Getting to Know the Culture Industry

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Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood” (1937-1938). Image Credit: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

A couple years ago in graduate school at the University of Maryland, I took a course on history and contemporary theory. It was pretty much a combination of philosophy, historical theory, and historiography. A difficult class, but I certainly learned a lot.

One of the projects in the class, as I can remember it, was to design a lecture for undergraduate students about one aspect of historical theory and create an accompanying book list for reading. Given my interest in popular culture and business history, I decided to talk about the “Culture Industry” a theory that came from Frankfurt School historians/theorists in the mid 20th century (see also my blog post on War of the Worlds for more on this theory). I wasn’t able to give this lecture to an actual group of students, but I did film it and post it on Youtube. If you’d like to see the lecture, click here.

A few people commented on the video saying that they’d like to see the slides, so here is a link to my power point: The Culture Industry_presentation.

If you’re interested in learning more, this is my recommended Culture Industry reading list, complete with a variety of primary and secondary sources that explore the commodification of leisure and entertainment from a variety of angles: Continue reading “Getting to Know the Culture Industry”

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Mad About the Marathon

In the early 20th century, the marathon race was over two thousand years old but it was just starting to catch the attention of athletes and sporting fans all over the world. The event was revived in 1896 as part of the very first modern Olympics and it didn’t take long for the long-distance running event to become incredibly popular. Today, hundreds of thousands of people run marathons and long distances every year, often to get fit and stay healthy.

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The 1910 Baltimore Marathon featured more than seventy runners. Photo Credit: The Baltimore Sun

But the new marathon craze did have its detractors, including a Dr. John H. Girdner. According to the good doctor, long distance running was a dangerous killer that wrecked the bodies and minds of young people both in training and competition. “Its victims,” he wrote of the marathon in a 1909 article, “will work irreparable injury to their own health.” Does it seem a little strange that a doctor was so opposed to what is now considered a popular and healthy activity? I think this calls for some historical investigation! Continue reading “Mad About the Marathon”

Boxing and Other Sports: It’s Personal(ality)

“Sport is the chief share [men] have to-day in the drama of life. Even in France and Spain it has superseded politics as the predominant masculine interest.”

What else is new? It seems like every year professional sports are bigger than ever. No matter what is going on in the world, we can’t get enough of them. Things were pretty much the same in early 1930, except that back then “boxing [was] the innermost shrine of the cult.” (Bolitho 207) Other than the fact that women are much move involved in sports today and that we’re more interested in other sports like football and basketball than boxing, I think this quote is still pretty spot on.

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Madison Square Garden: A monument to athletics, entertainment, and spectacle. Photo credit: Billy Rose Theater Collection, NYPL.

Continue reading “Boxing and Other Sports: It’s Personal(ality)”