Modernization in the Visual United States Environment, 1890-2035

Here find an ecology of changes, a course on the ecosystem of change so rapid most thoughtful Americans know it as modernization.  Design remembered and forgotten shapes its core, but always a caveat rules:  modernization and progress prove different in the long run.  Modernization shatters peace, quiet, certainty, value, even joy, and it impacts Americans differently.  Modernization happens to most, hits hard and fast, corrodes slowly and wretchedly.  But the few shape it, anticipating and skewing trends, inventing new processes, products, and attitudes: marketing research, hunch, luck, and advertising—always advertising—advance an agenda open to disruption and mishap alike.  Advertising now flourishes as the third political party and the fourth branch of government, determines what inventions and design triumph or fail, and occludes the deeper forces which reward risk and punish ideology.  The type-writing machine changed desks and offices, sparked the crossword puzzle, shamed poor spellers, and renamed young women clerks typewriters: a generation later, calculating machines transformed office work and renamed secretaries computers.  Advertising made cigarette smoking synonymous with feminism, cereal and fruit breakfasts equivalent to one-child families, and horseless carriages indicators of status.  But as automobiles made children and dogs the organized prisoners of highway mechanization, the aristocracy which governs modernization taught children to ride horseback, kept its sailboats, cherished its never-changing summer-vacation cottages, wilderness camps, and other hideaways.  Aristocrats dance in ballrooms where men always lead.  Wealthy women account for about 90% of the highest-level luxury market.  Aristocrats always flee cities when plague hits: their refuges blend in, look traditional, pass unnoticed.  An American middle-class peasantry ogles the British royal family as closely as the Depression unemployed watched Hollywood films about millionaires. Graduate students dump solid tenth-hand furniture (brown goods to antique dealers) for assemble-it-yourself coated particle board junk movers shrink wrap.  Contemporary university students no more think about invention, marking, and advertising of the first cell phones than they do about the great corporations deciding in the summer of 1970 that women’s lib was good.  Here find a course which focuses on those who make, anticipate, accelerate, and evade modernization.

Note: This course is offered jointly with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as AFVS 160.