UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Consuming visions : pop art, mass culture, and the American dream, 1962-65 Gillespie, Sandra Elizabeth


Between 1962 and 1965 pop art received a phenomenal amount of exposure in mass-market magazines such as Time, Life, Esquire, Ladies Home Journal, Business Week, House and Garden and Reader's Digest. While coverage of art in non-art publications was in itself not unusual, the rapidity, prevalence, extensiveness, and ambiguity of pop coverage were unique. In the writings of most pop art historians this phenomenon is either overlooked or explained away as yet another instance of giving the masses what they want; in this case, bright, cheery, affirmative images of consumer culture which conform incredibly well to both the form and content of most mass-market publications. From even a cursory survey of mainstream periodical imaging of pop in the years 1962-65, however, it becomes obvious that mass-market magazines were not presenting pop art as simply a hip and clever advertisement for ontemporary U.S. life. By means of a detailed examination of how pop art was represented in Life, Time, Ladies Home Journal, and House and Garden, this thesis aims to provide a more complex understanding of both pop's noteworthy presence in these magazines and its relationship to U.S. consumer culture of the early sixties. Locating common themes of pop coverage is the starting point for such an investigation. By determining what parameters are consistently utilized to frame pop and then situating those parameters within historically-relevant resonances, we begin tosee that pop was the focus of such unprecedented public attention not only because of its challenge to existing aesthetic norms but also because of its patent connection to consumer culture and the heated debates surrounding it. Moving from this general overview to a more specific analysis of pop's re-presentation in the main stream press and its relationship to contemporary U.S. life necessitates a closer examination of how pop was actually presented in the magazines themselves. Through a textual and visual deconstruction of the material representations of pop the general concepts and debates determined earlier are situated within the larger socio-cultural structure within which mass-market magazines' representations of pop were operating. Issues arising out of period critiques of consumerism and mass culture on the subjects of individualism, progress, democracy, and nationalism are then factored into an explanation of the intricate mixture of ridicule and admiration characteristic of the magazines' representations of pop, revealing pop art as an active player in the ongoing questioning and re-definition of such concepts. Thus we find that the imaging of pop art found in non-art publications is not as pro-pop/pro-consumer culture as many theorists and historians would have us believe. While far from revolutionary critiques of early sixties U.S. society, the textualand visual representations of pop found in mass-market magazines do evince tensions over societal changes introduced by the hegemony of mass culture and the U.S.' intimate conceptual association with it. The historical significance of such an uncomfortability lies in the recognition that it is these same tensions--over issues of individualism, progress, democracy, and nationalism--which will play key roles in the extensive questioning of U.S. values and morals which takes place in the second half of the sixties.

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