Different chapters in the book show the growth in American popular culture. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were challenging times for the country as people sought their identities and had to deal with a changing world. People had differing opinions about class, gender and race. They wanted to move away and distinguish themselves from European traditions yet they were not sure of how to go about it. Women’s traditional role was clear in the society, as they were considered unsuitable to take up some of the positions. The role of black people was not so clear but most people wanted to make them feel inferior. As the country grew and developed in different areas, people saw the need to entertain themselves. Entertainment emerged as a way for people to make money and the actors chose what the audience wanted at that particular time. They represented the society at particular time by showing plays with relevant themes. Different forms of entertainment existed at different periods and they highlighted and reflected the changes in society.
The minstrel shows were one of the earlier works of entertainment. They were characterized by racism, as the main idea was for the white actors to portray themselves as blacks and show that the black race was inferior and they were not to be treated as equals. Some of the actors were however interested in the content of the act rather than in racial remarks. Some of the black people who wanted to become actors acted in these shows, as they were the only way they could be recognized. Some historians saw the shows as a way of white people to deal with class issues that had been brought about by industrialization. Some of the white people felt displaced during the industrialization period that came with changing labor laws. Those who were used to belonging to a higher class in the society wanted to feel that there were people who were inferior to them and the minstrel shows gave them that opportunity.
As the country developed due to industrialization, people began to form societal classes. This was evident even in the entertainment scene, where people belonging to a particular class had their own theater. Prior to the separation of the theaters, different classes of people would sit in different places at the same theater. Appearances and behavior in the working class and the upper class theaters were different. While the wealthy wanted to maintain a sense of decorum, the working classes were more interested in the act on the stage. They felt that they had to control the activities that were going on in the theater. Theater riots occurred as people determined how they wanted particular plays performed. Plays by Shakespeare were particularly popular.
In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, people began to explore other forms of entertainment. Sports were another form of entertainment and it initially separated men and women. Women were not allowed to participate in some of the sports, while in others, they could only act as spectators. The development of parks gave people of different classes, gender and race an opportunity to interact with each other. This included Coney Island that not only offered the obvious source of recreation as an amusement park, but on a deeper level, represented the birth of a common culture that was free of segregation and any form of prejudice. This reflected a changing society as people had begun to accept each other and they realized that they were not different from each other. Movies made it possible for people to access entertainment at the comfort of their homes. They created all types of audiences across the country. In the early days, most of the people thought that many of the fans were women. Movies gave minorities a chance to receive entertainment at home without facing racial discrimination.
Producers have often worked to reflect the changing cultural needs in the society. Sometimes they influence culture, which is later exemplified in the society. For instance, gender roles changed as the movie culture developed. Women were hence considered suitable to perform some of the tasks. The movies reflected the changes in the society where women were emerging from taking care of their husbands and children, and they were going to look for work. This was especially the case during the world wars when most of the able-bodied men went to fight in the wars.
The movies influenced the mode of dressing, appearance and behavior of the women. Women copied fashion as they saw it in the media. Behavior such as smoking became commonplace as it gained more acceptance in the culture. Cultures that were once rigid introduced new elements as they adopted what was portrayed in the television and films. Movies had both negative and positive influence on people. This negative influence led concerned members of the society to seek regulations in moving pictures. They intended to reduce sex and violence content on films as they had realized that many children and working class people were spending most of their leisure time watching the motion pictures.
Consumers determined the content of the films produced and the ones that were successful. This did not mean that producers abandoned the idea of producing films that were not common. Some were therefore forced to go against what was considered the norm in order to meet demands of a changing culture. Although most of the movies produced were of a social context, some producers who were interested with the art quality of the movies did not abandon the idea. This contributed to the development of film especially after the world wars.
Entertainment once included theatrical performances in the form of minstrel shows and Shakespearean plays. The changing economy led to the development of theater, which in turn expanded the field of entertainment. People had more money to spend on entertainment and this led to the development and advancement in the field industry, sports and other forms of entertainment. Producers sometimes produced films to respond to the needs of the society. They created films that reflected the changing society. Sometimes they compelled the consumer to accept other forms of films as they introduced different art forms in the movies. This led to the growth of films as people became open to more genres.