The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium by Mark Dery
American Culture on the Brink

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From the far left to the far right, on talk radio and the op-ed page, more and more Americans believe that the social fabric is unraveling. Celebrity worship and media frenzy, suicidal cultists and heavily armed secessionists: modern life seems to have become a "pyrotechnic insanitarium," Mark Dery says, borrowing a turn-of-the-century name for Coney Island. Dery elucidates the meaning to our madness, deconstructing American culture from mainstream forces like Disney and Nike to fringe phenomena like the Unabomber and alien invaders. Our millennial angst, he argues, is a product of a pervasive cultural anxiety-a combination of the social and economic upheaval wrought by global capitalism and the paranoia fanned by media sensationalism. The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium is a theme-park ride through the extremes of American culture of which The Atlantic Monthly has written, "Mark Dery confirms once again what writers and thinkers as disparate as Nathanael West, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sigmund Freud, and Oliver Sacks have already shown us: the best place to explore the human condition is at its outer margins, its pathological extremes."

About Mark Dery

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Dery is a cultural critic.
Published December 1, 2007 by Grove Press. 304 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium

Kirkus Reviews

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Dery is most noticeable in the slightly shopworn theme that draws the essays together: “the pyrotechnic insanitarium of ’90s America, a giddy whirl of euphoric horror where cartoon and nightmare melt into one.” Dery does have an agenda (a rather doctrinaire blend of post-Marxism and post-New-Left...

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Publishers Weekly

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Centering his critique of the contemporary pop cultural landscape around the title image, borrowed from a sobriquet once applied to Coney Island, Dery sees ""a giddy whirl of euphoric horror where cartoon and nightmare melt into one."" He can be an astute observer of trends, adept at connecting s...

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New York Magazine

$25) -- a scholarly text that reads less like cultural-crit than like a medieval apocalyptic screed -- Dery posits that the "insanitarium" we live in could blow at any moment, and it would be our fault for abiding a culture in which we live to watch others and to make others watch us.

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