There has never been a popular entertainment that has not been attacked on moral (but shaky) grounds. Popular being the key word since the content is only secondary and moral guardians usually skim over it until they see something “problematic” enough to create the desired controversy out of thin air. There have probably been moral panics about what people read, listened, saw, or played since someone painted on the walls of his cave a bunch of stick figures engaged in something problematic or violent, but the 19th century was a defining moment. Literacy rates went up and, for the first time, masses of people could -and wanted- to read, and usually not what the intellectual elite wanted them to read. So, the penny dreadfuls and the dime novels appeared (and the chapbook before them); cheap books of adventure, romance, pirates, proto-science fiction, fantasy, detectives, criminals, with a lot of fighting and unapologetic masculinity. Many were sold by the hundreds of thousand and were the bestsellers of that time, but they were also the predecessors of most of what we now would describe as popular culture.
Continue reading “Space Invaders and Mr. Foulker’s glazed eyes.”