Cover image for The imperial middle : why Americans can't think straight about class
The imperial middle : why Americans can't think straight about class
DeMott, Benjamin, 1924-2005.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Morrow, [1990]

Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HN90.S6 D46 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reviews 4

Booklist Review

DeMott deserves credit for his deceptively simple thesis: Americans live in a class society but believe deeply in equality. And so we promulgate "the rationalizations that help us suppress consciousness of social differences," according to the accomplished cultural critic, who here offers the fruits of his close readings of entertainment, news, history, and the institutions of education and politics. The inequalities that Paul Fussell views with transcendent irony in his commendable Class (Summit, 1983), envelop the author as well as the readers of The Imperial Middle. This is a fascinating portrait of our nation in the modern age. ~--Roland Wulbert

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a ringing indictment, DeMott ( Surviving the Seventies ) attacks the myth that the U.S. is a classless society. Denying that class differences exist, that we all belong to the middle class, robs us of personal knowledge, whitewashes the prevalence of unearned advantages and perpetuates social wrongs, charges the author. He analyzes in detail the media's masking of class differences, with examples ranging from The Cosby Show to the ``Baby M'' surrogate mother case. He debunks the idea that schools are ``fairness zones'' free of unearned privilege, and dissects the ``omni syndrome'' (the myth that ``each has access to all''), a syndrome supposedly shared by Peace Corps volunteers, aspiring rock singers and gentleman farmers. As an antidote to the presumption of classlessness, DeMott turns to the pretension-puncturing ``talkback'' of stand-up comics and actors. He calls for a reassessment of our laws and institutions to gauge the extent to which they foster class advantage or disadvantage. (Oct. ) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Motivated by the juices of righteous anger, DeMott (humanities, Amherst Coll.) inveighs against the notion that American society is classless. Classlessness is a ``lie'' and a ``myth'' that has historically caused ``fearful moral and social damage.'' With equal heat, he rips the middle class--the so-called ``imperial middle''--as arrogant, condescending, demeaning, and fatuous. Ultimately, DeMott wants recognition and appreciation of class differences in all areas of society: economic, political, legal, intellectual, etc. An interesting work, but, like similiar ones, including Barbara Ehrenreich's Fear of Falling ( LJ 8/89), it tends to be reductive about this complex topic. Still, recommended for subject collections.-- Kenneth F. Kister, Tampa, Fla. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In this book, the American attachment to the myth of classlessness is unraveled by the well-respected columnist and cultural commentator, Benjamin DeMott. Drawing evidence from the breadth of class cultures, from sitcoms and movies to social science and public policies, he identifies the rationalizations used to suppress consciousness of social differences. The links among the belief in classlessness and popular culture, educational opportunity, history, and political life are discussed in a critical, often moralistic tone. Certainly DeMott is not the first to write on this topic, but in the interests of readability and moral punch, he eschews the sterility and tedium of a history and social science literature review. The book consists of 13 short, well-written chapters. Most likely users would be humanities undergraduates and general readers/public library patrons. -K. B. Smith, Lamar University