March 31, 2006
Interesting Books on American Culture: Mark Twain, Madonna, and Jesus

While looking through the latest version of the American Culture Association's Journal of American Culture, I found reviews for a few good books that have just come out which might be useful for the work we're doing here at C3 or for people interested in related matters.

Tsuyoshi Ishihara published Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon in 2005. With all of our talk about a global international culture, influential Asian markets, and pop cosmopolitanism, it's sometimes easy to look only at film, television, and new media and not think back to what has traditionally been the most open cultural expression of ideas--the translation of literary texts. The well-known popular culture scholar Ray B. Browne provides a review that makes the book sound very applicable for those interested in understanding both the traditional and the contemporary problems with international markets and particularly American/Japanese cultural translations.

Another heavyweight in popular culture studies, Marshall Fishwick, provides an in-depth review of Karlene Faith's 2004 book Madonna: Bawdy and Soul. Faith's book looks at the way Madonna crafted her star image, both extrapolating from and breaking the molds of previous performers. She has been one of the most talked-about and studied modern musical performers, but there is much to learn about all her culutral metamorphoses, both for the student of popular culture as well as the marketer. For Madonna to remain relevant in American culture and to survive as a performer from generation to generation provides an effective case study for how a star image must adapt and change with the times.

But the master of an adaptable star image has to be Jesus Christ, which is the subject of Stephen Prothero's 2003 book American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. Jesus has become a relevant figure to all strands of Catholic and Protestant Christianity, as well as Judiasm, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a variety of other religions. I've said it before and will say it many times over--understanding the marketing power of Christianity and studying it throughout history may be the most powerful way to grasp an understanding of basic marketing principles as anything I've seen, and Kelly Baker's review of American Jesus indicates that this book provides an in-depth analysis at how the use of Jesus Christ as an image has changed throughout American history.

The three books might be worth a look at if you are interested in the issues they touch on, and The Journal of American Culture is always a great place to go to find some of the books academia has to offer on issues currently relevant to American culture and entertainment.