, and science fiction—not to mention fans of these programs and even conspiracy theorists.
Although we tend to think of television primarily as a household fixture, TV monitors outside the home are widespread: in bars, laundromats, and stores; conveying flight arrival and departure times in airports; uniting crowds at sports events and allaying boredom in waiting rooms; and helping to pass the time in workplaces of all kinds. In Ambient Television Anna McCarthy explores the significance of this pervasive phenomenon, tracing the forms of conflict, commerce, and community that television generates outside the home.
Discussing the roles television has played in different institutions from 1945 to the present day, McCarthy draws on a wide array of sources. These include retail merchandising literature, TV industry trade journals, and journalistic discussions of public viewing, as well as the work of cultural geographers, architectural theorists, media scholars, and anthropologists. She also uses photography as a research tool, documenting the uses and meanings of television sets in the built environment, and focuses on such locations as the tavern and the department store to show how television is used to support very different ideas about gender, class, and consumption. Turning to contemporary examples, McCarthy discusses practices such as Turner Private Networks’ efforts to transform waiting room populations into advertising audiences and the use of point-of-sale video that influences brand visibility and consumer behavior. Finally, she inquires into the activist potential of out-of-home television through a discussion of the video practices of two contemporary artists in everyday public settings.
Scholars and students of cultural, visual, urban, American, film, and television studies will be interested in this thought-provoking, interdisciplinary book.
Passengers disco dancing in The Love Boat’s Acapulco Lounge. A young girl walking by a marquee advertising Deep Throat in the made-for-TV movie Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway. A frustrated housewife borrowing Orgasm and You from her local library in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Commercial television of the 1970s was awash with references to sex. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the women’s liberation and gay rights movements, significant changes were rippling through American culture. In representing—or not representing—those changes, broadcast television provided a crucial forum through which Americans alternately accepted and contested momentous shifts in sexual mores, identities, and practices.

Wallowing in Sex is a lively analysis of the key role of commercial television in the new sexual culture of the 1970s. Elana Levine explores sex-themed made-for-TV movies; female sex symbols such as the stars of Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman; the innuendo-driven humor of variety shows (The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, Laugh-In), sitcoms (M*A*S*H, Three’s Company), and game shows (Match Game); and the proliferation of rape plots in daytime soap operas. She also uncovers those sexual topics that were barred from the airwaves. Along with program content, Levine examines the economic motivations of the television industry, the television production process, regulation by the government and the tv industry, and audience responses. She demonstrates that the new sexual culture of 1970s television was a product of negotiation between producers, executives, advertisers, censors, audiences, performers, activists, and many others. Ultimately, 1970s television legitimized some of the sexual revolution’s most significant gains while minimizing its more radical impulses.

Between 1948 and 1955, nearly two-thirds of all American families bought a television set—and a revolution in social life and popular culture was launched.

In this fascinating book, Lynn Spigel chronicles the enormous impact of television in the formative years of the new medium: how, over the course of a single decade, television became an intimate part of everyday life. What did Americans expect from it? What effects did the new daily ritual of watching television have on children? Was television welcomed as an unprecedented "window on the world," or as a "one-eyed monster" that would disrupt households and corrupt children?

Drawing on an ambitious array of unconventional sources, from sitcom scripts to articles and advertisements in women's magazines, Spigel offers the fullest available account of the popular response to television in the postwar years. She chronicles the role of television as a focus for evolving debates on issues ranging from the ideal of the perfect family and changes in women's role within the household to new uses of domestic space. The arrival of television did more than turn the living room into a private theater: it offered a national stage on which to play out and resolve conflicts about the way Americans should live.

Spigel chronicles this lively and contentious debate as it took place in the popular media. Of particular interest is her treatment of the way in which the phenomenon of television itself was constantly deliberated—from how programs should be watched to where the set was placed to whether Mom, Dad, or kids should control the dial.

Make Room for TV combines a powerful analysis of the growth of electronic culture with a nuanced social history of family life in postwar America, offering a provocative glimpse of the way television became the mirror of so many of America's hopes and fears and dreams.
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