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Morality USA

1998
Authors:

Ellen G. Friedman and Corinne Squire

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Explores the moral debates that shape U.S. culture.

Looks at a diverse range of subjects-the law and issues of “justice,” O. J. Simpson, political correctness, “lite” culture, New Age spirituality, Dr. Jack Kervorkian, Tawana Brawley, TV talk shows, the Million Man March, and Promise Keepers. Morality USA traces our culture’s ethical confusion to rapid social change and events that have acted as moral breaks with the past. Stripped of grand moral narratives, people are left with mere cost-benefit analyses of their ethical options or with only a personal sense of right and wrong, a privatized moral order. Friedman and Squire assert that moral diversity cannot, and should not, be suppressed.

Morality USA is a rich, varied, provocative, and cogently argued book. In impressive detail, Ellen Friedman and Corinne Squire set out to decode and assess our age of moral ambiguity; their study is wide-ranging, and written with wit and sympathy.

Joyce Carol Oates

A woman becomes pregnant through in vitro fertilization by her son-in-law so her infertile daughter will have a child to raise. Is this arrangement the epitome of mother love, a perversion of family structure, or a rational solution to a medical dilemma? At the end of the twentieth century, this kind of ethical uncertainty is found everywhere. Morality USA charts our confusion, untangling conflicting traditions and exploring our culture’s moral ambiguity.

Ellen G. Friedman and Corinne Squire look at a diverse range of subjects-the law and issues of “justice,” O. J. Simpson, family relationships, political correctness, “lite” culture, New Age spirituality, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Tawana Brawley, TV talk shows, the Million Man March, and Promise Keepers. Morality USA traces our ethical confusion to rapid social change and events that have acted as moral breaks with the past. The Holocaust, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 60s, feminist and gay rights campaigns, Watergate, and the Hill-Thomas hearings have progressively eroded confidence in moral universals. Stripped of grand moral narratives, people are left with mere cost-benefit analyses of their ethical options or with only a personal sense of right and wrong, a privatized moral order.

Morality USA asserts that moral diversity cannot, and should not, be suppressed. It calls for recognition of the multiplicity of moral structures that exist in the United States and argues that we need to think about morality as local, contingent, and revisable, a product of argument and compromise, not as a self-evident truth or the self-interest of the powerful.

Controversial, comprehensive, engaging, and timely, Morality USA defines the moral zeitgeist in ways that will spark debate and contemplation across the political and social spectrum.

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Ellen G. Friedman is professor of English and director of women’s studies at the College of New Jersey. Corinne Squire is senior lecturer in psychosocial studies at the University of East London, England.

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Morality USA is a rich, varied, provocative, and cogently argued book. In impressive detail, Ellen Friedman and Corinne Squire set out to decode and assess our age of moral ambiguity; their study is wide-ranging, and written with wit and sympathy.

Joyce Carol Oates

Friedman and Squire have done a superb job of establishing a clear and convincing rationale for the pluralistic approach they take in Morality USA. They nimbly move through a remarkable range of subjects including soap operas, novels, criminal cases, and tabloid journalism.

Larry D. McCaffery, San Diego State University

Morality USA is a wonderful book: rich, ambitious, thoughtful, nuanced, provocative, memorable, compelling . . . adjectives fail me.

Brian McHale, West Virginia University

The greatest strength of this thoroughly readable and eloquently argued book is its panoramic view of the moral complexity of everyday life. Morality USA provides a number of compelling readings to demonstrate how artistic renderings of ambiguous and contestatory moral domains can cultivate ways of thinking about morality and extending justice within the complexity of a multicultural society. It is a provocative and often profound book.

Lee Quinby in Modern Fiction Studies