America in the 1950s: the world was not so much a stage as a setpiece for TV, the new national phenomenon. It was a time when how things looked--and how we looked--mattered, a decade of design that comes to vibrant life in As Seen on TV. From the painting-by-numbers fad to the public fascination with the First Lady's apparel to the television sensation of Elvis Presley to the sculptural refinement of the automobile, Marling explores what Americans saw and what they looked for with a gaze newly trained by TV. A study in style, in material culture, in art history at eye level, this book shows us as never before those artful everyday objects that stood for American life in the 1950s, as seen on TV.
[Marling] offers in seven chapters some witty riffs on 50s themes: the topics evoked in As Seen on TV are, in order, women's fashion, amateur painting, the arrival of Disneyland, those fabulous finned autos, the taming of Elvis Presley, home cooking and Richard Nixon's "kitchen debate" with Nikita Khrushchev...[It is] an intellectual romp, a dizzying free fall through the exuberant 'visual culture' of that first post-World War II decade.
Irresistible...Karal Ann Marling's enthusiasm is refreshing, entertaining and imaginative. Her energy is infectious...She manages to make the decade that time forgot come alive.
As Seen on TV offers fresh, imaginative readings of individual artifacts, particularly Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book and television commercials for automobiles. Moving Beyond text to context, chapters on the ongoing spectacle at Disneyland and the one-time-only "Kitchen Debate" between Nixon and Khruschev provide suggestive rereadings of familiar topics. [The book] becomes most interesting when imaginatively leaping from one set of cultural products or practices to another. It glides from Mamie Eisenhower's New Look to the 'Chemise' or 'sack dress'..As Seen on TV draws on an extensive, eclectic array of sources: presidential archives, museum collections, business publications, scholarly accounts, popular histories, and even the responses of listeners to Professor Marling's appearances on radio talk shows
In this entertaining and informative book, Marling uses a variety of visual icons of the 1950s to depict the decade as an ocean of vibrant color, movement and style...[She] is one of this country's strongest advocates of the study of popular culture. She is also one of our most eloquent analysts of the meanings to be found in objects. Her book's multilayered, dizzying descriptions...plunge the reader into a culture drunk on color and form. They testify to the complex cultural significance with which Americans in the postwar years invested commonplace objects and images. They also blur the lines between aesthetics and sociology...Marling's full and convincing interpretations of the objects under discussion exhibit both humor and empathy.
This is a gorgeous confection of a book...As Seen on TV manages to plug directly into the more mundane fads and fashions of popular culture.
Karal Ann Marling's book is an invitation to celebrate the dawning of the world as television...[She] lovingly guides us through this landscape, the world of what design critic Thomas Hine called the "populuxe," glitz and glitter for the postwar masses...The whole period has found a sympathetic chronicler in Marling and her account of the influence of television on 1950s America makes for fascinating reading.
As Seen on TV combines high seriousness and just plain fun. It's a pleasure to read...Marling is as mercilessly convincing as she is witty and bright. Her stinging portrait of the 1950s easily extends beyond that much-satirized decade, enabling us to see its primitive reflection in today's popular culture and mass markets.
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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