Jan 25, 2018 in Book Review

book John Kasson and Leo Marx

John Kasson and Leo Marx have written the books that provide a thorough insight into the changes that shaped the American society. John Kasson's Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century describes new social reality that has emerged. The establishment of the urban amusement park is seen as a response to it. This new reality was caused by transformation of people’s role; they were no longer rural laborers of the farms but urban operators of the machines. Coney Island caused the vanishing of certain boundaries in human relationships; social distinction was blurred to a considerable degree, while previously rigid restrictions disappeared entirely.

According to Kasson, Coney Island in its heyday could be considered as a form of techno-paradise: a small separate area of pleasure and delight. The reason behind its remarkable success lied within the necessity of the urban society in a recreation area where people could embrace the nature and amusing pastime. Coney Island provided an escape from daily routine, onerous burdens and intractable problems. During the weekends, the pivotal part of the workforce could engage in the day of recreation in order to face the complexity of a crowded urban way of life on weekdays. Therefore, Coney Island contributed considerably towards the transformation of the nation on its way to a mainstream industrial economy.

Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America describes the duality of values of those times. On the one hand, people celebrated the nature in all respects. On the other hand, Americans highly encouraged the development of industry despite the fact that its emergence had a destructive impact on the environment. This contradictory relationship with nature is reflected in American pastoralism. Taking in consideration Marx’s notions, the Coney Island amusement center can be identified as a pastoral construct in the American tradition.


On the whole, the pastoral ideal lies within the belief of Americans in nature’s significance and value

As it is seen in Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, people find the park as a chance to relax, recover in a physical, moral and spiritual way. In this context, Marx highlights the sentimentality of pastoralism referring to the range of emotions experienced by the first explorers of the New World. The newcomers saw America as a lush paradise which they wanted to preserve. While the history evolved, certain changes gradually shaped the life of society. The emergence of manufacturing facilities and technologies advancements caused the growth of cities and towns that became the industrial centers. Along with the exploration of the continent, it contributed towards massive exploitation of resources. Thus, the Machine and the Garden constitute precise metaphors for industrialism movement and general pastoral landscape of America. Consequently, according to Marx, Coney Island represents an attempt to mask the real problems of the industrial civilization. If take into account the contradictions of industrial values, technological progress tends to use the machines as an effective instrument which, unfortunately, affects the pastoral ideal, making a solid and irreversible contribution to its destruction. Nevertheless, Coney Island in the capacity of the pastoral ideal reflects the crucial changes of those times that shaped the contemporary industrial society of the United States.


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