It was time for the new century to begin and already sociological changes and movements began to take place in American culture. A major factor that contributed to these new changes was the idea to create an amusement park. John F. Kasson uses the amusement park at Coney Island as a case study for a transformative period in American history when new economic and social conditions were leading to a new culture. It played a huge role in focusing on the shift of attitudes and overall lifestyle of the society.
This new culture consisted of both upper and lower classes, natives, and immigrants which was a lot for the people during this time. I believe his main argument or main point for writing this book was to use Coney Island to interpret American history and what life was like during this time. Kasson begins with a comparison of Coney Island to other important places during its time like Central Park in New York and Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. The author goes on to explain that Coney Island provided a get away for the people, both rich and poor and everyone else alike, “amusement complexes such as Coney Island thus shed light on the cultural transition and the struggle for moral, social and aesthetic authority that occurred in the United States at the turn of the century.”
For many immigrants the experience to going to Coney Island was considered part of their transition to their new lives living in America. He further explains that young couples would go there to avoid their parents eyes, kind of as a get away, which shows the sexual mischievous things being done during this new era, even the cover of the book shows five women lifting their bathing skirts, which would’ve been seen as a wrong thing to do during this time. Kasson concludes the book with telling about all of the artists that came from all over to Coney Island as well as the social theorists that offered a lot of their own opinions on the matter.
As for the artists, they were rejected by the mainstream and were never illustrated in magazines as they intended to be, so their work was featured but not the artists themselves. The thesis of the book then comes full circle with the discussion of social reformers and their thoughts on the new change in social attitudes due to the new economic conditions that the United States was now facing. As Kasson explained earlier, Coney Island promised its customers nothing more than a good time to get away. In a weird way Coney Island was kind of like an instrument of socialization in converting the workers or troublemakers during this time of developing urban-industrial life, into disciplined workers. It gave its customers a life away from work and unhappiness and filled it with bizarre attractions like the Islands freak shows, and performers, and rides of all sorts.
A getaway for younger men and women to start the new journey to soon be a new generation far different from their parents and explore themselves with this new attraction, and just an overall distraction from what really was going on, which was to stop revolts and unhappiness among workers in plant life. I personally feel like Kasson’s arguments and explanations during the book were very convincing, with all of his writing for this Island to come to life and attract people from all over with different lifestyles, it also showed a new generation getting closer together no matter what sex, race, and religion you were. You came there to get away from life and enjoy the moment and I agreed with that.
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