Middle Mind: Why Consumer Culture Is Turning Us Into the Living Dead

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9780141016757: Middle Mind: Why Consumer Culture Is Turning Us Into the Living Dead

Creeping into art, literature, politics and the media, sliding into living rooms and coming soon to a cinema near you ... the Middle Mind has arrived. Join Curtis White on a crusade against tedium as he takes on this bland, no-thinking-required 'product' that passes for culture in America - and that we've signed up and paid for in full too. It's not about high- or low-brow, it's about a mainstream consensus that pleases everyone but moves, challenges or shocks no one: from the Hollywood machine to cultural theory equating Madonna with Milton, from free market ideology to TV arts programmes, New Age self-help and Oprah's Book Club. This is a book for anyone who thinks culture should be a force for change, not just something to acquire and consume; who wants to reclaim the destabilizing power of the imagination - and start thinking for themselves.

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Review:

Curtis White’s The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves--which grew from a 2002 Harper's article—examines as its titular object the dominant American liberal, pseudo-intellectual consciousness. "The Middle Mind" disdains hard thinking and true examination of corporate and political forces that act upon it. In the book, White dilates on his notion of an American Middle Mind to imagine a world beyond it, but he frequently gets lost on his journey. He finds three sources for this American malaise: the entertainment industry, academic orthodoxy, and political ideology. But, as in the original magazine piece, the figures he picks to condemn within this triumvirate are a bit surprising, even while his attacks are unremitting. NPR's Terry Gross, for example, is characterized as one whose work is "useless for the purposes of intelligence," and her show is dismissed as a "pornographic farce." In his critiques, White claims to be resisting the classic high-brow/low-brow cultural distinctions; or, rather, he sees the Middle Mind as having absorbed them. But his frequent allusions to Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and high Modernism long for a world that never was, a world of art and political resistance that was somehow accessible in its full complexity to all of America. While White wants a creative, intelligent, politically engaged American mass culture, his exemplars look remarkably like high culture icons and few modern intellectuals are left standing (notably Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Bill Moyers). By the end, his call for a "pragmatic sublime" diffuses into vague, postmodern-theory-laden discussion of artistic formalism and a celebration of David Lynch's film Blue Velvet as a model for resistance. In this context of exclusivity, Terry Gross's inclusive "Middle Mind" seems the more open space for true discourse. --Patrick O’Kelley

About the Author:

Curtis White is an acclaimed social critic and essayist whose work appears regularly in Context, Harper's and The Village Voice. He is a professor of English at Illinois State University and lives in Normal, Illinois.

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