Posts Tagged ‘popular culture’

Never the Same

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In my latest novel Never the Same, I sketch  the shift in societal norms from the generation born during the 1930’s to the beginning of the twenty-first century. I view the omnipresence of mass culture through the media of radio, television, and movies as fueling these changes. The entertainment industry and advertising inexorably shaped tastes and stimulated consumerism. Frugality gave way to conspicuous consumption; unwed motherhood eventually lost its stigma. None of these social changes are entirely detrimental as some doomsayers would claim, charging that  all society’s problems stem from the decline of the family and rampant materialism. The openness has also given space for diverse opinions and tolerance of differences.

I see the decade of the 1930’s as a turning point in American history. It marks the end of the insular farm and the beginning of the stark realization that the rugged individual determining his own fate by hard work is a myth. Economic depression taught us that other forces are at work that make or break a family, a community, and a nation–social, intellectual, economic, and geopolitical factors–beyond a single man’s control. The radio best symbolizes the penetration of the outside world into the consciousness of the average American. The music, the soap operas, the commercials, the variety shows, and news broadcasts all would coalesce as taste and opinion makers over the next decades whether we were conscious of its impact or not. Television advertising exploited subliminal messaging. Both the programs and the commercials gradually grew more sexually explicit and employed less wholesome language, making it difficult to decide if they reflected societal mores or were actually creating them.  In any event, the phenomenon seems to work as a reversible chemical reaction–in either direction the results are the same.

The novel is cultural history in that the ups and downs of Ellie Finnegan’s life reflect the changes that are occurring on a national and global scale. They penetrate her story at every turn, although she may be barely conscious of their impact as they happen. She is that Depression era girl who experiences a World War II childhood, comes of age in the 1950s, marries, lives her middle years in comfortable suburbia, develops a career later in life, and has to come to grips with her past. This is a story about America and its heartland. I have synthesized in this novel everything I have witnessed in the course of my own nearly seven decades.  I see my own mother in the Bachmann family–a mother who loved ballroom dancing, who could not miss her soap opera, who loved the stars of stage and screen of the 1930s. As her daughter, I am part of that legacy. The American idol dominates our popular culture–inescapably plastered on billboards and forever gossiped about on talk shows, photographed and written about in the tabloids. This is our reality, too, as 2017 dawns.

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