Contradictory impulses have fueled this project. Anyone writing about mass
culture must hammer out some locatable relationship with the highbrow/
lowbrow divide. A thoroughly constructed dichotomy well deserving the de-
stabilization to which it has now been subjected, the highbrowllowbrow para-
digm has, nonetheless, governed the way that cultural producers and audiences
have experienced popular culture for more than a century.) In my case, a strong
personal identification with the "lowbrow" has sat rather uneasily with a grow-
ing concern about the impact of advertising, and this acutely divided sensibil-
ity has driven my entire investigation. Assumed throughout is that the adver-
tising industry has had enough social force to modifY the way people approach
the very concept of selfhood. But how cognizant were twenties' advertisers of
their "perpetration" of some large-scale agenda? Did they see themselves as
acting on a passive populace, as inducing social change, as wielding powers
sufficient to transform the experience of subjectivity and gender?
Advertisers of the
may have helped to launch a cultural era devoted to
the fetishization of commodities and the commodification of experience, but
in the process, they were typically focused on micromanaging their own arena.
These affairs were those delineated in their minds by what Marx rather subtly
cataloged as "old memories, personal enmities, fears and hopes, prejudices and
illusions, sympathies and antipathies, convictions, articles of faith and princi-
ples."2 A twenties' advertiser would have been trying, say, to get a promotion,
to find a way for the women in her agency to exert more influence, or to push
through her own idea for a campaign. During the early decades of its ascen-
dance, the industry vacillated between softsell-atmospheric, "mood" adver-
tisements-and hard sell-fact-driven "reason why" ads; these were, by and
large, the "revolutions" and struggles that gripped advertisers, caught up (as we
all usually are) in the furious drama of their own lives.
Still, as we have seen, some advertisers did come close to personifYing the
most paranoid fantasies of removed, Machiavellian social manipulators. A
portion of these self-fashioned puppeteers may have been deluding themselves
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