Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Deegan, Mary Jo and Michael R. Hill. 1989. “The Presentation of the City on ‘Fat-Letter’ Postcards.” Pp. 91-105 in American Ritual Dramas: Social Rules and Cultural Meanings, by Mary Jo Deegan. (Contributions in Sociology, No. 76). New York: Greenwood Press.


Copyright 1989 Mary Jo Deegan and Michael R. Hill


Media-constructed rituals are cultural products. Unlike participatory rituals, my focus thus far, media-constructed rituals have more stability, higher internal order and consistency, and greater potential to reach people over time. Cultural artifacts from the past can reach people in their own era, the present, and the future, and in this way they provide a source of continuity even for rapidly changing societies. We begin this section of the book by examining a small artifact in an interaction ritual, the presentation of the city on a particular style of postcard.

Cities are complex human environments that are frequently symbolized in the small space of picture postcards measuring a scant three-by-five inches. This small surface area, however, can capture and create an image of a locale, thereby representing its people, ideals and "good times." Postcards of cities are presentations of the city in an analogous way to presentations of the self (Goffman, 1959). In both types of presentations, the most socially desirable front is displayed. Postcard presentations, unlike human presentations, are static and completely controlled by their capitalistic manufacturers.