The American Frontier Revisited

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The period from the mids to the early s signaled the end of the prosperity of the postwar years enjoyed by the cities of the prairie-those cities located immediately within or adjacent to the Mississippi River drainage system, or what is usually called the American Heartland. During this period, the bottom dropped out of local economies and all collapsed except those upheld by massive state institutions.


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With this collapse, optimism for new opportunities ended, signaling the close of the American frontier. Elazar examines how they adapted to change during the period immediately after World War II, through the Vietnam War, and the Nixon years. He considers the roles of federal and state governments as instruments of change including their efforts to impose new standards and ways of doing business.

The Closing of the Metropolitan Frontier analyzes the struggle between federalism and managerialism in the local political arena.


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In his new introduction, Daniel J. Elazar discusses this volume's place as part of a forty-year study of the cities of the prairie as well as the changes and developments in that region over that forty-year span. This volume will be of great interest to economists, political scientists, and sociologists interested in the Great Society and the New Federalism and their aftermath.

Search all titles. Search all titles Search all collections. Your Account Logout. The Closing of the Metropolitan Frontier. With this work I hope that I can give something back that the Burning Man community has given me. Secondly, I would like to thank Larry Harvey for offering me more than three hours of his time and listening to a German trying to talk like McLuhan.

I also do thank John Law for being an inspiration to research through the rich countercultural scene of San Francisco.

The American frontier revisited - Ghent University Library

I want to thank Alex for initiating the idea for this project, and Brian for his advice and his patience to listen to my ramblings. I also would like to thank Keith, Micha, Martin and Bjorn for their support in the editing process. Burning Man is a counter cultural phenomenon that happens annually in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

With more than 50, participants, the event has grown out of a grass roots movement into an attraction to which people from across North America and all parts of the world travel. Numerous articles, academic research papers and books have been published and dozens of documentaries have been filmed on Burning Man. The culture of Burning Man is a celebration of artistic expression with an emphasis on experience, ritual and participation. Burning Man exemplifies two histories that will be the focus of the discussion - the history of the American Character and the history of Western Man.

He was the first author to write on the American Frontier and point to its significance in producing the American Character. The desert provided the perfect setting to play with ideas of an alternative society for a community that had grown out of the strong heritage of counter cultural movements in the San Francisco Bay Area.

They gathered under harsh and primitive circumstances at the final frontier and, eventually, the irony of a countercultural civic community that builds its own city became real. It is a story of people who tried to survive in one of the most hostile environments, a call for radical self-reliance and the sense of community that comes with survival; it is the story of unlimited freedom where almost any kind of behaviour was possible; it is the story of guns, outlaws and the abundance of free land; it is the story of streets and city borders and the establishment of law and order through rules and civic institutions and finally, it is the story of the quest for new identities - individually and communally.

About the Book

In short, it is the re-enactment of the American Frontier. He offers an understanding of western civilization over the last years that explains the significant change that is currently unfolding through the electronic media environments. Furthermore, the thesis will relate these concepts to Burning Man and explain how the festival embraced new modes of play, participation, organization, artistic expression and ritual. Embedded in this analytical framework, ancient symbols and pagan ideas for example, the archaic burning of a wooden effigy and temple , the city structure, the no-commerce-philosophy and the on-going play with religious concepts will provide a broader and deeper understanding of Burning Man and the cultural consequences for the whole of western society.

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Burning Man, like no other event, exemplifies current changes in western society that require an explanation through the study of media. The term media will therefore be used in the broadest of senses to include language and any man made tools. Although McLuhan did not provide a fully comprehensive structured philosophy, his legacy was a new understanding of history and culture.

Therefore, this thesis will discuss and explain his field approach on media theory, which juxtaposes different styles and borrows from many different fields of studies, for example, anthropology, neuroscience, perception psychology, communications, information engineering and, most importantly, all forms of art. These theories will serve side by side as tools for the analysis. In the third chapter, I will proceed by describing the beginnings of the festival, first at a beach in San Francisco, later in the Black Rock desert where its 20 year long history constitutes a re-enactment of the frontier myth.

In parallel discourse, the countercultural movements of San Francisco and the Burning Man Festival will be discussed as symbolic manifestations of new modes of perception and awareness that are related to the technological changes of the 20th century. Therefore, in the fourth and final chapter I will specifically explain how the culture of Burning Man indicates how Western society in general is undergoing major changes that are caused by media of the electronic age.

In order to give full credit to the complexities and cultural ramifications of the event, this thesis approaches Burning Man in a variety of ways. First of all, I participated in the event in , and Therefore, I was able to talk to many participants of the festival and could see the changes that had taken place throughout that period. Secondly, I personally interviewed Larry Harvey quotes from the recorded interview will be included , the founder and current director of the festival, in October and talked with him about the themes and significances of Burning Man in historical and cultural contexts.

Thirdly, I conducted a telephone interview with John Law who was also main organizer of the event until and who provides a critical perspective on the development of the festival into the large scale event of today.

What to Expect

Finally, I researched numerous articles, academic papers and books that have been written on Burning Man to attain a broad perspective on the festival. Anthropologist, ethnographers, art theorists and Cultural and Religious Studies scholars are at the forefront of publications on Burning Man and their conclusions reflect that the festival can be understood as a microcosm in relation to the macrocosm of Western society.

McLuhan, However critics suggest they lack an analytical, philosophical framework. At the core of his theory were his investigations into different modes of human perception that correlate to the different processing modes of the two brain hemispheres. At no period in human culture have men understood the psychic mechanisms involved in invention and technology […]. Today, humankind has reached the point in history where for the first time it can fully become aware of the processes involved in our cognition and perception.

It is increasingly becoming clear how our perception of reality is culturally biased and that these biases are not just habits that we internalize through acculturation. Our brain itself is modified and undergoes structural changes depending on the culture, or more specifically, the influences to which it is exposed to.

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To determine these influences and to bring them to our awareness will be one of the major tasks of current and future generations. At the same time, we need to become aware of how our consciousness and perception is influenced and framed based on the inner structure of our brain, as well as the interplay of our senses. Neuroscience has discovered that the brain is not at all a static structure which, once it has grown to its full size, will not change.

In fact, the brain can change drastically and modify to new circumstances. This is called the plasticity of the brain and it becomes evident when a severe change in our ability to interact with the world has occurred, for example, the loss of one of the senses due to an accident. When we lose a sense - hearing, for example - other senses become more active and more acute to make up for the loss. But they increase not only the quantity of their processing but also the quality , becoming more like the lost sense.

The American Frontier Revisited

People who can hear use their parietal vision, whereas the deaf use their visual cortex, at the back of the brain. Change in one brain module - here a decrease in output - leads to structural and functional change in another brain module, so that the eyes of the deaf come to behave much more like ears, more able to sense the periphery. Diodge: As revealed in the book The brain that changes itself , the human brain has an amazing capability to restructure - and this goes hand in hand with the interplay of the human senses, because the brain has a tendency to adjust to the new circumstances by balancing and finding an equilibrium in synesthesia.

This will become important when we later discuss media - understood as extensions of man - because all media not only extend capabilities beyond the normal ratio of human senses, but they also numb or hypnotize the extended sense. However, the brain also changes in its biological structure when, for example, reading is taught to children.

Diodge: It alters and enlarges the visual modules of the brain. For example, hearing induces stimulation on the right-hemisphere whereas reading on the left- hemisphere. All of a sudden, he is able to see and understand the progress of his development, based on the assumption that the explanation of human progress lies in the very nature of consciousness balancing and restructuring itself due to cultural changes of sense ratio. Media, by altering the environment, evoke in man unique ratios of sense percptions.

The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act - the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change.

We must once again accept and harmonize the perceptual biases of both the right and the left brain - added and understand that for thousands of years the left hemisphere has suppressed the qualitative judgement of the right, and the human personality has suffered for it. McLuhan, 4. The two hemispheres of the human brain have two distinctive and opposite ways of perception and cognition processing.