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American Fun

Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt

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Here is an animated and wonderfully engaging work of cultural history that lays out America’s unruly past by describing the ways in which cutting loose has always been, and still is, an essential part of what it means to be an American.
From the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Americans have defied their stodgy rules and hierarchies with pranks, dances, stunts, and wild parties, shaping the national character in profound and lasting ways. In the nation’s earlier eras, revelers flouted Puritans, Patriots pranked Redcoats, slaves lampooned masters, and forty-niners bucked the saddles of an increasingly uptight middle class. In the twentieth century, fun-loving Americans celebrated this heritage and pushed it even further: flappers “barney-mugged” in “petting pantries,” Yippies showered the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills, and B-boys invented hip-hop in a war zone in the Bronx.
This is the surprising and revelatory history that John Beckman recounts in American Fun. Tying together captivating stories of Americans’ “pursuit of happiness”—and distinguishing between real, risky fun and the bland amusements that paved the way for Hollywood, Disneyland, and Xbox—Beckman redefines American culture with a delightful and provocative thesis.
(With black-and-white illustrations throughout.)

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly Review

Oct 14, 2013 – Beckman, an English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, traces the “three tributaries of American fun—the commercial, playful, and radically political,” from Thomas Morton’s anarchic Merry Mount colony in the 1620s to its modern counterpart, Burning Man. Accounts of politically motivated fun like the Boston Tea Party and the Yippies’ attempt to levitate the Pentagon are presented along with tales of pranksters like Mark Twain and P.T. Barnum, as well as accounts of playful hoaxes, such as the “Electrical Banana,” in which a 1960s underground newspaper convinced mainstream media that smoking dried banana peels produces “a cannabic effect.” Beckman laments the commercialized fun of organized sports as well as the neutering of counterculture spirit by Madison Avenue advertising or pop culture’s “test-tube teens.” He also traces African-American culture from Pinkster festivals and Brother Rabbit folktales—later hijacked by white journalist Joel Chandler Harris—to the Harlem Renaissance and the emergence of hip-hop in the 1970s South Bronx. Other notable characters include the “b’hoys and g’hals,” Irish street gangsters with an affinity for Shakespeare; the Merry Pranksters and their LSD-infused parties with the Hell’s Angels; and Jazz Age flappers like Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Beckman captures the rambunctiousness, subversiveness, and inventiveness of the American spirit, as well as its ugliness, violence, and bigotry. He also raises interesting questions about complacency and “the death of fun.”
American Fun
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  • $13.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: History
  • Published: Feb 04, 2014
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Random House, LLC
  • Print Length: 432 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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