The Triumph of Meanness by Nicolaus Mills
America's War Against Its Better Self

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The Triumph of Meanness is a penetrating examination of the souring of American attitudes in the 1990s, covering everything from negative advertising and church burnings to the latest macabre, sadistic forms of entertainment. Nicolaus Mills presents a compelling argument that a culture of meanness is sweeping across America. This mean-spiritedness is not confined to the arena of politics, where mudslinging and assaults on the poor and vulnerable are commonplace. Meanness penetrates every aspect of our everyday lives, from relations between men and women to the programs we watch on TV. Witness the huge popularity of serial-killer trading cards, the spectacles of public humiliation on TV talk shows, the guiltless aplomb with which CEOs announce the downsizing of thousands of loyal employees, the bumper stickers that ask, "Where is Lee Harvey Oswald when his country needs him?" We have crossed a line, Mills maintains, that "not long ago seemed to mark the outer bounds of decency." Mills a

About Nicolaus Mills

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Nicolaus Mills is a professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, an editorial board member of Dissent, and a contributor to the "American Prospect," the "New York Times," and the "Los Angeles Times, Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison is one of today's leading novelists, as well as a writer whose African American identity has helped shape her impressive literary contributions. As Jean Strouse, who wrote a Newsweek cover story about her, says, "Morrison hates it when people say she is not a "black writer."' "Of course I'm a black writer. That's like saying Dostoevski's not a Russian writer. They mean I'm not just a black writer, but categories like black writer, woman writer, and Latin American writer aren't marginal anymore. We have to acknowledge that the thing we call "literature' is pluralistic now, just as society ought to be." Toni Morrison's novels show a steady progression not only in artistic skill but also in the range and scope of her subjects and settings. The first three take place in African American communities in dominantly white Lorain, Ohio, where Toni Morrison, as Chloe Anthony Wofford, grew up as a member of a stable family of six headed by a father who often worked three jobs simultaneously in order to support his family during the Depression years. She graduated from Howard University and received a master's degree from Cornell University with her thesis on the theme of suicide in modern literature. She teaches writing at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is an experimental work that begins haltingly with the Dick-and-Jane language of a grade school primer and slowly develops into a poetically tragic story of a little African American girl, and, by extension, the tragedy of racism, sexual violence, and black self-hatred. Her second novel, Sula (1973), is the story of two women whose deep early friendship is severely tested when one of them returns after a 10-year absence as "a classic type of evil force" to disrupt the community. Song of Solomon (1977) has as central characters a young man named Milkman and his nemesis, Guitar, whose fates are as inextricably linked as those of the young women in Sula. Song of Solomon is a thoughtful work rich in symbols and mythical in its implications as it portrays the complicated hidden histories of African Americans. Yet the book is readable enough to have been chosen a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and as winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for 1977. In Tar Baby (1981) Morrison extends her range to an island in the Caribbean and for the first time allows white characters to play prominent roles along with the black. Tar Baby is essentially a novel of ideas, but the ideas again are conveyed along with a fast-moving narrative with credible characters. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved (1987), a brilliant novel about a fugitive slave woman who murders her infant, Beloved, so that the child will not grow up to become a slave. Her most recent novel, Jazz (1990), continues her powerful explorations of African American communities.
Published August 28, 1997 by Houghton Mifflin. 260 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Both sides overgeneralize from observations that do deserve serious consideration, and rather than complaining about popular culture from the right and nostalgically embracing an idealized version of the 1950s, Mills complains about popular culture from the left and nostalgically embraces an idea...

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