Urban Media Studies| The (Theatrical) Mediation of Urban Daily Life and the Genealogy of the Media City: Show Windows as Urban Screens at the Rise of Consumer Capitalism in America (1880‒1930)

Cesare Silla


Following the understanding of the contemporary city as a media-architecture complex with a long history, the article deploys the concepts of liminality, imitation, and theatricalization to show how urban daily life at the dawn of American consumer capitalism (1880‒1930) was mediated by show windows, which were conceived as stages on which the drama of social life was enacted. Building the theoretical framework on insights drawn by literature studying urban screens and “ambient” media, coupled with the literature on urban consumption and urban modernism, the article shows how show windows became social tableaux that, in trying to relate their products with the plural social scenes of urban life, ended up in shaping and promoting the new mode of living within the city. Rather than following the naïve “mirroring perspective” of media representing reality, the work shows that a (theatrical) mediation was at the foundation of the modern media city.


media city, consumer capitalism, historical sociology, urban screens, liminality, imitation, theatricalization

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