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Art Critic, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Starting in June 2014, I have been writing a biweekly column on art museum exhibitions for the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer.

Cezanne still lifes

The Great Funk: Falling Apart and Coming Together (on a Shag Rug) in the Seventies

Carlo Wolff, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"The Great Funk," a lemony yet affectionate book, airs out what many consider an overstuffed, over-ambitious decade. It also acts as a sequel to Hine's similarly bracing cultural history of 1954-1964, "Populuxe."

Hine dates the '70s from 1969 to 1981, bracketed by Woodstock and the Stonewall riots and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. An astute critic with a particularly keen eye for design, Hine loads his book with illustrations, but his points go far deeper than the look.

Some of his tartest analysis takes on politics, such as the interminably attenuated bicentennial celebration of 1776. And his intellectual links are intriguing - he suggests that "Our Bodies, Ourselves," an early feminist guide to reproduction and sexual practices, syncs with the increasing use of the birth control pill - and, provocatively, in another taboo-busting way, Larry Flynt's porn magazine, "Hustler."

That kind of juxtaposition serves as foundation for other insights. In the '70s, the experimentation of the '60s bled into excess - stylistic and chemical (think of various polyester mutations and the scandal of Love Canal). At the same time, the '70s marked the birth of the modern religious conservative movement, embodied in such newsmakers as fundamentalist Jimmy Swaggart and, in weird parallel, the Nation of Islam.

"It seems a paradox that one of the most powerfully enduring legacies of an infamously libertine decade turns out to be the religious right," Hine ponders. "Yet, like their contemporaries, they rejected the established authorities and found their faith for themselves."

Carole Goldberg, Hartford Courant

For author Thomas Hine, the '70s were not a joke but instead a visual treasure trove, a period of when feminism bloomed and women got out of their avocado-green kitchens and into the world, when the gay revolution gained steam and disco was king. It was an era of excess, some wonderful and some wretched, and coupled with the '60s, it was a time when boomers firmly planted their particular stamp on pop culture.

Hine explains it all with wit and insight in "The Great Funk: Falling Apart and Coming Together (On a Shag Rug) in the Seventies" (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG, $30). The author of five books, including the acclaimed "Populuxe," which explored the aesthetics of the 1950s and '60s, Hine is the former architecture and design critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Though it is laced with photos of dress and decor that will make you wince and wonder, this is not a snarky gloss on that very unusual decade, but a celebration of a period of great experimentation in which much of the energy unleashed in the late '60s flowed into an orgy of personal expression. Hine's scholarly authority and lively writing style combine to make this book both informative and very entertaining.

Caitlin Shamberg, Salon

Earth shoes, "Star Wars," Nixon, "Shaft," Patty Hearst, punk rock, pet rocks and the pill. Thomas Hine's latest pop-culture adventure, "The Great Funk," is a satisfying history that touches on all of those things. But it's even more fun as a photo album. The decade begins in the summer of 1969 with Woodstock and the Stonewall riots and ends 11 years later with Ronald Reagan and the release of the Iran hostages. It is a long period of "funk," which Hine defines as panic, stink, anarchy and improvisation. The picture-filled pages portray the '70s as a jumble of individual style, social movements and early technology. The Apple computer prototype resembles a homemade birdhouse; early porn looks quaint. But for each positive development (like the birth control pill, "Saturday Night Live" and gay pride), Hine reminds us of a negative (the Jonestown massacre, the oil crisis, Watergate and bathroom carpeting). Without too much sentimentality or nostalgia, "The Great Funk" entertainingly explores the complex identity of a decade that embraced the disco ball and the Honda Accord.

Christopher Bonanos, The Guardian

Much of the '70s era is about individualism. Hippie culture got as mainstream as it ever got; environmentalism encouraged people to pull themselves off the grid and begin mining the past for discarded good ideas. The best pop music developments of the age - roots rock, followed by punk - were both do-it-yourself movements. Home-design magazines had not yet become the showcases for the megarich and their decorators that most have become today - they were largely about accessible tips for putting together your own rooms.

Most of all, it was an era in which, although faith in the high-tech future was fading, faith in the potential of social progress and self-improvement was on the rise. As people gave up on mass culture, they decided to go it alone, and they either turned leftward or rightward along the way. "I'm not the only one to ever say this," Hine noted, "but, I mean, it's sometimes hard to distinguish between people who went back to the land and built domes out of old cars, and the people who went back to the land and set up fortresses".

That's our country today, split in half and barely budging on either side. The legacy of the Great Funk isn't ugly rugs and fat lapels; it's George W Bush. No wonder it unnerves a lot of people.

Kirkus Reviews

The author turns the spotlight onto the chaotically cool and misguided decade of the 1970s...Hine displays a simultaneously sincere and ironic affection for the era, and treats the decade's goofiest icons (e.g. that pet rock, the Ford Pinto, Bobby Riggs v. Billie Jean King) with warmth, humor and reverence...To paraphrase George Clinton, ya gotta have The Great Funk.

I Want That!How We All Became Shoppers

Publishers Weekly

Hine offers fresh insight into how we shop and how we are--in some ways--born to do so. Hine is a jaunty writer who breaks down an unwieldy topic into a thoughtful cultural riff. Hine mainly refrains from assigning a positive or negative judgment. Instead he delivers balanced and entertaining analysis of how we arrived at our shopping drenched state and what those ringing cash registers really say about us.

Karim Rashid, designer.

I Want That! raises questions about consumption, material goods, trends, cultural shapers, markets, choice, desire and guilt, and it asks questions that make one really think about the state of perverse pleasure and desire for reward that Thomas Hine terms the “buyosphere.” Shop till you drop, or consume only till noon? The ultimate rewards of our crazy lives of perpetual work, the evanescent pleasure of consuming, and our over-informative material culture with its excrescence of choice, are all discussed, clearly, concisely, and cogently. I Want this book!

Phil Patton, author of Made in the USA and Bug: The Strange Mutations of the Volkswagen Beetle, the World’s Most Famous Car.

With his classic Populuxe, Thomas Hine showed how America expressed itself
through selling. With I Want That! also destined to become a classic, he
shows how America expresses itself by shopping. Sparkling with insight and
surprise, the book is as irresistable for readers as a new mall is for avid

Gary Cross, author of An All Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America.

Subtly combining the perspectives of the scholars with his own sharp eye and charming style as a seasoned journalist, Hine lets us see and understand ourselves as the shoppers that, in so many ways and for better or worse, we have become.

Penelope Green in the New York Times

Are women born to shop, asks Thomas Hine, author of "I Want That! How We All Became Shoppers" (HarperCollins, $24.95). With a soupçon of neuroscience and a dash of evolutionary psychology, Mr. Hine explains that while men have demonstrated the upper hand in exercises like mentally rotating an imagined object in space, they are unable to locate said object in a contemporary department store.

Mr. Hine debunks the hunter-gatherer explanation for women's shopping prowess, which argues that the habit of shopping is a holdover from all the rooting around girls did while the boys were out killing mammoths. According to archaeological evidence, both sexes hunted and gathered, Mr. Hine points out. As he sees it, the reason for a woman's overwhelming assumption of (and delight in) shopping duties can be chalked up to her "willingness to take primary responsibility for the well-being" of her family. (Spit-shine your halos, ladies!) Weaving contemporary cultural studies, anthropology, science and his own powers of observation, Mr. Hine proposes that shopping "is a modern way of assuming a primal responsibility."

Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle

This is one of those books that take a seemingly commonplace, straightforward activity and tease out its unexpected complexities.

Hine isn't buying any of the neo-Puritan critiques of consumption. From both religious conservatives and secular leftists you'll hear the argument that as consumers we're mere puppets dancing to strings pulled by greedy marketers, that we buy things in order to mask the emptiness of our lives, that our acquisitiveness blinds us to solider, nonmaterialistic values.

"It seems obvious that people have used material goods throughout history and before not as substitutes for meaning but as expressions of power, affirmations of relationships and extensions of themselves," Hine counters. "Moreover, it stands to reason that as people increasingly came to see the society, and eventually the universe, as fluid rather than fixed, increasing numbers of people would seek to assert themselves through goods."

Hine has a knack for couching his apercus in clear, pithy language. On the difference between male and female shoppers, for instance: "Women see shopping as an important part of their lives. Men tend to see it as an extraordinary response to some pressing need."

Or this: "Scarcity is the spice of shopping. And even though we may be awash in goods, we are still capable of convincing ourselves that if we don't buy now, a unique opportunity will be lost."

The discussions about the history of shopping are especially interesting. In Europe in the late 17th century, the rise of strong monarchies and centralized governments meant ambitious men had to cut an impressive figure at court. Fashion and appearance were far more a male than a female preoccupation, Hine says.

By the 18th century women as well as men could be found shopping. And by the 19th century, "spending time in the shops was transformed from an indulgence for women to a duty."

For professional historians all this may be old hat, but general readers will almost certainly find much in I Want That! they didn't know or hadn't really thought about.

Clare McHugh, Baltimore Sun

[Hine] rigorously challenges the reflexive - and ultimately anti-capitalist - disdain that many wannabe intellectuals and self-styled rebels express for the consumerist society.

In a rambling chapter about the different ways that men and women shop, Hine comes to the moral heart of his subject: that people shop in large part to fulfill their responsibilities to others. Women enjoy shopping more than men, he says, not because they are more frivolous, less concerned about money and overly interested in hair-care products, but because in shopping women come closer to their primal, caretaking role...

Hine is not completely sold on shopping...but in general, he concentrates on the many positives of shopping. Beyond the power and opportunity for nurturing it offers individuals, he lauds it as a route to discovery and self-expression. Again and again he draws comparisons with a nonconsumerist past, when most people spent the majority of their time isolated in the laborious production of items - mostly food and clothing - and only infrequently entered the marketplace to buy and sell. Since the market is a place of interaction and performance where one looks, learns and negotiates, it is by its very nature eye-opening.

The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager

Patricia Hersch, author, A Tribe Apart
Hine's very act of putting today's teenagers in a context alongside the musket-toting, factory-working youth of America's past broadens the reader's vision and loosens stereotypes when creative thinking about teenagers is called for.

Leon Botstein, president Bard College, New York Times Book Review
Its principal thesis is that most of what we have come to expect from adolescence and from teenagers--youth subcultures, identity crises, violence, rebellion, and high-risk personal behavior--may not be inevitable and may, in fact be avoidable if we treated teenagers not as a special subgroup but as "beginner" adults. This would mean breaking up the artificially age-segregated environments of high school and giving teenagers real responsibilities and real jobs...Perhaps, as Hine suggests, our mistreatment and misunderstanding of teenagers are the result of our own envy of youth, our own hypocritical obsession with sexuality, and our failure to grow up ourselves (as well as our failure to spend enough time with our children.)...The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager is important because it challenges conventional wisdom and asks us to reconsider a host of pseudoscientific claims we take as axiomatic.

Molly Ivins, syndicated columnist
Hine offers perspectives rather than prescriptions, but his mercifully calm perspective does suggest some useful things we can do about teenagers to make their lives better.

Scott Saul, Boston Book Review
The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager builds its argument from this basic premise--that the term "teenager" has become an insult used to mark distance and distaste, a way for adults to take revenge against a world of alternative and possibly baffling livelihoods. As Hine observes, the current generation of young people rivals the Baby Boom in size and far outstrips it in ethnic diversity. And so we need to move quickly beyond what he calls, in nod to Betty Friedan, our 'teenage mystique.' This mystique leads us to segregate young people away from the world of work in a playpen of consumer privilege. It teaches us, more generally, that teens are a "suspect class" expected to combust into violence or wallow in a sulk. And worst of all, Hine argues,it denies young people the chance to prove their maturity while burdening them with the probationary sentence that they are a problem in the making.

Mark Wallace, Financial Times
The American teenager has long captured the imagination, not just in the US, but as an icon of rebellion and individuality for Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. But what has really been at work behind this image is more complex, and what that image may become in the 21st century is an even more open question. Thomas Hine ventures down both of these avenues in his book, and what he finds there will fascinate anyone who has ever been seduced by blue-jeans and hot-rods, skateboards and hip-hop, or any of the myriad other emblems that have stood for the American teens throughout their fraught history.
The bulk of Hine's study is devoted to a historical survey of the role of teenagers in American society, from their contributions to the economy of colonial Massachusetts through the sharp rise in high school enrolment in the middle of this century to the increased alienation that many teenagers seem to feel today - and which has contributed to such unthinkable events as the rash of school shootings in the past several years. In fact, it is in high school that Hine locates the essence of American teenagerhood. As he notes, the word "teenager" did not even come into widespread use until the 1940s, the first decade in which a majority of American teenagers were enrolled in high school. And it was in that removal of the demographic group from the mainstream of American society that our modern conception originates, Hine argues.More interesting than his historical pastiche, though, is Hine's examination of society's attitudes toward teens - and their attitudes toward themselves - over the last 500 years. In the days of colonialism, and into the years of America's westward expansion, young men and women were far more closely integrated into the workings of everyday life, Hine points out, with families relying on their economic input at least as much as they did that of the "adults" of the household. It was only with the Depression that young Americans - who were seen to be driving down wages and putting older men and women out of work - began to be removed from the labour pool...
The result is an engaging study of the evolution of a stratum of society that is itself caught up in its most kaleidoscopic state, the years between childhood and adulthood. And where that evolution is now taking us, Hine argues, may be toward a reintegration of the teenager into the mainstream culture.

The Total Package:The Secret History and Hidden Meanings of Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Other Persuasive Containers

Randall Rothenberg, Philadelphia Inquirer
Nothing less than a cultural history of the American chararacter as seen through--or in--the metal, glass and cardboard carriers that most of us take for granted.

Fred Miller Robinson New York Times Book Review
Mr. Hine's approach is not to present himself as a critic at all, but as one of us, working his way, more ambivalently than objectively, into the heart of our daily lives...Mr Hine walked with us, a shopper among shoppers in the supermarket of modernity, alert and humorous and a little terrified of what the packages ask:
"Are you a good parent, a good provider? Do you have time do do all you things you should, and would you be interested in a short cut? Are you worried about your health and that of those you love? Do you care about the environment? Do you appreciate the finer things in life? Is your life what you would like it to be? Are you enjoying what you've accomplished? Wouldn't you really like something chocolate?"
The Total Package is a stimulating book for anyone interested in The Way We Are.

Christopher Hirst, The Independent (London)
Unwrapping the mystique of the packet, the American design critic Thomas Hine notes that the "persuasive container" is an inherent part of the natural world. "The phenomena that are most relevant to packaging--fruit, nuts, pods, flowers--are all reproductive, rather than merely protective, like the oyster shell." The perplexing appeal of Coca Cola may be explained by the fact that the "female shape" of the original cinch-waited bottle provokes pre-natal memories. As Hine says, "Mom is the package we came in."...This is a well-researched account, entertainingly recounted, of an essential aspect of Americana.

Primo Angeli, package designer
The Total Package has to be the Bible of the industry. Everything is there, all the nuances. The book presents a clear picture to both professional and layman.

Tom Peters, business guru
This book turned me into a shopping bag fanatic. And if you're not one...your loss...just ask Banana Republic.

Facing Tomorrow:What the Future Has Been, What the Future Can Be

Nicholas Basbanes New York Times Book Review

With the coming of a new millennium, Thomas Hine feels it is time all of us started thinking about the future. "Our culture," he writes in "Facing Tomorrow," "is like a child raised without adults: We have no idea what we will be when we grow up." He is more concerned with choosing a worthwhile direction than with anticipating specific events. "Since I started on this project, I have read of the end of history, the end of art, the end of Communism, the end of nature, the end of the cold war, the end of labor unions, the end of network television, the end of the middle class, the end of objective truth, the end of the American century, the end of industry." Mr. Hine, the author of "Populuxe" and a columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer, believes we should look to the future for "a kind of immortality," to "celebrate life." His ruminations read like a long essay, impressively researched, nicely reasoned and well written, not pedantic or preachy. He combines the context of history with the immediacy of journalism, and he does not take himself too seriously. (One of his asides: "Many modern oracles call themselves consultants. They read computer printouts instead of entrails.") He began his consideration biased toward technology, but has emerged on a spiritual note: "The most pressing issues are not matters of engineering, but of human values."

Mark Dery, Salon

I take Thomas Hine's point, in "Facing Tomorrow: What the Future Has Been, What the Future Can Be", that our inability to conceive of the future in any other than dystopian terms is one sign that we're moribund as a culture. And it's important that progressive voices reclaim the future from the laissez-faire futurists, posthumanists (Ayn Rand Meets Locutus of Borg), and bearded evangelists of New Age cyberhype currently clouding our vision of things to come. Nonetheless, I'm deeply suspicious of the commodity futures sold by George Gilder and other corporate flacks who use Wired as their bully pulpit because those futures (firmly fixed in the American mind asthe future) are part of the spectacle -- a media mirage meant to distract us from the power relations and social inequities of the present.


Michiko Kakutani, New York Times:
"Populuxe throws the reader into a wonderul time machine, conjuring up the mood of the day as well as its distinctive look...Mr. Hine's text is so lively and informative that Populuxe must surely stand as one of the most sprightly cultural histories to come along in a long time."

John Updike, New Yorker
"[Hine's] sympathetic grasp of the affinity bectween the potato chip's 'free-form' shape and the 'double-curving furniture of Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen' shows what a mischievously alert sensibility can make of vulgar forms usually kept out the pale of serious consideration."

Isaac Asimov Chicago Tribune, October 19, 1986
"No one who has lived through this decade can read this book without stopping a hundred times to recall his own experiences. Remember the widespread crewcuts that made every man look as though he had the glazed eye of a marine. I do. I even had my own hair shorn off once for a few months...
This is a history of the common people under conditions that may never come again, for we nowl life in a time of diminishing expectations in an America that is once again a debtor nation, and with a government that no longer has the money or the desire to be benevolent to the American people."

Robert Campbell, Boston Globe, December 7. 1986:
Populuxe…is a hilariously funny, marvelously illustrated account of design in America’s great consumer decade from 1954 to 1964. Parallels are Hine’s forte; he finds points in common in everything from ranch houses to tail fins and Beatle haircuts.

Don O’Briant, Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Hine’s illustrated book is a fascinating trip down memory lane, but it is also an important social history…a study of adolescent American with boundless dreams, a nation of consumers coming of age.

Alan J. Adler, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1987
Thomas Hine sets forth in clear, entertaining prose his textbook of consumerism in the Push Button Age. This is more than just a coffee table book…It is a historical/psychological analysis that documents the evolution of the American dream through the things we bought.