Book of the month: Lipsitz’s Time Passages
Our book recommendation of the month is George Lipsitz’s Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture.
The book is a collection of essays on American popular culture spans from popular music to television comedies, delving into popular narratives with a keen eye on the ethnic aspects in play. The common thread linking this diverse sequence of popular product analyses is the idea that Americans draw on their collective memory as a powerful resource of affirmation, diversification, and resistance in an ever-changing society.
The first two chapters introduce popular culture and its inevitable relation with history, memory, and the representation of the past; in “Prescious and Communicable: History in the Age of Popular Culture” Lipsitz tackles the complex matter of the reconstruction of historical narratives, as well as their political weight and manipulation. The following two chapters are focused on popular television, and in particular how family, ethnicity, and class have been narrated through early serialization. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with popular music, selecting the rock and roll genre and music culture in Chicano East LA respectively; once again, cultural roots intertwine with history in his engaging analysis. The following chapters tackle popular film, showing how commercial motion pictures as well bear an unintentional role in history, as spectators construct their identities through a historical dialogue—both with the past and the times they’re living—also relating with the types of fictional narratives they are provided. Chapters 9 and 10 then focus on popular literary (counter)narrative, proposing an analysis of the narrative voices related with the Carnival in Black New Orleans. The book comes full circle closing with an essay on the future and how collective memory can cope with the blurring of cultural legacies and the dilution of imaginaries due to commercial entertainment mechanisms of fragmented, fast consumption.
Lipsitz’s writing is provocative and entertaining, as his interest in popular culture and the ramifications of the related criticism and analysis. It results, indeed, in a variety of hints and suggestions on the infinite possibilities and perspectives intrinsic to popular culture. The book comes across as a collection of diverse case studies, rather than a deepened analysis of each genre and product; nevertheless, it constitutes an enriching, recommended reading for those interested in popular culture and cultural studies in general.
Lipsitz, George. 1990. Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.