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American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt
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American Fun: Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt

3.03 of 5 stars 3.03  ·  rating details  ·  29 ratings  ·  10 reviews
Here is an animated and wonderfully engaging work of cultural history that lays out America’s unruly past by describing the ways in which cutting loose has always been, and still is, an essential part of what it means to be an American.

From the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Americans have defied their stodgy rules and hierarchies with pranks, dances, stunts, a
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2014)
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Apr 19, 2014 Emily marked it as set-aside
This isn't a real review of this book, which I intentionally only read one chapter out of, but I have to tell this true story even though I'll probably get some of the details wrong.

In the mid '60s, one of my uncles with some other teenagers, I think including the family's Swedish exchange student, decided to put up a large billboard on a busy road on the stodgy Main Line, which would read "MOST CHILDREN ARE CAUSED BY ACCIDENTS IN THE HOME." According to family lore, my grandfather found out ab
Beckman clearly believes that subversive fun, while serving a necessary political outcry, is in fact "all in good fun" event hat which was violent against women and minorities and damaging to persons and property. He touts this element of danger and destruction as essential to true fun- that fun in the American sense really has to be on the fringes of legality, if not downright illegal.

His heroes are typically bad influences, whose political and social statements seem (to me anyway) to be a ran
A bit of a slog at times, but some useful ideas in here, and a perspective particularly on twentieth-century popular culture that I hadn't considered before. I like Beckman's distinction between "fun" and "entertainment," although I don't know that "fun" must be necessarily subversive.
Enjoyable and entertaining to read, but I think because the scope is so big a lot of the nuance gets lost. And the author can be very judgmental arbitrarily, i.e. he really condemns tv and especially video games. This is an okay survey of American pop culture/recreation/leisure, but if any parts of it particularly interest you, it's worth it to go to his sources and dig deeper.
victor harris
Stretches the definition of fun to include political protests. Has some strong sections, particularly on the early conceptions of fun in the colonial period. Also some interesting commentary on the 1920s. Overall not much fun to read, very clinical analysis of the topic in an almost textbook style that is in need of editing.
Top 5 Pop Culture - PLA
Michael Brockley
From Merry Mount to Burning Man, AMERICAN FUN takes the reader on a roller-coaster history of Americans, whether they be consumers, activists or partiers, having fun. The 20s and the 60s were the funnest decades and authority figures have always lurked in the shadows, eager to make corporations people or commercialize rock' n roll, but the American people have learned that laughing, in any era and in the face if any stuff shirt, is part of the responsibility of a citizen.
Oct 05, 2014 Jamie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jamie by: Washington Post
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
Some good stuff in here, but mostly the author bit off a bit more than he could/should chew. A more detailed story about just some of this might have made a better read.
Jun 13, 2014 Lisa added it
only got so far and had to set it aside...long read
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“But it isn’t the fun of DIY invention, urban exploration, physical danger, and civil disorder that the Z-Boys enjoyed in 1976. It is fun within serious limits, and for all of its thrills it is (by contrast) scripted. And rather obedient. The fact that there are public skateparks and high-performance skateboards signals progress: America has embraced this sport, as it did bicycles in the nineteenth century. Towns want to make skating safe and acceptable. The economy has more opportunity to grow. America is better off for all of this. Yet such government and commercial intervention in a sport that was born of radical liberty means that the fun itself has changed; it has become mediated. For the skaters who take pride in their flashy store-bought equipment have already missed the Z-Boys’ joke: Skating is a guerrilla activity. It’s the fun of beating, not supporting, the system. P. T. Barnum said it himself: all of business is humbug. How else could business turn a profit, if it didn’t trick you with advertising? If it didn’t hook you with its product? This particular brand of humbug was perfected in the late 1960s, when merchandise was developed and marketed and sold to make Americans feel like rebels. Now, as then, customers always pay for this privilege, and purveyors keep it safe (and generally clean) to curb their liability. They can’t afford customers taking real risks. Plus it’s bad for business to encourage real rebellion. And yet, marketers know Americans love fun—they have known this for centuries. And they know that Americans, especially kids, crave autonomy and participation, so they simulate the DIY experience at franchises like the Build-A-Bear “workshops,” where kids construct teddy bears from limited options, or “DIY” restaurants, where customers pay to grill their own steaks, fry their own pancakes, make their own Bloody Marys. These pay-to-play stores and restaurants are, in a sense, more active, more “fun,” than their traditional competition: that’s their big selling point. But in both cases (as Barnum knew) the joke is still on you: the personalized bear is a standardized mishmash, the personalized food is often inedible. As Las Vegas knows, the house always wins. In the history of radical American fun, pleasure comes from resistance, risk, and participation—the same virtues celebrated in the “Port Huron Statement” and the Digger Papers, in the flapper’s slang and the Pinkster Ode. In the history of commercial amusement, most pleasures for sale are by necessity passive. They curtail creativity and they limit participation (as they do, say, in a laser-tag arena) to a narrow range of calculated surprises, often amplified by dazzling technology. To this extent, TV and computer screens, from the tiny to the colossal, have become the scourge of American fun. The ubiquity of TV screens in public spaces (even in taxicabs and elevators) shows that such viewing isn’t amusement at all but rather an aggressive, ubiquitous distraction. Although a punky insurgency of heedless satire has stung the airwaves in recent decades—from equal-opportunity offenders like The Simpsons and South Park to Comedy Central’s rabble-rousing pundits, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert—the prevailing “fun” of commercial amusement puts minimal demands on citizens, besides their time and money. TV’s inherent ease seems to be its appeal, but it also sends a sobering, Jumbotron-sized message about the health of the public sphere.” 0 likes
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