What is the summary for The Art of Democracy by Jim Cullen?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jim Cullen's The Art of Democracy is a fascinating look at the history of pop culture in the United States. Cullen starts in the early days of our democracy and moves forward up through the internet and into the modern era. To put it simply, Cullen's book documents the many ways that popular culture waves have reshaped our society. In the process of recording the history of pop culture in America, Cullen makes some interesting hypotheses.

First, Cullen points out that pop culture is inherently democratic in a way that government structures in the U.S. haven't been able to replicate. Cullen theorizes that the reason for this difference comes from the fact that our democratic institutions are insulated from the public while pop culture springs from the public. The Art of Democracy also tracks the cycle of how pop culture phenomena generally come into mainstream consciousness. Cullen found that they typically begin their lifespan being resisted by the elites. Then, the elites embrace them and the most resonant pieces of the new pop culture become mainstream.

The book is a fascinating look at how pop culture can bring minority groups who are marginalized by society into the mainstream.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Art of Democracy explores the role of popular culture in providing minority groups with a platform to speak. Cullen argues that film, music, and technology have allowed minority groups to have access to public space. Cullen exemplifies this through the stories of celebrities such as Billie Holiday and Fanny Fern. He starts by showing how novels from the 19th century were spaces for minority writers to share their stories. He builds upon this to show how computers, television, and the internet have widened these opportunities. Cullen argues that prior to World War II, computers were only accessible to the military. More recently, computers have become available to the general public. This greatly expanded the potential for minority artists and writers to be published.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Art of Democracy, Jim Cullen reveals how popular culture has paved the way for minority groups in mainstream society. According to the author, past literature, film, and music enabled marginalized groups to gain recognition in American society. Also, Cullen looks at the evolution of computing, how it was only used by the military, and its extensive use by the public today. He explains how computers have changed popular culture and caused a lot of disruption in many businesses.

The author dedicates full chapters to Fanny Fern, Billie Holiday, and Archie Bunker, among other personalities associated with popular culture. Furthermore, Cullen devotes an entire chapter to mainstream media such as radio, television, and print. By offering these examples, he reveals the way American popular culture has significantly influenced the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Because of the timing of this question, I assume it is being asked about the second edition of the interesting history book with the full title of The Art of Democracy: A Concise History of Popular Culture in the United States. Mentioning the edition is important because of two inclusions: a preface and a concluding chapter about computers and their impact.  (The previous editions did not have that important component.)

In short, this book is about popular culture and its history of bringing minorities into the forefront of the United States public. Because it is a "history" of popular culture, it flows chronologically from the late 1700s on to the present day.  Cullen begins with exploring the novels from the beginning of our country's history. Written word continues to prevail in popular culture until live theater takes hold, which allows minstrel shows to become prevalent in the mid 1800s. Cullen continues with the advent of movies, television, and computers. In each case, the new form of popular culture has to defeat initial resistance (often by the elderly population) in order to become mainstream.

In conclusion, it is important to note that in each case the popular culture mentioned allows the marginalized in society to be gradually accepted. There is no doubt that specific performers like Charlie Chaplin, Elvis, Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, Culture Club, and Los Lobos rocket specific minorities into the mainstream of United States culture.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial