Master Mechanics and Wicked Wizards
Images of the American Scientist as Hero and Villain from Colonial Times to the Present
A wide-ranging examination of how scientists have been portrayed in American culture
From the earliest depictions of Benjamin Franklin and his kite experiment to 21st-century renderings of mad scientists, representations of American scientists in the popular media reveal a great deal about our cultural hopes and fears. In an entertaining and insightful survey of popular media over three hundred years of American history—religious tracts, political cartoons, literature, theater, advertising, art, comic books, radio, music, television, and film—Glen Scott Allen examines the stereotypes assigned to scientists for what they tell us about America's pride in its technological achievements as well as our prejudices about certain "suspect" kinds of scientific investigation.
Working in the tradition of cultural studies, Allen offers an analysis that is historically comprehensive and critically specific. Integrating both "high" literature and "low" comedy, he delves into the assumptions about scientists—good, bad, and mad—that have been shaped by and have in turn shaped American cultural forces. Throughout the book, his focus is on why certain kinds of scientists have been lionized as American heroes, while others have been demonized as anti-American villains.
Allen demonstrates that there is a continuous thread running from the seminal mad scientists of Hawthorne's nineteenth-century fiction to modern megalomaniacs like Dr. Strangelove; that marketing was as important to the reputation of the great independent inventors as technological prowess was; and that cultural prejudices which can be traced all the way back to Puritan ideology are at work in modern scientific controversies over cloning and evolution.
The periods and movements examined are remarkably far-ranging: the literature and philosophy of the Romantics; the technology fairs and utopian fiction of the nineteenth century; political movements of the 1930s and 1940s; the science fiction boom of the 1950s; the space and arms races of the 1960s and 1970s; the resurgence of pseudo-sciences in the 1980s and 1990s. This book will be of interest not just to teachers and students of cultural studies and the history of science and technology but to anyone interested in American culture and how it shapes our experience and defines our horizons.
"Master Mechanics & Wicked Wizards is a fascinating read that is as informed and informative as it is insightful and entertaining, ranging as it does through 19th century utopian fiction, to 20th century achievements in technology, discovery, and advancements. Enhanced with copious notes and a comprehensive index, Master Mechanics & Wicked Wizards is a seminal work especially recommended for both academic and community library American History and Popular Culture reference collections and supplemental reading lists."—Midwest Book Review
"Glen Scott Allen has penned a very entertaining book. . . . This is an insight-filled look at part of our cultural history."—Bookviews
"Allen's book makes an important contribution to the study of science fiction and fiction that deals with science. . . . Master Mechanics and Wicked Wizards cannot be overlooked by anyone with a serious, scholarly interest in the way American society articulates its relationship with science. This book belongs in university libraries and on the shelves of people who teach and research about the intersection of science and culture."—Science Fiction Research Association Review