The Astonished Muse
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This classic in communications is also a path-breaking study of American popular culture, combining the thoughtful sympathy of Gilbert Seldes with the critical sensitivity for form of H.L. Mencken. Denney accomplishes this by introducing new approaches to understanding products of popular culture without either moralizing over the profit motives of the producers or sermonizing about the base motives of consumers seeking mere entertainment. His forty-page introduction to this new edition is a major statement reexamining the themes in the original 1957 volume. The Astonished Muse analyzes a wide and varied sample of both the active and the passive leisure activities of Americans, ranging from television and science fiction to organized football and skyscraper design.On its initial appearance the book was praised as a work that combines a searching formal analysis of the popular arts with a close historical grasp of their genres and a sociological sense of their audiences. Its themes of critical competence and performance anticipate current concerns with reader-centered and linguistic approaches to popular literature. In an economic-historical sense, this book presages the rise of popular arts and media as rivals in scale to manufacturing industries in the United States. In a political sense, it affirms audience selectivity. Above all it takes a quiet stand against attempts to devalue, decry, and censor the popular arts under banners of morality, childhood innocence, puritanical religion, and other limits to free expression.