Coney Island – for Better or Worse [ your name ] [ ] [ / number ] [ ] ‘Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century’ authored by John Kasson provides a unique historical perspective of New York…
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He contends that, amusement parks provided relief and respite at the turn of the century for the socio-economic groups striving for ethical and societal status in America. During the nineteenth century, Victorian public order and conventions governed the American society. Kasson quotes, “Nineteenth-century American was governed by a strikingly coherent set of values, a culture in many respects more thoroughly Victorian than the England over which Victoria reigned” (Kasson, 1978, p. 1). New York presented a sharp contrast due to the socio-economic disparities between the affluent, Park-Ave mansion owners, and poor working families in the slums. Coney Island was the first platform, which brought the economically disparate segments together by providing entertainment for all. Hence, it helped the culture to evolve at the turn of the century. This cultural transition move assisted people in forming their own unique identity. This book enlightens the readers about the emergence of a novel culture by portraying the clash between the genteel values and the emerging identities that ensued from industrialization. “Moral, integrity, self-control, sober earnestness, industriousness- among the citizenry at large” (Kasson, 1978, p. 1) characterized the pre-Coney Island as Kasson wrote. Unfortunately, the vast majority of New Yorkers found it impossible to attain these virtues and consequently, lived in sub-human circumstances. Leisure time was a privilege enjoyed by only the affluent and elite; even though, Victorian values advocated that this time was integral for edifying and informative activities. Such genteel cultural norms encouraged the establishment of parks like the Central Park in New York to provide a retreat to both, the industrial class and elites. Unfortunately, the working class lacked the time or financial resources to benefit from the Central Park; hence, the genteel class primarily benefited from it. However, unlike the Central Park, Coney Island aimed at providing entertainment. Coney Island that constituted of three inter-connected parks, namely, Steeplechase Park, Luna Park, and Dreamland ended up offering categorically different form of entertainment than ever witnessed before as Kasson terms it “architecture of pleasure” (Kasson, 1978, p. 63). Built on the ideas of Chicago’s Midway, Coney Island provided an opportunity to see the unusual, unheard characters as Kasson writes, “Midgets, giants, fat ladies and ape-men were both stigmatized and honored as freaks” (Kasson, 1978, p. 50). The illustration of the Streets of Cairo demonstrates that people had the extraordinary opportunity to see a glimpse of the lives of people around the world. Additionally, novel amusement rides like the Ferris wheel provided thrill and adventure; hence, they added color to the mundane working lives of the industrial class. For the first time, men and women were relieved of societal pressure and had the opportunity to come together. Not astoundingly, the novel emerging culture was dramatically opposed to the genteel cultural values as Kasson quotes, “Coney Island in effect declared a moral holiday for all who entered its gates” (Kasson, 1978, p. 50). Thus, Coney Island depicted the cultural transition in the masses from the Victorian values towards the emerging culture. Consumption formed the cornerstone of this novel mass culture. No longer were the working class limited to working and sleeping. Instead, they now had time and money at
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“Kasson suggests there was a major cultural upheavel during the late 19th century which amusement parks have the ability to shed light on. Socio-economic groups struggled for moral and social authority in the United States and turned to the amusement park for relief.
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