The Rise of the Sports

The Rise of the Sports

While the west was going through its gorgeous epoch of gambling, drinking, and gun-play, a series of athletic crazes were sweeping through the states of the East. Baseball developed from its humble beginnings in the days before the Civil War to its recognized status as America’s national game. The rapid spread of croquet caused the startled editors of The Nation to describe it as the swiftest and most infectious epidemic the country had ever experienced.

Lawn tennis was introduced to polite society by enthusiasts who had seen it played in England, and the old sport of archery was revived as still another fashionable lawn game. Roller-skating attained a popularity which extended to all parts of the country. What the sewingmachine is to our industrial wants and the telegraph to our commercial pursuits, one devotee wrote rapturously, this new system of exercise had become to society’s physical and social wants.

Track and field events were also promoted with the widespread organization of amateur athletic clubs; gymnastic games were sponsored both by the German Turnverein and the Y.M.C.A.; and in the colleges a spectacular sports phenomenon loomed over the horizon with the development of intercollegiate football. Society welcomed polo as an importation from abroad, took up the English sport of coaching. And finally a craze for bicycling arose to supersede all other outdoor activities as city streets and country roads became crowded with nattily dressed cyclists out on their club runs.

All this took place in the late 1860’s and the 1870’s. Previously the country had had virtually no organized sports as we know them to-day. Neither men nor women played outdoor games. Alarmed observers in mid-century had found the national health deteriorating because of a general lack of exercise more widespread than among the people of any other nation. Ralph Waldo Emerson had written despairingly of “the invalid habits of this country,” and from abroad the London Times had issued grave warnings of possibly dire consequences for our national wellbeing. No transformation in the recreational scene has been more startling than this sudden burgeoning of an interest in sports which almost overnight introduced millions of Americans to a phase of life shortly destined to become a major preoccupation among all classes.

The famous ball with which Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt crashed the gates of society in 1883 was admitted by the press to have been more magnificent than the entertainments of Alexander, Cleopatra, or Louis XIV. It was soon outshown by other affairs of New York’s Four Hundred. In his Society as I Have Found It, Ward McAllister describes dinner parties with squadrons of butlers and footmen in light plush livery, silk stockings, and powdered hair; orchestras concealed behind flowered screens; and every out-of-season fruit and vegetable served on golden plates. At society’s fancy-dress balls, men weighed down in suits of medieval armor tripped over their swords as they attempted to dance quadrilles; the women wore wreaths of electric lights in their hair to add a new luster to their diamonds.

“Everything that skill and art could suggest,” McAllister notes at one point, “was added to make the dinners not a vulgar display, but a great gastronomic effort, evidencing the possession by the host of both money and taste.” But always taste was secondary, and Crœsus was crowned society’s Lord of Misrule. A marveling correspondent of the LondonSpectator found America’s newly rich pouring out money on festal occasions as from a purse of Fortunatus, making feasts as of the Great King Belshazzar.

For one ball the host built a special addition to his house providing a magnificent Louis XIV ball-room which would accommodate twelve hundred. Another time a restaurant was entirely made over with a plum-shaded conservatory, a Japanese room, and a medieval hall hung with Gobelin tapestries especially imported from Paris. At a reception given at the Metropolitan Opera House, twelve hundred guests danced the Sir Roger de Coverley on a floor built over stage and auditorium, and were then served supper at small tables by three hundred liveried servants. It was a world of jewels and satins, of terrapin and canvasbacks, of Château Lafite and imported champagne — “luxurious in adornment .. epicurean in its feasting.”

Next Page: The Pleasures of Vacation Touring

The Pleasures of Vacation Touring

The Pleasures of Vacation Touring

The pleasures of vacation touring were depicted with even more fulsome praise of the joys of the open road. Every section of the country invited the growing army of motorists to visit it. Chambers of commerce, resort proprietors, and oil companies united in publicizing the attractions of seashore and mountain. New England was a summer vacation land, and Florida a popular winter resort.

The national parks and forests, especially those of the West, drew hordes of visitors. In 1910 they had a few hundred thousand; the total in 1935 was thirty-four million. Almost all of them came by automobile. There was an overwhelming response to the slogan See America First as the new generation took to the road.

Accommodations to meet the needs of these motorists along the way sprang up quickly. The tourist camp became an institution. Some of them provided comfortable overnight cabins with all modern conveniences; others simply provided facilities for automobile campers. Florida probably had more of them than any other state. In 1925 it reported 178 with accommodations for six hundred thousand people. For the more fashionable there were hotels and inns — there was a rapid growth of them in these years — but the majority of tourists had little money to spend. An overnight cabin or a place where they could stretch a tarpaulin from the side of the car, cooking their own supper at a communal fireplace, was all that most of them demanded.

In the late 1930’s the trailer made its appearance as still another boon for those with migratory instincts. The westerner whose forebears had crossed the prairies in a journey of several months trekked back over the old route, in a fraction of the time, with this twentieth-century equivalent of the covered wagon coupled to his car. The number of these vehicles increased rapidly; enthusiasts saw for them a future comparable to that of the automobile itself. In the bright dawn of trailer camping, about 1936, it was wildly stated that there would be a million of them on the road within a year and that a decade would see half the population on wheels. Such fantasies proved illusory; perhaps one hundred thousand passenger trailers, rather than a million, was the total later estimated by Trailer Travel.

Together with such pastimes as lawn tennis, archery, and trapshooting, some of these clubs began also to provide facilities for a game new to America. It was far more important than yachting, coaching, or polo. It was not for very long to remain, as Harper’s Weekly termed it in 1895, “pre-eminently a game of good society.” It was soon to give rise to a tremendous growth in country clubs which were to become the special prerogative of the great middle class in cities and towns throughout the country. This sport, of course, was golf.

It did not really take hold in this country, despite its hoary antiquity in Scotland and occasional attempts to introduce it on this side of the Atlantic ever since colonial days, until after 1888. The organization in that year of the St. Andrews Club, near New York, may well be taken as the first important date in golfs history in the United States. Other courses were built — whatever number of holes was most convenient — after St. Andrews had showed the way. Soon a great number of the country clubs about Boston, New York, and Philadelphia had their links. By 1892 golf was spreading westward. It took Chicago by storm and moved on to St. Louis, Milwaukee, Denver, and the Pacific Coast. In 1894 the United States Golf Association was formed.

Mass advertising developed out of a need to persuade people to buy. Manufacturers merely made products, but advertisers “manufactured consumers”. Advertising involved a shift in cultural value s away from a Victorian Protestant ethic which demanded that production, property, and personal behavior be controlled. it encouraged an ethic which permitted pleasure and even sensuality.

Advertising came to concentrate not on deseribing the product it was selling, but on the emotional satisfactions that its consumption would afford its purchaser. I preached the new, “therapeutic” doctrine of 20th century capitalism, that its citizens should seek self-realization through the intense experiences brought about through buying products for their leisure time.

In 1899 the American economist Thorstein Veblen argued that “the conspicuous consumption of valuable goods” became the principal means by which members of the Leisure Class demonstrated their social standing to each other and to the rest of society. As he was deseribing the nature and implications of a consumer culture, American capitalism was spreading that culture, and the idea of leisure, to far larger sectors of the population.

Several years later, a writer on fashion noted that as wealth or social status were the basic selling points of most elothes, “the styles should go as far as possible in proving that the owner does not have to work for aliving”. From the 1920s onward, the idea of stylistic obsolescence in which annual models introduce new season’s fashions spread out from automobiles to other types of consumer goods as the way to maintam a constant demand, through what Charles Kettering of General Motors called “the organized creation of dissatisfaction”.

In 1929 Christine Frederick wrote, “Consumptionism is the name given to the new doctrine; and it is adrnitted today to be the greatest idea that America has to give to the world; the idea that workmen and masses be looked upon not simply as workers and producers, but as consumers…. Pay them more, sell them more, prosper more is the equation.” This was the American Dream: an economic perpetualmotion machine which made everyone appear equally prosperous.

It drew immigrants with the fantastic visions seen, as novelist Michael Gold deseribed in 1930, “In the window of a store that sold Singer Sewing Machines in our (Romanian) village. One picture had in it the tallest building I had ever seen. It was called a skyscraper. At the bottom of it walked the proud Americans. The men wore derby hats and had fine mustaches and gold watch chains. The women wore silks and satins, and had proud faces like queens. Not a single poor man or woman was there; everyone was rich.”

Next Page: Popular Culture and Leisure

Popular Culture and Leisure

Popular Culture and Leisure

As to the first, if he asks several persons at a baseball game, what brought them there, he will receive a variety of answers: “to enjoy the game,” “to get the sunshine,” “to get away from home,” “to rest.” If asked what leisure means to them on a more general level, the same persons are likely to consider it as “time off from work,” “free time,” “my own time,” “doing what I like,” “rest,” and so on. A more sophisticated audience or a categorical-minded observer might attempt to classify such views in still other ways:
Leisure as a bulk of time, qualitatively distinct from other time, such as the evening.

Leisure as freedom from those activities that have to be done, such as work or household chores.

Leisure as an end, distinct from work as a means.

Leisure as a minimum of obligation to others, to routine, even to oneself.

Leisure as re-creation, to prepare for better work, to store up energy or knowledge.

Leisure as self-improvement, whether in study, seeking new friends, or new experiences.

Leisure as social control, using the time of others to win them over or influence them; i.e., Roman games, German youth.

Leisure as a social symbol of class position, age, or success.

Leisure as sets of attitudes or motivations, not a content.

Leisure as physiological or emotional necessity, such as therapy or physical rest.

The Industrial Revolution had taken work out of the home into the factory and office. The home became a place of male leisure, serviced by women, at the same time that many things that had once been made at home were now bought in stores. Offering objects for leisurely use in the home, advertising – the form of popular culture that is most concemed to sell the satisfactions it promised – was primarily addressed to women.

The consumer was usualiy viewed by producers and eritics alike as female. In part there was good reason for this: women were responsible for as much as 85 percent of consumer spending. Middle-class women constituted a new leisure class, spending their time at shops, theater matinees and hairdressers.

The ethos of sensuality cooperated with the cosmetic industry to insist on the “natural right” of American woman’ to be beautiful. In the 1920s the “flapper” as a beautiful American woman was a ubiquitous advertising image. She was, as social historian Stuart Ewan put it, “Pure consumer, busy dancing through the world of modem goods. She was youth, marked by energy not judgement. Her clothes, her vehicles, her entire milieu was mass-produced – and she liked it.”

It was because “mass culture” was addressed particularly to women that it was amatter of anxiety. The “masses” were taken to have exclusively “feminine” characteristics: they were irrational, capricious, passive, and conformist. Like women, the masses would respond only to emotional appeals and “raw sensation”.

The effect of the automobile on recreational habits was often decried in the 1930’s: the substitution of a passive amusement for something more active; standardization and regimentation; the moral problem of the parked sedan and roadside tourist camp. The Sunday-afternoon drive was devastatingly described — the crowded highways, traffic jams, and accidents; the car windows tightly closed against spring breezes; and whatever beauties the landscape might offer lying hidden behind forbidding lines of advertisements.

“One arrives after a motor journey,” one eminent sociologist wrote, “all liver and no legs; one’s mind is asleep, one’s body tired; one is bored, irritable, and listless. 25 But what such critics forgot was that the great majority of Sunday and holiday motorists, or even vacation tourists, would have been cooped up in crowded towns and cities except for the automobile.

The country they saw may at times have been almost blotted out by billboards and the air they breathed tainted by gasoline fumes. But the alternative in many cases would have been the movie, the dance-hall, or the beer-parlor. The steamboat and the railroad began a century ago to open up the world of travel and provide some means of holiday escape from one’s immediate enviromnent, but until the coming of the automobile, recreation along these lines was a rare thing. The wealthy could make the fashionable tour in 1825, the well-to-do built up the summer resorts of the 1890’s, but every Tom, Dick, and Harry toured the country in the 1930’s — thanks to the automobile.

Much of the criticism of the way the automobile was used in leisure-time activities may have been justified, but any gen, eral condemnation of its part in national recreation implies that pleasure travel, outdoor life, and many sports should have largely remained the prerogative of the wealthy few who could afford other means of transportation.

The cultural objects designed for them could not, in the eyes of elite male critics such as Dwight Macdonald or the poet TS. Eliot, qualify as art. Macdonald was disturbed by what he called Gresham’s Law in Culture, by which “bad stuff drives out the good by mimicking and debasing the forms of High Art”.

His colleague Clement Greenberg, writing in 1946, argued in similar terms, that “Mass Culture pre-digests art for the spectator and spares him effort, provides him with a shortcut to the pleasures of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art”. Although in some respects this argument echoed the position of blacks who claimed that “whitening-up” their music had deprived it of its essence, it was more forcefully a defense of cultural elitism against the contamination from the hands of a larger and more “vulgar” audience.

So they constantly disparaged the effects of “mass culture” as moraliy corrupting. That argument was applied equaliy to dime novels and to skirt lengths or movies, but it was always couched in terms of a discussion of the effects on the mentaliy and moraliy deficient – children and “morons” – of objects that were not fully under the control of the cultural elite. At its root was a middle-elass fear that there was no controlover the behavior and values of the lower orders. Against this denunciation of “nickel madness”, there arose a counter-argument, couched in terms of the definition of “entertainment” as “harmless”.

In 1916 the Supreme Court adjudged that movies were not to be permitted the free speech protections of the First Amendment, because they were “a business pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit…not to be regarded as part of the press of the country or as organs of public opinion. They are mere representations of events, of ideas, and sentiments published or known, vivid, useful, and entertaining, no doubt, but… capable of evil, having power for it, the greater because of their attractiveness and manner of exhibition.”

The activity of regulating entertainment, whether through censorship, mechanisms such as the Motion Picture Production Code, or less official devices, constituted an attempt to render the potentially harmful object harmless, but throughout, this was a debate conducted among the cultural elite about what might be permitted to the lower classes, whose opinions were seldom directly requested.

Next Page: Entertainment, Industry and Politics

Entertainment, Industry and Politics

Entertainment, industry and Politics

Throughout the 20th century the industries of leisure have expanded to constitute an ever greater part of the economies of industrialized nations. From the Korean factory worker producing televisian sets to the part-time saleswoman in Stockholm who sells them, ever-increasing nurnbers of people are employed in the production and servicing of leisure activities.

All these activities are couched in the idioms of advertising and entertainment: theyall respond to real needs, but as they do so, they define what constitute the legitimate needs of the people of their society.

As critic Richard Dyer has expressed it, “The ideals of entertainment imply wants that capitalism itself promises to meet.. .entertainrnent provides alternatives to capitalism which will be provided by capitalism.”

Yet such ideals and alternatives, dismissed as merely entertainrnent, are held to be unworthy of serious consideration. As a result, we are alienated from our own dreams and utopian desires, persuaded instead that they can be fulfilled, or just disposed of, by two hours at the movies or a new dress and in the process reassured that, like the commodities that have replaced them, the dreams were never “about” anything important in the first place.

Special Features

Popular Culture Special Features

Popular culture or pop culture is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society. The most common pop culture categories are: entertainment (movies, music, TV), sports, news (as in people/places in news), politics, fashion/clothes, technology, and slang.

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Charles Lindberg: The Challenge of the Air

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The New York World’s Fair

The pleasures of vacation touring were depicted with even more fulsome praise of the joys of the open road. Every section of the country invited the growing army of motorists to visit it. Chambers of commerce, resort proprietors, and oil companies united in publicizing the attractions of seashore and mountain. New England was a summer vacation land, and Florida a popular winter resort. The national parks and forests, especially those of the West, drew hordes of visitors.

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Coca Cola: The Real Thing

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The Royal Family and the Media

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The Light Fantastic

Modern technology has changed many things in our lives, including the way we communicate, travel and entertain ourselves. Electronic instruments and computer simulations have revolutionised science. Computer graphics, computer-aided design, lasers and video technology came together in the 1980s to create a new visual world, in which the new possibilities of electronics were enthusiastically celebrated, and the imagination stimulated by the sheer power of the silicon chip.

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