Twitchell, James B. 1943–
Twitchell, James B. 1943–
(James Buell Twitchell)
Born June 18, 1943, in Burlington, VT; son of Marshal Coleman (a doctor) and Laura (a population specialist) Twitchell; married Mary Shepperd Poe (a law professor), June 24, 1967; children: Katherine, Elizabeth. Education: University of Vermont, B.A., 1962; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, M.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1969. Politics: Republican. Hobbies and other interests: Cooking, racing, high-powered motorcycles.
Home—Gainesville, FL. Office—Department of English, 4008 Turlington Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611. E-mail—[email protected]
Duke University, Durham, NC, instructor in English, 1969-70; California State College, Bakersfield, assistant professor of English, 1970-73; University of Florida, Gainesville, assistant professor, 1973-75, associate professor, 1975-80, professor of English, 1981—. Contributing editor, Creativity magazine, 1998.
Modern Language Association of America, Keats Shelley Association, Wordsworth Circle, South Atlantic Modern Language Association.
Ray and Pat Browne Award for best book on an aspect of popular culture, Popular Culture Association, 1985, for Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror; National Book Award and National Book Critic's Circle Award nominations, both 1993, both for Carnival Culture: The Trashing of Taste in America.
The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1980.
Romantic Horizons: Aspects of the Sublime in English Poetry and Painting, 1770-1850, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1983.
Preposterous Violence: Fables of Aggression in Modern Culture, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Carnival Culture: The Trashing of Taste in America, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1997.
Lead Us into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Twenty Ads that Shook the World: The Century's Most Groundbreaking Advertising and How It Changed Us All, Crown (New York, NY), 2000.
Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College, Inc., and Museumworld, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Where Men Hide, photographs by Ken Ross, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from in Your Heart to in Your Face, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to Moto-Cross Annual. Contributor to literature periodicals, including Studies in English Literature, Keats-Shelley Journal, Criticism, and Georgia Review.
Cultural critic James B. Twitchell has taken on subjects ranging from vampires to advertising. He once told CA: "I have been interested in the relationship of popular culture, adolescence, and violence. I am especially interested in how codes of behavior are transmitted from generation to generation." Several critics have praised his writing style, even when they have not found his arguments convincing.
The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature, hailed by Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times as a "scholarly but invigorating and unpedantic book," examines literal and figurative vampirism in literature. In addition to the blood-sucking Dracula of Bram Stoker's famous novel, authors have used vampire-like characters to explore such ideas as "greedy love … homosexual attraction … repressed sexuality … and, very often, the process of artistic creation itself, Wilde's ‘Dorian Gray’ being very vampirical indeed," observed Champlin. The reviewer noted that Twitchell's supporting evidence is "stretched, here and there," but admitted that the author is "the first to say so." In general, Champlin assessed Twitchell's writing as "crisp and readable. If more scholars wrote as well, ‘scholarly prose’ would cease being a putdown." Champlin concluded, "The Living Dead, stretch marks and all, is a fertile, amusing search through the pre-Dracula world of vampires, lamia (female vampires), and dhampires (vampire fighters)."
About Carnival Culture: The Trashing of Taste in America, a Washington Post Book World critic remarked that Twitchell "understands the genuine and troubling importance of popular culture, and he hasn't many illusions about its aesthetic content." The reviewer found Twitchell "an academic who writes about popular culture, a combination that alone is ample reason to give any reader pause." Discussing the book's content, the reviewer commented on "the tension that is a constant undercurrent in Carnival Culture between its author's clear desire to construct a case for mass culture on the one hand and his equally clear distaste for so much of what is has produced on the other." Times Literary Supplement critic John Sutherland, however, perceived overt criticism of pop culture in the book, writing: "American popular culture, according to James B. Twitchell, has become a perpetual out-of-control Mardi Gras with no Lent to follow." He added: "One suspects that Twitchell knows less than he might about the contents of the movies and texts of which he is so grandly contemptuous." Sutherland further stated that "Carnival Culture is full of apocalyptic factoids which send a chill down the spine, but which are very dubious on close examination." Despite his reservations, Sutherland did commend Twitchell's detailed treatment of the entertainment industry and printing trade, labeling his descriptions "very informative," "admirably concise," and "consistently instructive."
Commonweal contributor Michael O. Garvey thought Twitchell provided a great deal of information about what he finds wrong with modern culture but offered little in the way of alternatives. "The annoying thing about your average culture critic … is what he or she won't talk about," wrote Garvey. "The critic will deliver all sorts of dreadful news about how the culture is going to hell but not a suggestion about where it was before the descent…. You can sit around all day making lists of encroaching crap, and this is fun as far as it goes, but finally not very satisfying." Garvey did praise Twitchell's writing style, asserting that "For an academic … Twitchell writes vividly and well, and when he occasionally uses a word like ‘hebrephenic’ to describe something like a McDonald's commercial, you figure that he just can't help himself."
Commercials play a large role in Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture, in which Twitchell examines the pervasive influence of advertising. "Twitchell's central conceit is tried and true," observed Rex Roberts in Insight on the News. "Advertising has replaced religion as the organizing principle of society." Twitchell, according to Roberts, does not think that is a bad thing; instead, the author sees advertising as providing "a cohesive power," as Americans from every subculture can find a common reference point in broadcast and print ads. To Booklist reviewer David Rouse, this squares rather oddly with Twitchell's laments in Carnival Culture: "In Adcult USA, he revels in advertising's triumph, failing to make any connection between this and his earlier concern." Editor and Publisher critic Hiley Ward, though, did not perceive Adcult USA as a paean to advertising. "You name it," Ward stated. "And iconoclast James Twitchell will tell you who corrupted it and controls it. The villain is advertising." Roberts, reaching the opposite conclusion—"Twitchell loves advertising … the ether of America, the chewy caramel nougat of our culture, our aqua vitae"—added that the book "is a fun read, a bit of a send-up, really." Twitchell, Roberts commented, "writes well and takes enormous delight in debunking Marxists, feminists and earnest moralists of all stripes, including the guardians of high culture."
Twitchell continues in a similar vein in Lead Us into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism. In this book he contends that materialism meets a need in people's lives and is not to be condemned. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found Twitchell's arguments a bit of a stretch and noted that his argument runs out of momentum, even though the book is "illuminated by some bright ideas." Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries contributor S.H. Hildahl also found Twitchell's case "less than compelling" but admitted that his thesis is laid out in a witty, engaging manner.
Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury further develops Twitchell's point about the social value of materialism. "The balderdash of cloistered academics aside," he writes, "human beings did not suddenly become materialistic. We have always been desirous of things." Even the desire for particularly beautiful, expensive, or useless things is endemic. Indeed, Twitchell argues that conspicuous consumption of luxury goods may play a positive role in American society. "In a world emptied of inherited values," he writes, "consuming what looks to be overpriced fripperies may be preferable to consuming nothing." Developing the point further, he adds that "Instead of wanting less luxury, we might find that just the opposite—the paradoxical luxury for all—is a suitable goal for communal aspiration."
American Studies International contributor Jeanne Schinto was troubled by the book's oversimplified analysis. Twitchell "treats much too dismissively all the implications of this latest manifestation of American excessiveness," Schinto commented. "Poverty? Environment? Violent crime? ‘These are important questions but ones I will leave to others.’" But Kathleen Madigan, writing in Business Week, proposed that Twitchell's thesis is persuasive. Noting the pervasive violence that is perpetrated in the name of religion, Madigan concluded that materialistic values might, as Twitchell suggests, give people something less destructive on which to focus their desires. "If people can begin to find common ground by appreciating the finer things in life," stated the critic, "that may not be such a bad idea."
In Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College, Inc., and Museumworld Twitchell explores how churches, colleges and universities, and museums have used branding strategies to capture consumer loyalty. Though such marketing techniques are most often associated with commercial enterprises rather than religious or cultural institutions, Twitchell argues that it should not be surprising that churches, schools, and museums have become adept at branding—not least because audience loyalty translates into millions of dollars for successful organizations. A writer for Publishers Weekly enjoyed the book, noting that Twitchell "draws out even the most erudite points with casual ease and good humor." The book's "provocative, lively and sometimes humorous look at cultural-religious branding may well elicit howls of protest from the clergy, college administrators and museum directors," wrote Robert Walch in America. "If it does, [Twitchell] has hit his mark."
Twitchell focuses more closely on the nexus of advertising and religion in Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from in Your Heart to in Your Face. This book, according to Christian Century contributor Matthew Avery Sutton, is a "haphazard look at how Christians buy and sell religious experience." Twitchell argues that churchgoers crave the status and identity that faith communities confer on members, but that mainline denominations have neglected to focus on this dynamic. As they have slipped from former positions of prominence, such churches have turned to advertising, or branding, to build mega-congregations.
Especially interesting for Sutton was Twitchell's discussion of gender dynamics in this new branding strategy for mainline churches. Twitchell "identifies … the biggest problem in the mainline churches … [as] impotent, effeminate, emasculated clergy," observed Sutton, who went on to question Twitchell's contention that commercialized megachurches have responded to this weakened dynamic by concentrating on a message of hypermasculinity. Noting that Twitchell invokes "ridiculous gender stereotypes," Sutton wrote that "Twitchell's gendered reading of the megachurch is at odds with most of the literature on these churches. In reality, the megachurches' attention to families, not men, is the most fundamental cause of their growth." Though a writer for Publishers Weekly found Shopping for God "provocative but uneven," Library Journal reviewer L. Kriz deemed the book "compelling and readable."
Twitchell also looks at issues of masculinity in Where Men Hide, written with photographer Ken Ross. The book examines the kinds of places where men go to get away from women; these include hunting camps, boxing rings, strip clubs, Masonic lodges, and even just their own garages. Whitney Strub, writing in Library Journal, criticized Twitchell's "retrograde constructions of gender" and lack of analytical rigor, but enjoyed the book's descriptive power and concluded that it has much to offer to general readers.
"I write because I am curious about something," Twitchell once told CA. "I am especially interested in the commercial world. I write almost every day."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Twitchell, James B., Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
America, February 28, 2005, Robert Walch, "Stuck on Symbols," p. 17.
American Studies International, February 1, 2003, Jeanne Schinto, review of Living It Up, p. 252.
Booklist, December 15, 1995, David Rouse, review of Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture, p. 675; May 1, 1999, Mary Whaley, review of Lead Us into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism, p. 1567; April 1, 2000, Barbara Jacobs, review of Twenty Ads thatShook the World: The Century's Most Groundbreaking Advertising and How It Changed Us All, p. 1421; March 15, 2002, David Siegfried, review of Living It Up, p. 1195; September 15, 2004, David Siegfried, review of Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College, Inc., and Museumworld, p. 186; April 15, 2006, Vernon Ford, review of Where Men Hide, p. 11.
Business History Review, autumn, 2002, Michael Kammen, review of Living It Up, p. 572.
Business Week, May 27, 2002, Kathleen Madigan, "Gucci Is Good," p. 24.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November, 1999, S.H. Hildah, review of Lead Us into Temptation, p. 580; October, 2002, S.D. Clark, review of Living It Up, p. 318; March, 2005, P.W. Laird, review of Branded Nation, p. 1268; July, 2007, M.J. Emery, review of Where Men Hide, p. 1993.
Christian Century, March 25, 2008, Matthew Avery Sutton, "Holy Hills of the Ozarks: Religion and Tourism in Branson, Missouri," p. 37.
Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 28, 2004, Caroline Preston, "Book Discusses the Marketing of Nonprofit Institutions."
Commonweal, October 9, 1992, Michael O. Garvey, review of Carnival Culture: The Trashing of Taste in America, p. 29.
Detroit Free Press, April 14, 2002, review of Living It Up, p. 4E.
Editor and Publisher, February 3, 1996, Hiley Ward, review of Adcult USA, p. 33.
Education Digest, March, 2006, Dudley Barlow, review of Branded Nation, p. 77.
Entrepreneur, December, 2000, Gwen Moran, review of Twenty Ads that Shook the World, p. 40.
Esquire, April, 2000, review of Twenty Ads that Shook the World, p. 72.
Insight on the News, March 25, 1996, Rex Roberts, review of Adcult USA, p. 32.
Internet Bookwatch, April 1, 2008, review of Where Men Hide.
Journal of American Culture, March, 2005, Marshall W. Fishwick, review of Branded Nation, p. 135.
Library Journal, June 1, 1999, Paula Dempsey, review of Lead Us into Temptation, p. 146; March 15, 2000, Littleton M. Maxwell, review of Twenty Ads that Shook the World, p. 100; April 1, 2006, Whitney Strub, review of Where Men Hide, p. 113; September 15, 2007, L. Kriz, review of Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from in Your Heart to in Your Face, p. 66.
Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1981, Charles Champlin, review of The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature.
New York Times, January 3, 2001, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Sales Pitches that Put the M (for Mega) in Madison Ave.," p. E8; April 4, 2002, Janet Maslin, "Cashmere, Rolexes, and a Spiritual Rush," p. B7.
Public Relations Review, June, 2005, Claire Badaracco, review of Branded Nation, p. 315.
Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2000, review of Twenty Ads that Shook the World, p. 74; March 11, 2002, review of Living It Up, p. 67; July 19, 2004, review of Branded Nation, p. 155; February 6, 2006, review of Where Men Hide, p. 54; July 23, 2007, review of Shopping for God, p. 64.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2002, review of Living It Up, p. 98.
Times Literary Supplement, July 31, 1992, John Sutherland, review of Carnival Culture, p. 16; September 27, 2002, Eugen Weber, review of Living It Up, p. 26.
Washington Post Book World, May 3, 1992, review of Carnival Culture; April 28, 2002, review of Living It Up, p. 8.
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (June 12 2008), David Pitt, review of Twenty Ads that Shook the World.
University of Florida, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Web site,http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ (June 12, 2008), Twitchell faculty profile.
University of Florida, Department of English Web site,http://www.english.ufl.edu/ (June 12, 2008), Twitchell faculty profile.