The Demise of the Big Tent Made Us Stupid

Peak into my bedroom on a Sunday evening sometime circa 1985, you would have seen me working on homework, probably geometry that was due the next day. But I wasn’t just doing homework; no I was also listening to the radio and I wasn’t just listening to the radio, I was listening to American Top 40 with Kasey Kasem. Teenagers of the 1970s and 80s found some time on the weekend to settle in and listen to the biggest songs in pop music. From its start in 1970 until he left the position in 1988, millions of teens and young adults did something that might seem old-fashioned back then: sitting in front of a radio and listening to the top songs for 3–4 hours.

I didn’t know it back then, but I was part of something that we took for granted in the 70s and 80s and that almost doesn’t exist today and that is mass culture, the big tent.

Mass culture, are the cultural products that are produced for the widest audience possible.

If you go back to an era where there were just three channels on television and no social media, you will find a time when many of us watched the same television shows and listened to the same music. The final episode of the TV series MASH, Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, had nearly 106 million people watching it on February 28, 1983. On Saturday mornings, millions of children in America sat down and watched cartoons, a tradition that no longer exists. Everyone seemed to watch the evening news on one of the three networks.

Mass culture wasn’t limited to what we watched on television; it was also in the air in how Americans lived. Politics of the postwar era was created for mass culture. Both major parties considered themselves big tent parties, with active conservative and liberal wings. This was the era when people would vote split ticket, voting for one party in the White House and another for Congress. It was also an era when representatives of Congress would come and live in Washington and families from both parties would mingle together.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s