SAVAGE PASTIMES by Harold Schechter
Kirkus Star


A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment
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Why the good old days were actually often quite nasty.

Since Schechter has made his living out of repackaging the grimmer elements of American Gothic, whether in true crime tomes about long-ago serial killers (Fiend, 2000) or a mystery series starring Edgar Allan Poe (The Mask of Red Death, p. 556, etc.), his position in the violent-media-is-corrupting-our-youth debate should come as little surprise. He doesn’t just pooh-pooh the bluenoses, he goes after them with a shovel as he argues that not only is today’s popular entertainment far from harmful in the way it dishes out the violence to a nation of couch potatoes, but that it is actually far more timid than the media of just about any previous period. What is surprising is how smart and enlivening his argument is. Think the 1950s was the Golden Age of inoffensive, quality television? Schechter’s deconstruction of the shocking violence and racism displayed in Davy Crockett will cure you of that notion—and that’s before he even gets started on trigger-happy westerns. Even more provocative is Schechter’s plunge into the glorious world of pulp fiction, ranging from the 1800s through the 1950s. His prodigious research enlightens the unwary reader about everything from Victorian penny dreadfuls (which reveled in true tales of cannibalism and murder) to the dead bodies and vileness that choked 19th-century American dime novels (which kids read by the fistful). By contrast, today’s primetime TV lineup of forensic shows and dirty-minded sitcoms hardly poses a threat to American youth, in Schechter’s view. Although his slim volume doesn’t completely demolish the idea that media can affect children in harmful ways, the author does effectively refute the notion that we are living in uniquely dark and violent times, when in fact it’s much the same as it ever was.

A bloody fine riposte to those who would censor with clouded hindsight and muddy reasoning.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-312-28276-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2004


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