1st Edition

Rise of the Spectacular
America in the 1950s

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after July 27, 2021
ISBN 9780367902803
July 27, 2021 Forthcoming by Routledge
208 Pages 12 B/W Illustrations

USD $44.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

In this prequel to Fantasy City: Pleasure and Profit in the Postmodern Metropolis (1998), his acclaimed book about the post-industrial city as a site of theming, branding and simulated spaces, sociologist John Hannigan travels back in time to the 1950s. Unfairly stereotyped as ‘the tranquillized decade’, America at mid-century hosted an escalating proliferation and conjunction of ‘spectacular’ events, spaces, and technologies.

Spectacularization was collectively defined by five features. It reflected and legitimated a dramatic increase in scale from the local/regional to the national. It was mediated by the increasingly popular medium of television. It exploited middle-class tension between comfortable conformity and desire for safe adventure. It celebrated technological progress, boosterism and military power. It was orchestrated and marketed by a constellation, sometimes a coalition, of entrepreneurs and dream merchants, most prominently Walt Disney. In this wide-ranging odyssey across mid-century America, Hannigan visits leisure parks (Cypress Gardens), parades (Tournament of Roses), mega-events (Squaw Valley Olympics, Century 21 Exposition), architectural styles (desert modernism), innovations (underwater photography, circular film projection) and everyday wonders (chemistry sets). Collectively, these fashioned the ‘spectacular gaze’, a prism through which Americans in the 1950s were acculturated to and conscripted into a vision of a progressive, technology-based future.

Rise of the Spectacular will appeal to architects, landscape designers, geographers, sociologists, historians, and leisure/tourism researchers, as well as non-academic readers who are by a fascinating era in history.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Re-imagining the 1950s

1. On the Road: Safe Adventures in 1950s America

2. "The Biggest Rolodex in Hollywood": Walt Disney at Mid-Century


3. Desert Spectacular

4. The Name of the Rose

5. It Happened in Squaw Valley


6. The Most Photographed Place in America

7. Marine Marvels


8. Seattle Invents the Future

9. Chemistry Sets, Planetariums and Science Fairs

10. Interrogating the Spectacular

View More



John Hannigan is Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto where he teaches courses in urban sociology, cultural policies and environment and society. He is the author of four books: Environmental Sociology (1995, 2006, 2014), Fantasy City: Pleasure and Profit in the Postmodern City (1998), Disasters Without Borders: The International Politics of Natural Disaster, and The Geopolitics of Deep Oceans. Dr Hannigan is a frequent contributor to media discussions of culture and urban development, having appeared among others in/on National Public Radio (US), The Independent (UK) and the Globe & Mail (Canada).