American Taboo
The Forbidden Words, Unspoken Rules, and Secret Morality of Popular Culture
by Lauren Rosewarne
August 2013, 323pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-313-39933-6
$64, £48, 56€, A87
eBook Available: 978-0-313-39934-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Are Americans more sensitive to male or female full-frontal nudity?

America's often-unspoken morality codes make many topics taboo in "the land of the free." This book analyzes hundreds of popular culture examples to expose how the media both avoids and alludes to how we derive pleasure from our bodies.

Flatulence … male nudity … abortion … masturbation: these are just a few of the taboo topics in the United States. What do culturally enforced silences about certain subjects say about our society—and our latent fears? This work provides a broad yet detailed overview of popular culture’s most avoided topics to explain why they remain off-limits and examines how they are presented in contemporary media—or, in many cases, delicately explored using euphemism and innuendo. The author offers fascinating, in-depth analysis of the meaning behind these portrayals of a variety of both mundane and provocative taboos, and identifies how new television programs, films, and advertising campaigns intentionally violate longstanding cultural taboos to gain an edge in the marketplace.


  • Analyzes an enormous range of popular culture examples in a lively and highly readable writing style
  • Identifies and examines 12 separate taboos of the media
  • Provides interdisciplinary coverage that intersects with a wide variety of subject areas, including cultural studies, philosophy, feminism, and queer culture
  • Offers not only in-depth descriptions of cultural taboos but also clear explanations of why they exist
  • Supplies fascinating and useful information for general audiences as well as students and scholars of popular culture, political science, sexuality and gender studies, and sociology
Lauren Rosewarne, PhD, is senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Her published works include Praeger's Cheating on the Sisterhood: Infidelity and Feminism; Praeger's Part-Time Perverts: Sex, Pop Culture, and Kink Management; and Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television.


"American Taboo is a rare volume that offers a genuinely original contribution to the field of feminist media studies. Rosewarne takes the unpalatable of popular media and asks us to consider the ways in which representations of oral sex, abortion and vibrators can be understood in a wider debate about power and pleasure in contemporary culture. This book manages to be both shocking and scholarly, risqué and rigorous and as such it is a must-read for those interested in representations of gender in popular media culture." —Dr Rebecca Feasey, Bath Spa University, UK, Author of From Happy Homemaker to Desperate Housewives: Motherhood and Popular Television (Anthem Press 2012)

"Rosewarne speaks the unspeakable in this engaging book on everything you ever wanted to know about bodies but were too shy to ask. Offering hundreds of rich examples of popular culture’s representations of taboos she argues convincingly that the way in which cinema, television, and music present controversial subjects is not homogenous but deeply cultural, political, sexual and gendered. A thoroughly accessible and stimulating read which will appeal to a wide audience."—Robyn Longhurst, Professor of Geography, University of Waikato, New Zealand

“At last an essential book filled with fascinating insights into topics often avoided by scholars but increasingly prevalent in popular culture. From using vibrators to flipping the bird, taboo depictions evoke a range of responses from titillation to outrage. Rosewarne is an eloquent and original scholar, helping us negotiate this often visceral terrain, making sense of the boundaries it challenges and social anxieties it addresses.”—Robin Andersen, Professor , Fordham University, Coauthor of Battleground: The Media

“Anyone wishing to understand how far American popular culture has moved since the days of the old Production Code when profanity, discussions of such topics as substance abuse, and even the very word 'abortion' were forbidden, should read Lauren Rosewarne’s American Taboo. Based on an impressive examination of movies, TV programs, and advertisements, Rosewarne has produced a highly readable, informative book that shows that what was once strictly off-limits has now become part of our mainstream culture" —Stephen Vaughn, Professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Author of Freedom and Entertainment: Rating the Movies in an Age of New Media

"In American Taboo, Lauren Rosewarne investigates the fluctuating boundaries and gendered underpinnings of appropriate behaviour related to the body in contemporary popular film and television. Through case studies ranging from farting to depictions of abortion and female oral sex on screen, American Taboo explores the gaps between media images and the common practices of everyday life. Sharp and highly readable, the book is accessible to all readers interested in embodiment, gender and popular culture."—Susanna Paasonen, Professor, University of Turku, Finland, Author of Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography

American Taboo offers the scholarly equivalent of a guilty pleasure: a highly entertaining and readable survey of pop culture engagements with a range of risqué topics. Lauren Rosewarne demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of the media landscape of bodily issues, and she manages to approach her literally 'touchy' subject in a manner that is at once politically engaged and critically clear-headed, always taking care to give voice to multiple perspectives on highly contentious points.”—Adam Knee, Associate Professor, Nanyang Technological University

“Rosewarne’s latest book is a welcome exploration of taboo in popular culture. It is important, innovative, and, most importantly, just plain smart. I highly recommend it."— J. Jeremy Wisnewski, Associate Professor, Hartwick College

“From abortion and alcoholism to vegetarianism and vibrators American Taboo looks at popular culture’s ways of talking about those aspects of bodily existence that society prefers not to discuss in 'polite company.' Astonishingly wide-ranging in its examples and impressive in its erudition, the book demonstrates the whys and hows of the unmentionable being mentioned for our entertainment and what these reveal about gendered perceptions of our physical being.”—Ina Rae Hark, Distinguished Professor Emerita of English and Film/Media Studies, University of South Carolina

American Taboo reflects, at once, a sweeping and detailed analysis of American popular culture’s fascination with body taboos and taboo bodies. Throughout, Lauren Rosewarne compellingly demonstrates that the more aggressively we repress and stigmatize certain sexual activities and bodily practices in our politics and religion, the more those elements return in our popular culture. American Taboo is a thoughtful and engaging reflection on not just popular culture’s willingness to represent everything from flatulence and cunnilingus to vibrators and penises, but also on its apparent and complex need to.”—Brian L. Ott, Associate Professor, University of Colorado Denver, Author of Critical Media Studies: An Introduction

“Lauren Rosewarne’s American Taboo offers a fascinating look at considerably different elements of American society and culture that Americans generally agree—or in turn debate about—should be forbidden and are best avoided. Rosewarne offers fresh interpretations of representations of sexual and bodily taboos in a variety of popular works, ranging from cartoons to television series to films. Whether analyzing how genitalia are represented to going beyond the sexual to vegetarianism, Rosewarne avoids the moralism of the Left or Right to give a balanced approach to a series of lightning rods. American Taboo will encourage reflective readers to consider subtly changing but persistent taboos that permeate US popular culture as audiences continue to want to hear about the unspeakable.”—Jody Pennington, Associate Professor, Aarhus University, Denmark, Author of The History of Sex in American Film

“Lauren Rosewarne has written a book that uses solid research findings to understand images we are exposed to in popular culture everyday. Her exploration of many kinds of taboos is engaging and insightful.”—Alyssa N. Zucker, Associate Professor, George Washington University

"In a daring checklist, impressive in its range of references, Rosewarne cuts a swathe through the taboos of our time with intelligence, insight and wit. American Taboo is an intellectual feast of many pleasures. Impressive in its scope and critical acumen, Rosewarne makes an important contribution to the taboos of our everyday lives engaging both the hilarious and the horrific in the making of our popular culture. American Taboo goes where few other books dare and maps out the taboos of our time. Impressive in its range of references, lively and rewarding, Rosewarne exposes more than just taboos but the very workings of culture itself."—Dr Gary Needham, Senior Lecturer on Media, Nottingham Trent University, Author of Brokeback Mountain (EUP 2010) and Queer TV (Routledge 2009)
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