Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars

Abrams. Nov. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781419760983. $30. POP CULTURE
Nesteroff (We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy) shows that heightened sensitivities to offensive material are long-standing phenomena in the U.S. and the UK. Contending that past attempts at censorship can inform the present, he concentrates on controversies from the 19th-century minstrel shows up to the social media age. He extensively utilizes letters to the editors and other expressions of indignation as representative of the zeitgeist. In citing criticism of aspects of culture such as increasing explicitness in music, dancing, film, and TV programs, the book uses cultural touchstones such as Amos ’n’ Andy, Gone with the Wind, Milton Berle in drag, plus Elvis Presley, Paul Robeson, Nat King Cole, the John Birch Society, the Moral Majority, and Norman Lear’s comedies. General readers will learn that champions of free speech such as Mae West, Billy Wilder, and Mort Sahl were later less accepting of newer cultural expressions, and the Television Code that debuted in 1952 was similar to the earlier Hays Code for films.
VERDICT A comprehensive, meticulously researched, generally left-of-center work about how industries intended to entertain were and remain cultural battlefields.
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