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This is a social history of 20th-century show business and the new American public that assembled in the city's pleasure places, parks, theatres, nickledeons, world's fair midways and dance halls. The new amusement centres welcomed women, men, children, native-born and immigrant, rich, poor and middling. Only African Americans were excluded or segregated in the audience, though they were overrepresented in parodic form on stage. This stigmatization of the African American, David Nasaw argues, was the glue that cemented an otherwise disparate audience, muting social distinctions among "whites" and creating a common national culture.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674356221
ISBN-10: 0674356225
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 155mm x 23mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 5-May-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Another sparkling urban cultural history from Nasaw (History/The College of Staten Island; Children of the City, 1985, etc.), chronicling the great entertainment arenas - movie palaces, amusement parks, World Fairs, ballparks, etc. - of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which, he says, helped to heat and stir the American melting pot. In the early 1800's, Nasaw contends, urbanites "were segregated from one another at work and at home, by income, ethnicity, gender, and social class." But with the population explosion fostered by immigration, the increase in available income and leisure time, as well as technological innovations - especially the harnessing of electricity - entrepreneurs began creating venues for the middle- and working-classes, beginning with vaudeville theaters. But excluded, or at least segregated, from vaudeville performances - except as self-parodic performers (playing the "imbecile," the "dandy," the "lazy fool," or, later, "the razor-wielding coon") - were African-Americans. This exception to the democratic mingling of socially diverse urban audiences served a specific purpose, argues Nasaw in a recurrent theme: to "mute" the social distinctions between "decent" audience members by elevating them above "indecent" blacks. For most Americans, though, it was an age of Wonders: an 11-acre re-creation of Jerusalem at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair; Coney Island's Luna Park, with its 250,000 light bulbs; Lowe's "transcendently glorious" Midland movie palace in Kansas City, Missouri (the movies' grip on public entertainment forms the somewhat familiar core of the latter half of Nasaw's study). It was only after WW II that the great wave of public amusements waned - a casualty, the author points out, not only of TV but also of suburbanization and the growing fear of urban violence. Elegant, well-researched Americana, highlighting both the sweet excitement of a golden age and the bitter racism that helped it thrive. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - David Nasaw

David Nasaw is Professor of History and American Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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