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Frederic Jameson. "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture." Social Text, No. 1 (Winter, 1979), pg. 130-148.

At the turn of the century, Nietzsche believed Western civilization had decayed into mediocrity and lost its drive for creativity. (I think an example of this mediocrity is the detective or dime store novel which stems from what Stuart Hall calls the “commercial” press).

However, Similarly to Stuart Halls’ “What Is This 'Black' in Black Popular Culture?,” (and Paul DiMaggio,  Frederic Jameson wants to dispel with the notion, perpetuated by the Frankfurt School, that something called a “high culture” exists (Modernism Art and Schoenberg), and something called a “low culture” exists, and these two cultures irreconcilable.

Jameson asserts that actually both high art and mass culture are produced with sale in mind. Mass art was a “medicinal bath” of amusement, laughter, and making money (called “reification” or “materialization” or “losing distinctiveness”). But so was the was “high modernism” that Theodor Adorno and and Max Horkheimer championed. By the very fact that Modernism strives to be perpetually revolutionary (fragmentary sentences and disconnected writing in Joyce, for instance) and takes a vigorous stance against commodification, it demonstrates it also has its roots in capitalistic economics and is equally repetitive. 

In the second part of "Reification and Utopia" Jameson analyses three popular films. Jaws and the first two parts of The Godfather. His analysis points to the social, political and ideological meanings inscribed in what is normally viewed as popular senseless entertainment. While The Frankfurt School championed Modernism because it provided utopian ideals that assisted humanity in making the world a better place to live, they viewed mass culture as exempt from any utopian possibility. However, Jameson analyzes Jaws and The Godfather, which on the one hand confirm the existing social order while on the other hand they offer a type of utopia of returning to the old lost family values. These movies, Jameson argues, offer a way of coping and confronting historical processes in the American culture and the sense of crisis and deterioration.

Reification and Utopia is actually what happens in Susan Douglas’s book: positive AND negative portrayals of women.

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