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“An exhilarating, dissonant ride . . . Dery, one of our most astute contemporary cultural critics . . . relishes his role as curator of America’s bulging cabinet of horrors. . . . For all the fun to be had here, though, his warning of the dire consequences we face if we turn our eyes away from what’s before us . . . comes through loud and clear.” David Hudson, Salon
The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium
American Culture on the Brink
978-0-8021-3670-1 • $14.00 • Paperback • Jan. 2000
From the far left to the far right, talk radio to the op-ed page, more and more Americans believe that the social fabric is unraveling. Celebrity worship and media frenzy, suicidal cultists and heavily armed secessionistsmodern life seems to have become a “pyrotechnic insanitarium,” to borrow a turn-of-the-century name for Coney Island.
Mark Dery elucidates the meaning to our madness, deconstructing American culture from mainstream forces like Disney and Nike to fringe phenomena like the Unabomber and alien invaders. Our millennial angst, he argues, is a product of a pervasive cultural anxietya combination of the social and economic upheaval wrought by global capitalism and the paranoia fanned by media sensationalism.
The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium is a theme-park ride through the extremes of American culture. As The Atlantic Monthly has written, “Mark Dery confirms once again what writers and thinkers as disparate as Nathanael West, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sigmund Freud, and Oliver Sacks have already shown us: the best place to explore the human condition is at its outer margins, its pathological extremes.”