In The Argument about Things in the 1980s: Goods and Garbage in an Age of Neoliberalism
(West Virginia University Press, 2018), Tim Jelfs argues that debates about the nature of stuff—its moral valence, its spiritual value, and its status as either “goods” or “garbage”—have been at the heart of American cultural discourse for centuries, and reached a particularly fevered pitch in the 1980s. Bookended by Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech in 1979 and George H. W. Bush’s 1989 inaugural address, both of which lamented the apparent spiritual failings of materialism while at the same time avoiding a full condemnation of the same, Jelfs frames the 1980s as the “Age of Neoliberalism.” This period saw the resurgence of market-based responses to a series of crises, including oil price shocks and inflation. In this context, Jelfs examines texts as wide-ranging as political speeches, films, photography and other visual arts, and novels, using them to explore the particular nuances of American cultural discourse about stuff.
is Assistant Professor in American Studies at the University of Groningen. His research focuses on interdisciplinary studies of literature, film, art, and more, with particular interest in discussions of materialism in post-1945 American culture. In addition to his current book on "Goods and Garbage," his next project examines conversations about crisis and narrative culture in the United States from 9/11 to Donald Trump.
David Fouser is an adjunct faculty member at Santa Monica College, Chapman University, and American Jewish University. He completed his Ph.D. in 2016 at the University of California, Irvine, and studies the cultural and environmental history of wheat, flour, and bread in Britain and the British empire.