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Major Problems in American Pop Culture-Chapter Review and Reading Response for Chapter 4

Updated on October 26, 2017

The focus of this reading response and analysis

What the reader is about to see here is the connection between American clown acts/American entertainment of the 1800’s and early 1900’s and American imperialism. I have chosen to respond to and analyze the primary source titled “Circus Clown Jules Turnour Comments on His International Travels, 1910” which is the 5th primary source for Chapter 4 from the book called Major Problems in American Popular Culture. This reading response and analysis may help college students who are willing to build up their critical thinking and analytical skills. Also, a reading response is different from a book review. A reading response analyzes certain essays and passages while a book review analyzes and reviews an entire book.

The Reasons for Having Chosen the Primary Source about Circus Clown Jules Turnour

This writer chose this particular primary source because it is very impressive how this person was able to develop a kind of love of working as a circus clown and it gave me hope that I could also find work that I am able to love. The more important question which builds upon this first part is what drew me to this particular source? What drew me to this particular source was the story itself. It is a fascinating story about a man that arrives in America willing to explore it after having traveled around the world, picked up so many languages, and even spent time in Mexico. His narrative about the time that he spent in Mexico is very interesting because he portrays it as a rude kind of country and the fact that he was surrounded by so many brigands is also an eye opener. It gives the reader an idea of how life was like outside of the United States and that it was not only the United States that had problems with crime. The third reason that I was drawn to this particular source is because of the way that he described his feelings and interpretations when he first came to the New World. He says: “It gave me a sort of thrill to step ashore there, for the United States had always beckoned to me. I felt that there could be no hardship here. The land was smiling and the sky was as blue as Italy’s,” (page 98). He gets the impression that life will be easier in the United States compared to where he came from. It shows that the United States historically has been a nation where if you came here and worked hard, you could establish yourself and be successful, thus living the American Dream. However, after about 1980, the American middle class was hard hit by Reaganomics and what is known as the trickle-down theory.

A map of Europe around 1911


What are the main essays in the chapter?

Each chapter has two essays that follow the listed primary sources. In the essay “Fairs Take the United States to Europe” by Robert W. Rydell and Rob Kroes, the focus is on Europe’s World Fairs which took place between 1851 and 1900. Special attention is given to the Paris Universal Exposition. The next major concept in this essay is about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. However, the other essay in the chapter titled “Circuses Educate Americans about Nationalism and Imperialism” by Janet M. Davis focuses exclusively on the concepts of imperialism, American exceptionalism, and especially the power of the US Navy. This is the difference between the essays in comparison to the first one. While the first one has more of an entertainment focus to it, the second essay combines entertainment with the objective of informing Americans about this idea of American exceptionalism, exporting democracy, and liberal progress. However, as we are about to see, this is not always the case. Readers may wonder why this point is being brought up.

Which one of these essays gets their points across better?

Next, I would like to point out that I agree more with the essay by Davis than the one written by Rydell and Kroes, This is because the second essay points out both viewpoints and perspectives and does not try to sugarcoat everything saying that life is always a fun ride with no hardship. One example of this diversity in viewpoints is when Davis mentions that although “the circus and the Wild West portrayed the Spanish-American War not in terms of colonial conquest but as evidence of liberal progress and democratic equality. Subsequent U.S. actions, however, clearly belied such lofty aims,” (page 109). She is trying to point out that although the stated aims were to export democracy and progress abroad, the reality was quite different as an occupation of the Philippines followed. One other interesting thing about the essay is how the circus and Wild West became so saturated that a newspaper writer attempted to compare the war in the Philippines to the Wild West show. He said: “The theory of the Administration is that the trouble in the Philippines is like the Wild West show. It isn’t war but it looks a good deal like it,” (pages 109-110).

How do the two essays relate to the primary source?

The two essays are similar to the primary source that this writer chose in the sense that they all address the theme of traveling around the world in an attempt to export American entertainment while at the same time informing the world stage about what American values are. These essays have opened up my mind and shown me that the U.S. has advanced so much technologically since its inception given the fact that compared to other nations in the world, it is still a relatively new nation.


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