Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America (Hardcover)
Crap. We all have it. Filling drawers. Overflowing bins and baskets. Proudly displayed or stuffed in boxes in basements and garages. Big and small. Metal, fabric, and a whole lot of plastic. So much crap. Abundant cheap stuff is about as American as it gets. And it turns out these seemingly unimportant consumer goods offer unique insights into ourselves—our values and our desires.
In Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America, Wendy A. Woloson takes seriously the history of objects that are often cynically-made and easy to dismiss: things not made to last; things we don't really need; things we often don't even really want. Woloson does not mock these ordinary, everyday possessions but seeks to understand them as a way to understand aspects of ourselves, socially, culturally, and economically: Why do we—as individuals and as a culture—possess these things? Where do they come from? Why do we want them? And what is the true cost of owning them?
Woloson tells the history of crap from the late eighteenth century up through today, exploring its many categories: gadgets, knickknacks, novelty goods, mass-produced collectibles, giftware, variety store merchandise. As Woloson shows, not all crap is crappy in the same way—bric-a-brac is crappy in a different way from, say, advertising giveaways, which are differently crappy from commemorative plates. Taking on the full brilliant and depressing array of crappy material goods, the book explores the overlooked corners of the American market and mindset, revealing the complexity of our relationship with commodity culture over time.
By studying crap rather than finely made material objects, Woloson shows us a new way to truly understand ourselves, our national character, and our collective psyche. For all its problems, and despite its disposability, our crap is us.
About the Author
“Since the consumer revolution of the 1700s, an abundance of cheap goods has enabled us to buy pointless stuff; but all of this crap comes with environmental, economic and spiritual costs, explains the academic Wendy A Woloson in this rich and expansive cultural history. It asks: surrounded by all these ‘what-nots’ and ‘thingums,’ have we ourselves become crappy?”
— New Statesman
— Milken Institute Review
— Chicago Reader
“Deeply researched. . . . The book is sympathetic to our impulse toward crap, if not toward crap itself or its production. . . . Crap is insightful in its analyses of the way cheap stuff has worked to appease our aspirations.”
"Woloson is the kind of history professor who makes a subject come alive. . . . In Crap, Woloson expertly combines her interest in popular Americana with her expertise in American economic history to create an interpretation of consumption in America that is as compulsive and propulsive as our consumption habits themselves."
— Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing and Buying In
— Marita Sturken, author of Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero