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Mythologizing Charles Van Doren: The 1950s, the Media, and the Making of Cultural Memory

Fisher, Heather Elise (2011) Mythologizing Charles Van Doren: The 1950s, the Media, and the Making of Cultural Memory. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The myth of Charles Van Doren, as recorded in mass media retellings of the 1959 television quiz show scandal, is a story of a good-intentioned, intelligent young man who was tempted by the muses of fame and fortune to make a deal with some television devils, then was involved in the cover-up of their deceptions, only to finally tell the truth and yet still pay dearly for his transgressions. The Charles Van Doren story this dissertation tells, however, is more about the loaded phrase "the 1950s," which implies simultaneously contradictory narratives of progress and stagnation, assimilation and isolation, hope and fear; more about "the Media," our "window on the world," our reflection, our bearer of good dreams; and more about the business and government institutions that boosted their own public images while reaping in financial rewards—at the expense of Charles Van Doren, hundreds of other quiz show contestants, and the American public at large.Informed by audience reception, consumerism, cultural memory, genre, popular culture, and technology studies; Cold War history; feminist theory; historiography; literary criticism; mass communication research; media criticism; political economy; and television history, my research utilizes archival records, historical mass media, and other primary and secondary sources to tell a different story of Charles Van Doren than the one most often remembered. Chapter 1 is a tale of the commercial television industry in the Cold War and of the industry practices manipulated by quiz show producers for profit. Chapter 2 considers the female consumers the television industry wanted so desperately to reach and the social implications of intentionally including intelligent women as quiz show winners. Chapter 3 reconstructs the history of crafted symbolism attached to Van Doren across mass media. Chapter 4 features the voices of an American public clamorously protesting the larger American institutions they blamed for Van Doren's fall. Chapter 5 assesses the ways Charles Van Doren has come to represent the quiz show scandal in our cultural memory as well as the significant relationships between the television industry and its regulatory overseers, which have shaped what gets remembered (and how), to protect their own interests.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Fisher, Heather
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairFeuer, Janescorpio@pitt.eduSCORPIO
Committee MemberMalin, Brentonbmalin@pitt.eduBMALIN
Committee MemberStabile, Carol
Committee MemberSterne,
Committee MemberZboray, Ronald J.zboray@pitt.eduZBORAY
Date: 25 September 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 9 June 2011
Approval Date: 25 September 2011
Submission Date: 13 August 2011
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Cold War consumerism; game shows; quiz show scandal; reality television; television celebrity; television history
Other ID:, etd-08132011-221710
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:59
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:49


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