Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Make a Citizen

Anna McCarthy, The Citizen Machine: Governing by Television in 1950s America (New York: The New Press, 2010).

from the press:

The Citizen Machine is the untold political history of television’s formative era. Historian Anna McCarthy goes behind the scenes of early television programming, revealing that producers, sponsors, and scriptwriters had far more in mind than simply entertaining (and selling products). Long before the age of PBS, leaders from business, philanthropy, and social reform movements as well as public intellectuals were all obsessively concerned with TV’s potential to mold the right kind of citizen.

After World War II, inspired by the perceived threats of Soviet communism, class war, and racial violence, members of what was then known as “the Establishment” were drawn together by a shared conviction that television broadcasting could be a useful tool for governing. The men of Du Pont, the AFL-CIO, the Advertising Council, the Ford Foundation, the Fund for the Republic, and other organizations interested in shaping (according to American philosopher Mortimer Adler) “the ideas that should be in every citizen’s mind,” turned to TV as a tool for reaching those people they thought of as the masses.

Based on years of path-breaking archival work, The Citizen Machine sheds new light on the place of television in the postwar American political landscape. At a time when TV broadcasting is in a state of crisis, and when a new political movement for media reform has ascended the political stage, here is a vital new history of the ideas and assumptions that have profoundly shaped not only television, but our political culture itself.

Anna McCarthy is an associate professor in the department of Cinema Studies at New York University. She is the co-editor of the noted journal Social Text, as well as the author of Ambient Television.

Now we know better, of course. It's the Internet that's going to save democracy.

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