Vol. 11, No. 2
Media in America
Douglas Gomery, ed., Media In America: The Wilson Quarterly Reader (2nd Edition) (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998). Distributed by the Johns Hopkins University Press . 322 pp. $17.95 Paperback, $40.00 Hardcover.
America is a nation dominated by the omnipresence of media. In Media in America, Douglas Gomery treats the reader to a candid glimpse at the breadth of media studies that invites reflection. The book proceeds in roughly chronological order by media genre and consists of four sections. Complementing each section is a "Further Reading" chapter written by Gomery which provides a context for the essays. The twenty-one individual essays represent the best of the media studies articles published in the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Wilson Quarterly magazine, dedicated to introducing "the best writing and thinking of the academic and intellectual worlds to a broad audience."
Gomery's choice of organization is at its strongest in the last section of the book, "Television and New Technologies." It provides the strongest and most complete investigation into a single technology. Gomery details television's quick rise as a pervasive part of the American household. Todd Gitlin gives a revealing analysis of television's influence as "a school for manners, mores, and styles." Frank D. McConnell considers the major theories of the television medium. Similarly, a trio of 1994 essays by Gomery, Edward Tenner, and Tom Maddox speculate about the viability and effects of the Internet in a manner still profoundly relevant to the contemporary reader.
Other essays deal with the written word, newspapers, and television. Robert Darnton explores the shift in the activity of reading, while Anthony J. La Vopa links the explosion of reading and subsequent conversation to the development of public opinion as a meaningful concept. Leo Bogart argues that when newspaper readership stabilized in the 1980s, the question publishers asked shifted from "if newspapers" to "what kind?" Lastly, Robert J. Donovan and Ray Scherer provide an illuminating case study into television's effects on political campaigns.
Three essays evaluate the manner in which practitioners use media. T. J. Jackson Lears explores the persuasive strategies admen have used since the development of advertising firms a century ago. Similarly, James Boylan tracks trends in journalism from the "Bohemianism" of the mid to late 1800s to the heightened responsibility demanded of reporters in the post-Watergate era. Michael Cornfield presents a wonderful essay on the metaphors political commentators use to create meaningful narratives out of presidential campaign events. Two more essays by A. H. Saxon and T. J. Jackson Lears are more biographical, respectively detailing P.T. Barnum and his development of the American Museum and the progressive positivism underpinning H. L. Mencken's social commentary.
The third section of the book, "Movies and Music," contains the most eclectic collection of essays. A pair of essays by Gomery examines the media conglomerates behind the movie and country music businesses. In a third essay, Gomery follows the transition of movies from large city theatres to suburban multiplexes. Nathan Reingold investigates Hollywood filmmakers' foray into a docudrama on the Atomic Bomb, while Frank D. McConnell rhetorically criticizes the mythology embedded in three popular films. Lastly, Martha Bayles presents a history of the animating tensions between blues and rock and critically examines the "bludgeoning" of blues into rock.
The book has its shortcomings. For example, it does not address media as a study of particular technologies, nor does it consistently focus on media practitioners or media industries. Typical of edited volumes, it also lacks a coherent overall perspective or organizing theme. An alternative organizational scheme might have provided more emphasis on the diversity of perspective, stemming from the mixture of contributions from both academic and professional authors drawn mainly from among historians and journalists.
Nonetheless, Media In America excels in providing an intriguing and engaging view into media as well as media industries. All said, the book is an enjoyable investigation of media for anyone interested in media or journalism, or those looking for a good bedtime book.
George Reynolds Spatz is a master's student in Speech Communication at Texas A&M University. His thesis is on the right to privacy. For more information on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, visit http://wwics.si.edu/..