The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink

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Grove Press, 1999 - Social Science - 304 pages
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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 Dory says, borrowing a turn-of-the-century name for Coney Island. Dory elucidates thc meaning to our madness, deconstructing American culture from mainstream forces like Disney and Nike to fringe phenomena like thc Unabomber and alien invaders. Our millennial angst, he argues, is a product of a pervasive cultural anxiety -- a combination of thc social and economic upheaval wrought by global capitalism and thc paranoia fanned by media sensationalism. The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium is a theme-park ride through thc extremes of American culture of which The Atlantic Monthly has written, "Mark Dery confirms once again what writers and thinkers as disparate as Nathanael West, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sigmund Freud, and Oliver Sacks have already shown us: thc best place to explore the human condition is at its outer margins, its pathological extremes".
 

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Contents

HAVE AN ANGST DAY THE SCREAM MEME
45
DARK CARNIVAL
61
COTTON CANDY AUTOPSY DECONSTRUCTING PSYCHOKILLER CLOWNS
63
RETURN TO ABNORMALCY FREAKS GAFFES AND GEEKS AT THE FINDEMILLENNIUM
87
ANUS HORRIBILIS JIM CARREYS EXCREMENTAL EXCESS
107
DEAD MEAT
123
MAD COWS AND ENGLISHMEN READING DAMIEN HIRSTS ENTRAILS
125
MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM THE OPERATION
139
TRENDSPOTTING I SHOP THEREFORE I AM
181
V THE PARENT TRAP
191
GRIM FAIRY TALES RENEE FRENCHS KINDERCULTURE
193
THE UNHEIMLICH MANEUVER THE DOLL HOUR
205
EMPATHY BELLIES CLONED SHEEP AND PREGNANT MEN
211
RIDING SHOTGUN WITH THE DOOM PATROL
223
WILD NATURE WIRED NATURE THE UNABOMBER MEETS THE DIGERATI
225
SPACE ODDITIES HEAVENS GATE AND HOMO CYBERSTRANGE ALLEGIANCES ON THE LEVEL ABOVE HUMAN
247

NATURE MORTE FORMALDEHYDE PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE NEW GROTESQUE
145
MAIN STREET USA THE PUBLIC SPHERE
167
PAST PERFECT DISNEY CELEBRATES US HOME
169
CONCLUSION LAST THINGS
259
NOTES
271
Copyright

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Page 44 - The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network.
Page 27 - In fact, our treatment is much closer to a "free market" analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces. Most biased choices in the media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized^ preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power. Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reporters and commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organizational requirements,...
Page 6 - It is impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth (Briggs and Maverick, 1858: 21-22).
Page 21 - It is nothing if not coherent — in fact, the paranoid mentality is far more coherent than the real world, since it leaves no room for mistakes, failures, or ambiguities. It is, if not wholly rational, at least intensely rationalistic; it believes that it is up against an enemy who is as infallibly rational as he is totally evil, and it seeks to match his imputed total competence with its own, leaving nothing unexplained and comprehending all of reality in one overreaching, consistent theory.

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About the author (1999)

Dery is a cultural critic.

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