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Reader Response Essay, John Kasson, Amusing the Million

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American culture changed at the turn of the century due to a challenging reestablished social order. Coney Island at the beginning of the twentieth century had a profound impact on societal norms. Outside of Coney Island, women were often treated as inferior while men ruled the throne in nearly all aspects of life. However, within Coney Island the gender gap was equalized. Coney Island served as a medium to a change in the traditional mindset. Here, the hotels, amusement parks, and rides and events that the civilians encountered a display of immorality, fast pleasure and love for profit. As Kasson states "At the turn of the century the nation was beginning a pivotal transition form an economy organized around production to one organized around consumption and leisure as well." Coney Island provided an open minded and progressive atmosphere in which men and women could be equals; which contrasted to the strict gender roles of genteel society.

The differences between genteel culture and the new culture of commercial amusements were made clear in Coney Island. As Coney Island receives its fame and fortune first through the upbringing of elegant hotels, men and women began to enjoy themselves to an extent that had been absent in the past. This new culture could take off from their daily work routines and experience a more laid back and negligent approach to life. In the same sense, there were those who escaped from their daily manual labor and experienced an environment that was less stressful and more untailored than what they encounter in life's conventional struggle. There was a point where many values did not matter anymore just as Kasson wrote "Many values preached by genteel reformers and propagated by capitalist employers in the 19th century, such as hard work ,punctuality, thrift, sobriety, self control were geared to the need for productivity." This undoubtedly created a social chaos for the genteel culture that had prevailed up until that time. Coney Island gave the people the opportunity to enjoy pleasures and dreams sooner so that any other aspiration they had outside the carnival would matter no more. "Having family security and social respectability was less appealing to people as new agencies emerged that offered far more immediate gratificationÐ'...Coney Island tested and transformed accustomed social roles and values. It attracted people because of the way in which it mocked the established social order." (Kasson 50) The genteel elite considered the island to be a corrupt image of society. Entrepreneurs such as George Tilyou, tried to transformed the resort by elaborating new healthy attractions.



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