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The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  125 ratings  ·  13 reviews
From the far left to the far right, on talk radio and the op-ed page, more and more Americans believe that the social fabric is unraveling. Celebrity worship and media frenzy, suicidal cultists and heavily armed secessionists: modern life seems to have become a "pyrotechnic insanitarium," Mark Dery says, borrowing a turn-of-the-century name for Coney Island. Dery elucidate ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 15th 1999 by Grove Press (first published February 1st 1999)
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Sep 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: culture jammers & other preserver types
Recommended to lisa_emily by: Scott
Reading The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium is like attending a class reunion of the last decade; you get to revisit all the things you kind of forgot about and all the things that you wish you could forget, like big-boob jobs and Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. He even examines those horrid daytime tabloid tv shows and validates their existence with some compelling reasons (although not convicing enough for me to watch).

The first chapter covers the gamut from the X-files and Crag Baldwin to Umberto Eco & Ad
Anya Weber
Mar 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is what it feels like when the End Times are Nigh--which seems to happen every hundred years or so, and more recently, about once a decade. Mark Dery wrote this book of essays in the late 1990s, about the "fin de millennium," and it's still equally relevant as our fractured, kaleidoscopic, socially-networked-to-death decade of naughts draws to a close. The essays explore everything from the Unabomber to killer clowns, placing disturbing 1990s American pop culture in a larger technological a ...more
Wythe Marschall
Jun 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Mark Dery is one of the sharpest writers on modern culture I've ever discovered. His feverish, post-everything essays about American/global/technological/millennial culture (what he calls the "pyrotechnic insanitarium," recycling a gem of Coney Island barkery) reverberate with the right mix of the hip and the academic–curmudgeonly, making this collection a joy for casual readers and sine qua non for futurologists, skeptics, and genealogists of the uncanny.

Neither technophobe nor fool for the fak
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
i re-read this book and enjoyed it as much the second time. its focus is really on some of the darker threads of the fin-de-millennium american culture. end of the century apocalyptic schizo kinda stuff. killer clowns, branding, post humanism, aliens, and conspiracies. it is just a relevant now as it was when i first read it at the end of the 90's. it confirms to me that somewhere near the end of 2001 time started running in reverse...
Sep 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Similar in content to the superlative Apocalypse Culture anthologies, but oddly interspersed with Naomi Klein-style economic critiques. I suggest that you peruse the wonderfully-written paeans to Coney Island and sideshow bodies, but skip over any page that devotes space to income disparity. And read Apocalypse Culture first.
Mar 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
14 years old, and as a compilation that means some pieces are even older. Regardless, Dery's insights pry back the linoleum and reveal some surface truths about (mostly) American culture which can be disturbing. Dery's takes a slightly askew angle and this approach brings forth more truths than are in the words. ...more
Madison Santos
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, essay
Required reading for how we went from Obama to Trump, from the 2008 image and figurehead of pure hope to the pyrotechnic insanitarium of 2016.
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
it's been years since i read this book, but i really remember enjoying the hell out of it. i should reread this. ...more
Oct 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended.
Adam Kanter
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book and the connections drawn through it. The essays about clowns, formaldehyde photography, trend spotting, dolls, and unabomber were my favorites. Dery connects it all too the forces of technology and globalization, but each can be read through their own lens. Really interesting collection, and Dery has a very unique writing style, connecting most of the elements of the essays to late 20th century pop culture.
Dixie Johnson
May 13, 2009 rated it liked it
very interesting essays about some of my favorite morbid topics: killer clowns, damien hirst and the xfiles. its about the coming of the year 2000 so its a little dated but still relevant
Kate Walker
Written 10 years ago but feels like it could be today. Very fun writing style and an interesting topic.
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Mark Dery is a cultural critic, essayist, and book author who has taught at NYU and Yale. He coined the term “Afrofuturism,” popularized the concept of “culture jamming,” and has published widely on American mythologies and pathologies. His books include Flame Wars (1994), a seminal anthology of writings on digital culture; Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the

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