Contemporary American Entertainment

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Discover the diversity of American entertainment. Explore contemporary trends in American television, film, literature, and music. Learn about multi-ethnic artists, writers, actors, and musicians, as well as celebrity in America.

Popular Entertainment

Entertainment provides us with more than just hours of mindless fun. Can you imagine life without television, movies, art, music, books or magazines? These forms of mass media sweep us away into another time and place. All entertainment builds upon the foundation of storytelling, and these forms of entertainment express the cultures out of which they arise.

In the U.S., programs are typically created by Americans for Americans, but they have a global reach. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, American entertainment has appealed to a mass audience, but American culture is hardly one-size-fits-all -- America is a melting pot. We are a nation of immigrants, and we come from diverse backgrounds. American media reflects that diversity.

A report from UCLA's Bunche Center for African American Studies showed that minority representation in American media has grown since the 1960s. Today, blacks and Hispanics make up more than half of the American audience. Even though blacks and Hispanics are still underrepresented in the mainstream media, channels like BET, Ebony, Telemundo, and Univision market specifically to ethnic audiences.

Modern American Art

Visual art might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of entertainment, but let's look at the ways in which art has become more popular in the last fifty or so years. It was artist Andy Warhol who started it all. Warhol's paintings of Campbell's Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe, for example, toyed with the idea of spectacle and repetition. His works convey how mass entertainment becomes meaningless when mass produced. Warhol's presence in the 1960s ushered in an age of experimentation in American visual art and made way for a trend called pop art.

By appealing to the popular audience, rather than the elite, pop artists like painter Roy Lichtenstein and photographer Cindy Sherman inaugurated a new kind of in-your-face, colorful, and expressive approach. Lichtenstein's bright canvases made postcards and comic books into fine art. Sherman's portrait photography raises important questions about the ability of the artist to represent herself and her gender. Dressing up in costume, re-staging famous art works, and impersonating celebrities were some of her innovative strategies.

Special edition Andy Warhol Campbells Soup Cans

Contemporary American Literature

Since the 1970s, American literature has also come to reflect broader trends in American culture. Literature has become more diverse as its audience has grown to appreciate a variety of writing styles and genres. Along with the diversity of authors and subjects, modern American literature, like modern American art, mirrors what can only be described as an identity crisis. These novels take up questions of race, gender, and beauty. Toni Morrison's breakout novel, The Bluest Eye, for example, tells the story from the point of view of a black girl struggling to come to terms with her own beauty in a predominantly white society.

Angelou reciting her poem for President Bill Clinton
Maya Angelou

Minority literature rose to prominence in the second half of the twentieth century along with a wider cultural awareness. African American authors such as Maya Angelou gave a voice to the Civil Rights Movement. Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club invites readers into the lifestyle of Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco. Sherman Alexie's short story compilation The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven shows what it's like to grow up on an Indian reservation.

Contemporary American Music

American music today can be defined not just by its sound or its genre but also by its diverse audiences and artists, including African Americans and Latinos. Jazz, blues, rock, R&B, rap, salsa, merengue, pop, techno: the list goes on. Popular contemporary styles like rap and hip hop reflect the way American cultures have fused together. Additionally, many Latino-American artists, such as Pitbull and J.Lo., incorporate Spanish lyrics and beats into their songs and even fuse rap and hip-hop into their tracks, further illustrating the diversity of music in the U.S.

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