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The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  131 ratings  ·  12 reviews
As garment workers, longshoremen, autoworkers, sharecroppers and clerks took to the streets, striking and organizing unions in the midst of the Depression, artists, writers and filmmakers joined the insurgent social movement by creating a cultural front. Disney cartoonists walked picket lines, and Billie Holiday sand ‘Strange Fruit’ at the left-wing cabaret, Café Society. ...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published July 17th 1998 by Verso/New Left Books (London/NYC) (first published 1997)
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Denning argues that the popular front (the broad radical, social-democratic movement forged around anti-fascism, anti-lynching/racism, and the industrial unionism of the CIO)'s "cultural front" movement reshaped ("labored") American culture regarding:

- use of "labor" or synonyms thereof in rhetoric
- increased influence on and participation of working-class Americans in culture and arts (result of expansion of mass culture/higher education/entertainment industries)
- labor of cultural production
What an incredible book. It took the group a few months to work our way through it, though it was well worth the time spent. The author makes an argument that the "cultural front," or radical creative expression had influence beyond the 1930s that Denning characterizes as the "laboring" of American culture. Sometimes I felt I lost sight of that larger argument because I found myself lost in wide-ranging discussions about novels, plays and films. (I thought this was both a tremendous strength and ...more
Erik Graff
Apr 09, 2012 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: art
I bought this book at a neighborhood yard sale a few weeks ago, thinking to pass it on as a gift to my stepbrother whose fortieth birthday was nigh. Glancing at it, however, intrigued me enough to give it a try. I don't usually read much cultural criticism, but this treatment of the cultural aspects of the Popular Front, combining as it does the arts with progressive politics, wasn't disappointing.

Author Denning circumscribes that generational wave of radical populism in the United States associ

Denning argues “the cultural front reshaped American culture,” that the left, working-class or LABORING CLASS, had cultural hegemony in the 30s for the first time in U.S. history. The Popular front brought a “deep and lasting transformation of American modernism and mass culture.” (xvi) The “laboring” of American culture refers to
- the use of “labor” in the rhetoric of the period (i.e. labor movement, labor party, proletarian); in short, the language itself was “labored.”
- Proletarianization of
Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front: The Labouring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century presents a historical and cultural analysis of the Popular Front social movement of the 1930s in America. Through his multiple approaches, Denning is able to demonstrate an understanding of the Popular Front movement as not just a political movement but also a multi-ethnic, multi-centred social movement in a period of transition.

Denning clearly outlines his overarching argument in The Cultural Front
Started reading this book because of research on the sociopolitical background of composer Aaron Copland. Became intrigued with how socially and politically liberal the decade of the 1930s really was (e.g., America's only serious flirtation with communism), especially compared with later decades (e.g., the 1960s). Although the author is decidedly leftist, it's a pretty good read if you're interested in politics.
Great foundational book for 20C American Studies.
An interesting look at the popular front and its influence on American culture, especially the emphasis on making the working class/ethnic/immigrant people more a part of said culture. Cultural Front is best seen as an extension of Liz Cohen's New Deal book, both focus on the rise of the CIO, where Cohen was more of a macro examination focusing more on a specific location, Denning is also macro, but focusing on one aspect of culture, namely literary and middle to high brow pursuits. In this, Den ...more
A classic. An encyclopedia. Worth the read.

This book argues for the recognition of a “cultural front” that came along with the political front during the 1930s. American culture through film, movies, books, photographs, etc “labored” – became full of laboring bodies and stories of laboring people. These stories talked about production in both form and content and recognized even the production of creative pieces. The face of American culture changed.

The book’s breadth and number of artists and
A perhaps overly ambitious and inherently encyclopedic work that chimes in at more than 500 pages, The Cultural Front argues that while the political legacy of the popular front may have been limited in the United States, the impact of the culture that it produced was deep and long-lasting.
Exhaustive and exhausting. It takes too long to reach the back of The Cultural Front, but like any scenic journey, that's often the point.
Mark Middleton
Apr 08, 2013 Mark Middleton rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Popculture, American Culture Studies
A very good book on the history and impact of the laboring of America in the 1930's
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Michael Denning is an American cultural historian and William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American Studies at Yale University. His work has been influential in shaping the field of American Studies by importing and interpreting the work of British Cultural Studies theorists. Although he received his Ph. D. from Yale University and studied with Fredric Jameson, perhaps the greatest influence on his ...more
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