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As someone who grew up watching All in the Family and Sanford and Son, I’ve long been familiar with Norman Lear and his work. What I didn’t know, as a young child sitting cross-legged in front of the TV set in the 1970s, was how prominent a political figure Lear was at the time. In his new book, The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2019), Professor L. Benjamin Rolsky makes the case for understanding Lear as a key protagonist in the culture wars of the late 20th century. As a religious liberal, Lear was committed to engaging politics on explicitly moral grounds in defense of what he saw as the public interest. Other players in the culture wars—including television networks, Hollywood, the FCC, televangelists, and Ronald Reagan himself—had their own interpretations of what constituted the public interest. As a result, Rolsky’s interdisciplinary analysis concludes, prime-time television itself became a contested political space and the site of some of the definitive cultural clashes of our fractious times.

Carrie Lane is a Professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton and author of A Company of One: Insecurity, Independence, and the New World of White-Collar Unemployment. Her research concerns the changing nature of work in the contemporary U.S. She is currently writing a book on the professional organizing industry. To contact her or to suggest a recent title, email clane@fullerton.edu.

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