Monday, 31 August 2009

The Skilled Eye in a Skimmer's World

Jacques-Louis David’s painting, The Oath of the Horatii (1784)

The Skilled Eye in a Skimmer's World Author(s): Patrick D. Hazard and Mary Hazard Reviewed work(s): A Primer for Playgoers. By Edward A. Wright. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1958. 270 pp. $6.50. Learning to Look. By Joshua C. Taylor. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1958. 152 pp. $4.50.

A humanities primer for adult students should do at least one of two things: provide the vocabulary for an art and a knowledge of its technique, or point up its big questions of significance and outline the major partisan answers fairly. Of these two new handbooks, A Primer for Playgoers does neither well, and Learning to Look does the first so well that the student begins his own formulation of the second.

A Primer for Playgoers examines the vocabulary of the theater by assigning each component of the drama a separate chapter and by appending a glossary. At his best, Edward Wright suggests the implications for the drama of such technological innovations as the electric light; at his worst he dismisses "image" (this in the day of Tennessee Williams) in his glossary as "picture appearing on the television screen." His more usual line is his first "requirement of lighting": "The stage must at all times be sufficiently lighted to make for visibility without strain."

Playgoers can learn with experience many of the technical aspects of drama, but many an experienced matinee fan remains ignorant of the larger questions of value and significance. Mr. Wright is aware that these are important questions, but his definitions and subdivisions merely rephrase the issues.

Thus he expands his "Ten Commandments of Dramatic Criticism" and pontificates that "We might favor the theatre that is a teacher and an art, but we would not dismiss that which only attempts to amuse or to excite." Unbelievers--and students, we should hope, here qualify de facto--might question the catholicity of that "We." Wright never suggests that one function of the critic may be to question some of the conventional categories and given functions of the drama.

When Wright moves into the biggest issue in the drama, the "morality" of the play, he once more invokes the shibboleth of "objective analysis." Having seen the shortcomings of his objective study of technique, we might raise some questions when he presents his fundamental principle that "we must always measure the play in terms of life" (italics his), asking specific questions which, he says, may open it to charges of immorality.

Among the questions: "Has the author permitted any evil or wrong to be rewarded? Have the wicked achieved their goal because of or through their wickedness?" In terms of life, one of the greatest evils is smug complacency about one's ideas of right and wrong. Built into Wright's "analytical" questions is a conception of morality as shallow as that of the Motion Picture Production Code. A primer for playgoers, especially with chapters on movies and television, would be a useful thing indeed--if it were not a naive catechism.

Joshua C. Taylor, on the other hand, wisely concedes that "seeing... is sometimes more difficult for the student of art than believing." Learn to Look is the handbook and introduction for the art portion of the humanities course given at the University of Chicago. It serves as a guide to the visual arts which suggests all there is to see in a painting or sculpture. Proceeding from simple observation such as the emotional effects of color to the relatively complex analysis such as the implications of the artist's choice of medium, the book uses a cumulative technique of instruction.

Dr. Taylor warns in the preface that the book is used in conjunction with many other visual materials at the University, but two color plates and thirty black and white reproductions and many sketches illustrate the principles in the text. Dr. Taylor suggests that the reader test his generalizations about the meaning of organization in a work of art by covering different parts of the Perugino reproduced in the book and observing the changes in the feeling evoked by the painting.

In the same manner he demonstrates how some of the accepted, but unexamined, impressionistic descriptions of art can be analyzed. His sketches of the contrasting exteriors and radically different treatments of space in a Palladio villa and a Frank Lloyd Wright house illustrate the judgment that Palladio's organization is "formal," while Wright creates a "causal" feeling.

For students confused by the all too frequent kaleidoscopic history of art course (a hop, skip, and a jump of a Cook's tour of culture), Dr. Taylor substitutes a microscopic view of one painter. He outlines the development of the work of David, showing how several paintings reproduced in this volume represent major departures in his technique. Plates of other contemporaries' work suggest the traditions which David rejected as well as the influences he felt. This selective approach to one artist guides the student to formulate meaningful questions that he can ask of the whole history of art.

Unlike Dr. Wright whose questions are essentially distorting lenses, Dr. Taylor fashions a prism so discriminating that the student may himself study the elements of the visual arts. Dr. Taylor offers no judgments of taste, morality, or significance; he simply tries to equip the student with the discriminatory powers for later making such judgments himself. In a world where skimming is encouraged by all the dominant media, the virtues of the practiced eye are to be highly prized and praised.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Behind the Tinsel Curtain, part two

The Trial of Socrates

Criticism in the Classroom

And to lead the examined life---the only kind worth living according to the philosopher--the adolescent must be led to examine those influences which shape him daily. He must learn to examine systematically, in short, the commercial mass media. For these influences literally create the moral and mental climate in which he lives. So far as I can see, the English classroom is the place in the secondary school where such an examination of values and thought should take place.

And to establish such a tradition of criticism would entail nothing more than an awareness on the part of the teacher of what her students were experiencing on the media and an occasional inclusion in the curriculum of printed materials on the newer media. Take the case of TV. It is the enfant terrible of the popular arts, and if one can be convinced that it should be examined in the classroom, then a fortiori the other popular arts have a place there too.

The first thing we can do in the case of TV is simply to list programs. The fact of choice is thus first made selfconscious. "Listenables and Lookables" in Scholastic Teacher or superior programs underlined in the local paper are possible approaches. The larger metropolitan areas usually have TV supplements, among the best being those of the New York Times and Herald Tribune. I sold copies of TV Guide to a fourth of my high school students, passing on to them the below-newsstand price that the magazine distributor was willing to extend us. Five minutes a week for previewing the best of next week's programs as summarized in TV Guide is a wise investment for any English teacher.

Reading John Crosby's better columns to a class prepares it for the idea of literate criticism of semi-literate programs. His articles on sob shows and repetitive panel shows proved very effective in the tenth grade. Goodman Ace's new collection of criticism from the Saturday Review, The Book of Little Knowledge: More Than You Want to Know About Television (Simon-Schuster, $3.00), is another excellent starting place. His spoofing of advertising and ratings and his defense of the writer will suggest to many of your students the importance of expecting quality from TV. It is a short step from your reading to them to their reading of criticism of all the popular arts from magazines and books in a classroom media library. The magazine Variety has a rare combination of raciness and good judgment that will appeal to advanced classes. The wonderful thing to remember is that you will have them reading and thinking about media of which they were formerly the supine victims.

Once the teacher has enabled the student to see the importance of picking and choosing, the offensive for excellence can be pushed forward. On a recent weekend, a TV viewer could have seen "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" (CBS), "The Devil's Disciple" (NBC), "She Stoops to Conquer" (CBS), and "The Lavender Hill Mob" (ABC). Here is surely an embarrassment of riches. The hitch is this: If these cultural programs do not pay off, if enough people do not call for more, then we may revert to the wrestling match level of a few years ago. It seems to me that English teachers have a great deal at stake personally in the future of top quality programming.

What can an English teacher do to encourage creative programming ? By teaching the best programs, of course. But there is another dimension to our encouragement of excellence in the mass media. Tomorrow's Paddy Chayefskys and Robert Alan Arthurs are now in our classrooms. What have we done to help them understand the importance of artistic integrity in the popular arts? Do we make them feel that film and television deserve as much of their creativity as novel and lyric ?

One way to establish such a climate for excellence is to suggest that they read the comments of leading TV playwrights and directors on their crafts. William Kaufman has edited two slim, inexpensive volumes on these subjects that you might place in your classroom media library, How to Write for Television and How to Direct for Television (Hastings House, $2.50). Mature students will want to read the essays on the craft of TV drama in Paddy Chayefsky's collection of plays (Simon-Schuster, $3.75).

A practical way to sharpen your students' awareness of the special form of TV art is to have them make sample scripts, adapting short stories and dramas from their anthologies and staging them in video terms. You will find that their increased awareness of esthetic form will lead to a deeper appreciation of the traditional forms--fiction, poetry, drama. Multi-media translation of literary works is a technique recommended by Professor Marshall McLuhan of the University of Toronto. He conceives of the newer media as new languages which we must learn to master.

And just as we learn much from translating English into French and French into Latin, so will your students learn the languages of the newer media by seeing Herman Wouk's novel, The Caine Mutiny, undergo permutation as, successively, film, stage play, and TV presentation. But they must be taught to see these fine points, and only we can teach them. This teaching of preciseness and nuance is exactly what our profession has been doing right along. The emergence of the mass media has just complicated our task at the same time that it has opened brilliant new vistas of dramatic experience for our students.

Finally, a reactionary proposal. You will see a common strategy in my suggestions . They all included the use of printed aids to the newer media. Print alone will stop the teen-ager from his whirl of confusion long enough to achieve the necessary perspective. Printed aids are a long overdue complement to audio-visual aids for teaching the older forms of literature. Printed aids do two things for the student: (1) criticize mediocrity and (2) hold out a vision of excellence. Printed aids help the student to take the popular arts seriously; they have already taken him-as consumer-in dead seriousness. The urgency of the English teacher's responsibility to the popular arts comes from the fact that the student is unprotected. He desperately needs help only we can give him.

As English teachers, then, we must live in two worlds to be effective with frequent comparisons and contrasts in the English classroom. Moreover, this was for many students (particularly in the lower classes) their first extended writing experience involving the preparation of several units of material culminating in one long work; certainly for many it was the first extended writing experience which had maintained their interest at a reasonably high level. Those students participating in the project came to recognize the necessity for careful planning, much revision, and the need to objectify emotions and attitudes clearly if they are to be communicated successfully to another person. With this experience students also developed a new respect for the skill and craftsmanship of first-rate professional writers.

When one class read Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Portable Phonograph a short time later, we were able to discuss with greater understanding not only what the author was saying but how he had said it. The ability to make such an analysis, of course, is of inestimable value to a young reader approaching modern literature in which so much is communicated through suggestions, implication, and indirection.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Behind the Tinsel Curtain, part one

Almost five generations ago, when mass communication first began to transform our society, Emerson gave the American teacher some advice that strikes me as even more pertinent today. Sensing that the tyranny of the mass mind or the bondage of public opinion was to be one of the gravest dangers of a cultural democracy, he hoped that the scholar or teacher would "defer never to the popular cry." "Let him not quit his belief," Emerson advised in The American Scholar, "that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom."

Mediocrity in Mass Media

We live, it seems to me, in what might justly be called The Age of the Popgun. For these are times in which many small bores pretend to more calibre than they really have. Emerson's popguns, however, had only the telegraph and penny press at their disposal. Ours have an unbelievably pervasive network of mass communication that they use to envelop us in a smog of mediocrity. Press agents, ad-copy writers, and other hawkers of a chromeplated philosophy of comfort and success monopolize the mass media. They make of these potentially great instruments of enlightenment what Norman Cousins has shrewdly called a great "industry of distraction."

The dream world of popular culture prefabricated daily by the media is a two-dimensional affair. In it crewcut boy meets Vogue-ad girl with convertible ideals. They live happily ever after (bypassing birth, work, death), trying hard to keep up the payments. Most of their leisure they fritter away with time-saving gadgets. They read condensed books because they don't have time. They learn the power of positive thinking. They are the happy consumers, bedeviled to trade everything in on a new model.

Certainly, this is a caricature; but only to us who have developed a set of values. To the adolescent this fantasy world of popular culture is the real thing. In my opinion, many of the difficulties that plague the humanities teacher today derive directly from the fact that we ignore the absorption of the adolescent in the chimerical world of the popular arts. He is a helpless victim behind the tinsel curtain of superficial, glib values disseminated by the mass media.

Banality, the spurious or superficial treatment of serious subjects, sentimentality, the easy acceptance of dubious ideals, the distortion or masking of reality, shallowness and insincerity, all the meretricious gloss and false emphases of bad popular art, dispensed in a ceaseless stream to a vast public, cannot have but an enervating and distorting cumulative effect upon individuals and society. ("Guidance in Aesthetic Appreciation; The Theatre and Film," Yearbook of Education / Macmillan, 1955).

So writes Stanley Reed, a British teacher and film critic, in an important article that spells out the responsibility of the English teacher for developing student taste in the popular arts. To help our students penetrate the tinsel curtain, we must make them dissatisfied with the mediocre in popular art. Until we can break down their complacent acceptance of the fifth-rate, we will find deaf ears for our larger message of excellence in the classics.

Before suggesting practical implications of this theory for the classroom, it may be wise to suggest specifically how the media victimize our youth with their mediocre messages. Why do we face a shortage of teachers? A contributing factor is the dowdy, bumbling stereotype of the teacher wholesaled on the media. How many children can be inspired by such an image? Why are too few young people taking scientific training? Think of the mad professor you last saw on TV! Or is American artistic leadership somehow not commensurate with our material prosperity? I wonder how much the tousled hair, sloppy clothes stereotype of the artist inhibits sensitive young people from aspiring to such a life of excellence. The media distort and distract, keeping the majority of our youth at a shallow level of self-awareness.

And what are the newer media doing to that first and still most impressive mass medium, language itself? We are witnessing the decline of the superlative; "super-deluxe" now refers to an average automobile. "Best" no longer makes an overstimulated consumer flicker; even "colossal" and "stupendous" become pygmy words in the ad writer's delirious "can-you-top-this" search for blurbs. And when the words themselves are not being defiled and perverted for the grand aim of selling soap and cigarettes, they are being used to convey essentially irrelevant messages. Language, our province as English teachers, is thus both debased and abused. It is in such a context that I found Emerson's insistence that we call popguns popguns so appealing.

How would this dour theory work in the worst of all possible worlds? Suppose you find yourself faced next semester with a class of comic book addicts. No uncommon plight, surely. Such was the recent fate of a very imaginative teacher with an excellent background in English literature and criticism. She decided in desperation to beard the lion in its den. She opened the semester with a one-week unit on comic book reading.

She found, as she suspected, that her addicts were unthinking, uncritical devourers of the sub-literary species, comic. So she started them asking each other basic questions: Why do we read them? Why do adults read them? Why do parents object? What kind of comics are there? Who reads which type? What are typical comic book heroes like? What do they have in common? What values do they support? To what extent, if at all, are our own standards shaped by their conduct? The answers were thin, to put it charitably.

She passed out a bibliography of fifty items on the subject from the school library; each student had to take notes on five and then answer the questions, first in an oral report or panel, next in an individual theme. The critical storm stirred up by this invasion of unexamined areas of life blew fresh air throughout the entire year's work. In a small way, her students had begun to lead the Socratic "examined" life.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Review: British Popular Culture: I

> The Debate over Art and Popular Culture in Eighteenth Century England by Leo Lowenthal; Marjorie Fiske
> The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900 by Richard Altick
> The Uses of Literacy: Changing Patterns in English Mass Culture by Richard Hoggart
> The Book World Today: A New Survey of the Making and Distribution of Books in Britain, John Hampden, ed. (The Macmillan Company, 1957).

The greatest weaknesses in contemporary criticism of popular culture are its provincialism and excessive contemporaneity. To read most critics of popular forms like penny journalism, movies, TV, and comics, you would never guess that these forms exist outside the United States and that they can best be understood in the light of a fairly long evolution. The essays and books at hand therefore have a double usefulness: they not only make it possible to get a good perspective on American popular culture; but they also suggest new strategies for teaching the traditional survey of English literature to the American adolescent.

Lowenthal and his wife are sociologists. The purpose of their study is "to explore some of the antecedents of the popular culture issues, particularly those generated by the mass media, which we face today." In effect, they are exploring what writers in eighteenth century England had to say about problems "engendered when literary works began to be produced as marketable commodities." The essay's five sections deal with (1) a brief summary of the new literary forms which emerged during this period; (2) the reaction of the literati to the new commercial audience-building devices; (3) an analysis of how and why the initial enthusiasm of the English intellectuals withered away; (4) the specific criticisms the intellectuals brought to bear on the new literary forms and their audiences; (5) the search for new artistic standards applicable in a democracy of culture.

To try to go into detail in the space available is impossible; suffice to say these two sociologists present us with new perspectives on old figures (Pope, Doctor Johnson, Goldsmith, and others) that must be quickly assimilated into our classroom discussions and anthologies. Oddly enough, much of the material is based on traditional English literary research; but it apparently took the sociological point of view to make the material relevant for teaching literature in a media-dominated age. This suggests a blindness on our part that puts the humanist's ritual denigration of the sociologist in an embarrassing light.

Professor Altick (English Department, Ohio State University), on the other hand, reveals in his study of emergence of the mass reading public in the nineteenth century how compatible popular culture research is with the sensibility of the traditional literary historian. "The history of the mass reading audience is, in fact," he says, "the history of English democracy seen from a new angle."

In an age when most take the right to literacy too casually, if indeed their right ever occurs to them through a fog of TV entertainment, it is both inspiring and yet disheartening to see how indomitably the middle and working classes fought for the freedom to read, against the most obtuse kind of religious and political obscurantism.

I suspect if we are to dramatize sufficiently the dearly secured but all too easily ignored accessibility to print, it will be by assimilating Altick's survey into our textbooks and lectures. There is a summary of some sixty-odd pages of printing history from Caxton through the eighteenth century, at which point he begins the story of various innovations such as "railway literature," the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, penny-a-week installment Bibles, the Society for the Diffusion of Pure Literature among the People, "elegant extracts," the penny post, pleas for the place of contemporary literature in the curriculum, the mechanics' institutes (whose clientele soon became business and professional people!), newsrooms for working men, mutual improvement clubs, the growth of public libraries and the spread of elementary and secondary education, the "itinerating libraries," street auctions for second-hand books, number-publications and classic reprints, the Penny Cyclopaedia, Thomas Tegg's experiments with remaindering and "penuriously contrived reprints," John Cassell's aggressive advertising for printed matter, and many other landmarks in the ordinary Englishman's progress to literacy.

Altick is especially good in showing the crucial importance of extra-literary factors, for example, the relationship between poverty, the window tax, and houses too dark to read in, day or night. Indeed, the importance of this indispensable book is its placing of an "abstract" subject like reading deeply into the changing social and political contexts of nineteenth century England.

Professor Richard Hoggart (late of the English Department, University of Rochester, now in his native England) has a similar respect for the earthy roots of culture. He himself grew up among the English working classes whose reactions to the mass media in the last thirty or forty years he analyzes in The Uses of Literacy. Part autobiographical, part sociological, Hoggart's book has the faults of neither method, the values of both subjective empathy and objective analysis. Unlike the typical hysterical tirade against "mass culture," this study presents the hopeful thesis that the working class values of family and loyalty to local groups have great powers of resistance to the tinsel blandishments of the trivial press.

Hoggart tempers this optimism, however, with the equally shrewd perception that the mass journalist has learned how to subtly pervert the real achievements of democracy. The flattery of the mass publicist presents the working classes with very attractive "invitations to self-indulgence"; he turns their very virtues into vices. Tolerance declines into acquiescence in anything. Respect for the common man becomes the insidious hubris of the "ordinary chap."

Progressivism is debased to a callow denigration of the past. Hoggart achieves his remarkable analysis of the threat of mass culture to democracy by comparing the new journalism with the kind he knew as a youngster in the 1910's and '20's, by examining the new popular songs with older traditions of club singing, by scrutinizing the mores of juke box boys, spicy magazines, and sex-and-violence novels.

The Book World Today, on the other hand, is an examination of the more respectable aspects of contemporary British culture. It contains twenty-two short essays by specialists in the book trade on such subjects as the author, agent, and the publisher; the general structure of the book business, as well as analyses of individual branches of publishing; newer media like paperbacks, book clubs, and radio and television; libraries, book leagues, and other cultural institutions in support of the habit; and other articles on reviewing and bookselling of more direct interest to people in the trade itself.

It is interesting to compare the British and American book trades, by reading Chandler Grannis, ed., What Happens in Book Publishing (Columbia University Press, 1957). For one thing the British business seems less tied to the book club bonanza than ours. For another, they have devised some ingenious experiments to test the effectiveness of the B.B.C. in motivating the withdrawal of books from libraries.

But most important, these books give us a new perspective on mass culture in America. The mass society is not necessarily an aesthetic dead end, but admits of various freedoms, depending on historical traditions and contemporary circumstance. Further, these volumes provide the teacher of the English literature survey with many new opportunities for relating the culture and civilization of the United Kingdom with the moral and aesthetic choices facing a student in modem America.

This is another way of saying they provide us with much more effective ways of teaching English literature to our kind of students than we have ever had in the past. In September the discussion of British popular culture will be continued with a consideration of new books on British broadcasting, journalism, the popular theatre, and the British national character.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Man in the Grumbleseat

The Public Arts: Man in the Grumbleseat: The TV Critic's Eighty-Hour Week Author(s): Patrick D. Hazard and Mary Hazard Source: The English Journal, Vol. 48, No. 9 (Dec., 1959), pp. 548-549 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

Network programmers should not try to get critics to hawk their unsold specials. That's the reaction of Harry Harris, six-times-a-week critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer (600,000 daily; 1,000,000-plus Sunday) to NBC's sneak-previewing the Laurence Olivier Moon and Sixpence for critic John Crosby. (Mary Mannes also praised the unsold and unseen Robert Herridge CBS series, "Theater for a Story," in a recent Reporter piece.)

Harris stated his opinion on this new trend in preview criticism in a recent lecture on television at the University of Pennsylvania. He is one of ten speakers in a series on "The Mass Media in America" jointly sponsored by the Department of American Civilization and the new Annenberg School of Communications at Penn. The general theme of the talks is the impact of TV on the other mass media: books, newspapers, magazines, films, and radio.

Harris felt it was a mistake for networks to "leak" a tape of the Maugham show to Crosby on the chance of a good "preview," for the critic's function is neither to sell programs nor to build audience for good ones. The critic's first responsibility is to the newspaper that pays him; to it he owes an amusing and sprightly column that will keep his feature as highly read as most TV columns are.

Harris pointed out that TV material had replaced sports writing as the copy with highest readership. Just as those who go to the ball game are the most avid readers of the baseball roundup in the next morning's paper, so TV viewers like to compare what the critic felt with their own reactions. When he began to write criticism for the Inquirer, the only injunction from the management was to write a column that husbands and wives would open the paper to read at the breakfast tableto see which one Harris agrees with.

The TV critic's responsibility to industry is to provide it with qualitative responses to qualify the meaning of quantitative ratings and to act as a conscience for the industry. Harris also feels that talent abhors video's vacuum of silence, and that the TV critic's reactions in part make up for the invisible audience. The question of judging local Philadelphia productions (of which he is at the same time a strong advocate and frequently vehement critic) is a tricky one: He finds himself in the acrobatic position of bending over frontwards to keep from bending over too far backwards in his judgments on people he knows and admires personally.

There are other complications in the life of a TV critic, namely, that his wife has to clear their social life against the evening's viewing, that he often feels like he's shouting down an empty barrelexcept when he gets mad mail from tweaked partisans of Godfrey, Welk, or Liberace, not to mention the semiliterate frenzy of crossed Fabian or Presley fans. His mail runs from thirty to forty letters a week.

Harris clocks from seventy to eighty hours a week in front of the boob tube to prepare and write his five daily columns and Sunday feature. He averages about three hours a day viewing, seven days a week. Sunday is his "worst" day because of the preponderance of good shows; he logs six to seven hours on the Sabbath. One of the strongest features in Harris' column is "Viewers' Views," a platform for taste other than his own to be heard from. It also gives him a welcome breather from the daily pressure of a column.

Harris is an omnivorous reader, scanning ten daily papers and twenty weekly magazines for background and for inserts into his "TV Digest." He gave a lively picture of the pressure a TV critic for the morning paper can undergo by describing how he reviews a "Playhouse 90" show. He writes about two-thirds (on other subjects) of his 700-800 word column ahead of time so that he can do a review between 11:00 and 11:15 p.m. to make a 11:30 closing. (His home teletype is connected with the Inquirer plant in downtown Philadelphia.)

In spite of this pressure, Harris hardly ever has morning-after regrets on his late night judgments--although embarrassing phrasing, even bad grammar, does slip through to his dismay. Harris is about as experienced a TV critic as it's possible to be, having started TV reviewing in 1951 with the opposition Philadelphia Bulletin, then being associate editor at TV Guide for two years, before taking over at the Inquirer in 1955.

To Jackie Gleason's jibe that the TV critic is in the position of reporting an accident to the victim, Harris points out that critics have been able to bring great shows back (e.g., "Playhouse 90's" quality summer repeats, Kraft's "A Night to Remember" and the Fred Astaire special) and under certain circumstances to keep shows from being cancelled, e.g., "Father Knows Best" and "Mr. Peepers." Harris counts as one of the high points in his career as a critic his share in keeping "Captain Kangaroo" on the air through a network mail campaign-a feeling that doesn't jibe completely with his idea that a critic shouldn't build audiences for good shows.

Harris is skeptical about the value of previewers like Steve Scheuer's "TV Keys" and Dick Kleiner's NEA pre-selections. These unsigned forecasts give the institutional authority of the local paper to private prognostications, and the previews also attempt to preempt the function of the critic.

He feels that previews frequently keep viewers from seeing good shows, and that anyway he has as good a batting average with the "Highlights" it takes him five minutes a day to prepare as the previewers have from their laborious screening of films and scripts and attendance at dress rehearsals. Still in spite of discouraging moments, like the letter from a viewer who wanted to know why the network replaced "M Squad" and "Thin Man" with the Fred Astaire special, Harris expects to go on encouraging excellence on the medium in his own way -by aiming in his writing about TV at the "aristocracy of those who care."

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

My Bipolar Pop Life

Jay McShann’s death at 90 made me think of my bipolar pop life: separated but equally obsessive loves of black bands at the Paradise Theatre and white ones at Eastwood Gardens. Growing up in Detroit in the 1950’s, before the 1967 riots, it was easy mixing with “the colored”. The Paradise on the main drag, Woodward Avenue, not far from the Cultural Center of Motown (the Main Library and the Detroit Institute of Art, and kitty corner from the Macabees Building where “The Lone Ranger” was concocted) and before that moniker became a “black” musical advertising slogan.

If you were willing to hohum through a western or some other infra/Art movie (I was entering a Ingmar Bergmann phase), eventually you could relish the royalty of the colored Big Bands, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and the unKnighted Jimmie Lunceford. Greg Kamin, who aspired to be a Big League drummer, and I would cut classes at Edwin Denby High to save money on a cheap afternoon ticket.

In 1980 when I went back to bury my brother Mike, in a sentimental mood, I discovered the real history of the Paradise. Originally, it was Orchestra Hall, where the Detroit Symphony performed. As the blacks moved up from the South to work in the defense factories in the 1940’s, the white galloped off to Northeast and Northwest Detroit, and Orchestra Hall defected to the River Plaza at the end of Woodward Avenue.

Indeed no less an ear than Pablo Casals judged that venue as the best performance space in North America. Alas, rock music killed the big bands and the Paradise went silent for years. Shortly after my fraternal visit, a benigningly obsessed oboist went about raising twenty three millions dollars to repossess a renewed Orchestra Hall.

In the mid-eighties when I was relentlessly pursuing a police department lawyer who had the charismatic good fortune to own a Mies van der Rohe apartment in Lafayette Plaisance, I took time out to attend an orchestra rehearsal, and tracked down the obsessed oboist in the Green Room where I playfully chided him for destroying half of my youth. He smiled slyly and replied, “What do you mean “destroyed”. We have jazz concerts every Saturday night!”

And then at the Far Northeastern Edge of Detroit, at Gratiot and Eight Mile Road (the city limits) lay Eastwood Gardens, an outdoor dance pavilion where Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, and so on, played! There was no better date! I can still feel the svelte contours of my first serious love, fellow Denby grad, Fran Gilpin the night we danced to Gene Krupa and gaped open mouthed at the singing of Anita O’Day. (I just learned in her recent obit that her stage name was Pig Latin for “money” or “dough”.) And I won’t soon forget the snotty looks I got in 1949 for “integrating” the Junior Prom at Eastwood by double-dating with a colored couple from the U of D.

Alas, in 1982 when I came back again to Detroit to bury my Mother, Eastwood had closed. (Heh, Rock Music was an equal opportunity destroyer.) The grossest detail was that a Thom McAn shoe store had replaced it. Big Bands, what was left of them, had moved out to Oakland, where I dried my tears by having a really tasty interview with my childhood idol, Tex Beneke.

Glenn Miller started me smoking with his Chesterfield Hour (actually only fifteen minutes every weekday at 7:00 P.M.). I still recall the panic when I discovered at our Lake Huron cottage, Birchloft, that I had only two minutes to race the 200 yards to Aunt Loretto’s Silver Birches. “Something Old, and Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue!” We crossed our fingers that he would replay “String of Pearls” or “At Last”, or “Little Brown Jug” or “Skylark”.

Tex smiled indulgently as I recalled the thrill of hearing him warble “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. I one upped him describing my recent visit to a entertainment complex in that Tennessee city. He repaid my piety by telling me how he got the name “Tex”. He was playing with a midwestern band when Gene Krupa was passing through Detroit looking for side men to start his own band. Krupa didn’t need a tenor sax and wired Miller with a tout for Beneke.

Glenn got him on the phone and offered him $40 a week. Beneke had the chutzpah to hold on for $50! Then he told me how he had driven through a snow storm nonstop to New York (that was before the Pennsylvania Turnpike). He arrived at the Hotel Pennsylvania totally pooped, and asked Miller if he could crap out for a couple of hours. Perhaps recalling the young man’s nasty salary experience, Miller barked, “Get your horn, Tex, and get on the stand!”

Then Johnny Desmond serendipitously knocked on Tex’s door. He proceeded to recall how the Miller band loved Eastwood dates because on Sunday afternoons it often stormed and the jitterbugging girl couples would soon be offering a wet T-shirt show to the band members whose music kept falling off the stands. And Johnny Desmond’s Italian mother was their favorite cook. The Gardens were so far from downtown that they boarded at local houses including where the former Detroiter lived.

That last Detroit trip was also the premiere of the Detroit-Montreux Jazz Festival. And I struck up a great friendship with Achille Scotti, the pianist and composer for the Radio Swiss Romande jazz orchestra.

It was great, but it wasn’t the bipolar world of my youth, the black Paradise and the white Eastwood. Separated, but equally endearing.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Assinine Assets

A painting called To Beauty (1922) by Otto Dix

Juxtaposition can lead to wisdom, serendipitously. Consider the fact that the Guardian (12/6/06) I was reading this morning juxtaposed two entirely unconnected stories, viz., the UN University report on the deployment of wealth in the world and the auctioning of Audrey Hepburn’s plain black dress she wore in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

First the dough, then the dress. In 2000 one percent of the world’s population possesses forty percent of the globe’s natural wealth (GNW). Another GNW angle: the U.S.has 4.7% of the world’s population and 32.6 percent of the GNW. Now the dress: it sold for 467,200 English pounds! That’s a record, far outstripping (so to speak) the gingham garment Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of OZ” for a piddling 140,000 pounds in 2005.

Heh, remember Marilyn Monroe’s singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK. The dress she wore went for 583,000 pounds in 1999. (As an American living on Euros, I flinched fiscally today when I took out 300 Euros from a German ATM—they call them Geldomats! My PNC on line account rang up 400 dollars. And a dollar is worth only half a pound these greenback plunging daze.)

The new Hepburn biography (Ellen Erwinn and Jessica C.Diamond, "Audrey Hepburn: The Legends, Pictures, and Memories") cites fan letters: In September 1944 parachutist Captain Roger Marley about to fight to recover her hometown Arnheim assured her "that had he known she was there he would have fought to the death to rescue her."

And a young man named Henry R. Bartenbach in writing for a picture and autograph deplored that he was not a rich man but just a fledgling butcher. The great Frankfurt School refugee, Leo Lowenthal, wrote a classic content analysis of Saturday Evening Post biographies showing a marked shift over two decades from productive titans like Andrew Carnegie to entertainment prodigies like Hepburn.

(I updated this study in the late 50's in Journalism Quarterly by subjecting Edward R.Murrow's "Person to Person" and Mike Wallace Interviews to the same analysis--with television exacerbating the transition from productive to merely entertaining.)

As I'm noodling these ominous shifts, I read that Dick Clark, of Philly "American Bandstand" fame, has just formally closed his teenocratic career by auctioning off his "assets". His "holy" mike brought a cool $33,000. A Madonna bustier a thinish $11,400. An Elvis Presley cape, $24,000. John gave Yoko a set of lithographs as a wedding gift, $54,000. (I'd like to see those, or at least know what they were.)

Long ago I did two TV series for WFIL-TV (Channel 6)'s "University of the Air"--one on architecture, the other on communication. The crew was the same ones who did Clark's "Bandstand". They used to tease in a friendly way about my minuscule audience, weekday mornings. I counter-taunted them by begging them to lend me a few South Philly fillies and then watch the audience engorge itself.

Of course mass entertainment didn't invent fan foolishness. Our pious ancestors used to collect relics of the True Cross. Those shards multiplied so egregiously that you could outfit a full lumberyard. They were trying to guarantee themselves a Happy Eternity. Mass fans just want to fill the emptinesses of their lives with vicarious pleasures. Both enterprises are dead enders.

And autograph collectors have always struck me as particularly empty amassers. I remember in 1975 at the world premiere of "Selma!" that marvelous flop at the Huntington Hartford Theatre in L.A. A young man was harassing an almost dead Groucho Marx (he had gotten off his close to deathbed to honor his friend, Martin Luther King, Jr.) for his signature, in spite of the obvious frustration of his "girlfriend"/nurse. I finally intervened and quietly but firmly told him to SCRAM. I wonder what circle in Hell Dante would consign such barbarians. And what circle for the Luxus Freaks.

Every way I turn I am faced with a Luxus explosion. For weeks now, the International Herald Tribune has been running an ad on a Luxury Fair to be held next month in Istanbul. Time magazine is running more and more “Design” issues, which are to the New Boom what Nieman-Marcus Christmas catalogs were back in the Depression! They explore paradoxes that the Bag (as in Handbag) is the new winner in High Fashion. Imagine all those anoxeric models practicing their traipsing down their gangways when all the future purchasers are after are their handbags. Outrageously high-priced handbags designed by the fashionistas whose dresses are just a come on. Where is Thorstein Veblen when we need them.

When we honor that sweet Indian economic guru who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his microcredit scheme, keep in mind the bottomless swamp of poverty he has to rescue his poor but exceedingly dependable women borrowers from. Every year the Wall Street Journal proudly announces its swiftly expanding list of New Millionaires. A Swiss equivalent has just listed its 60 richest citizens. I’m happy to report that one of my Gropius heritage heroes, the IKEA founder Ingvar Ramprad, rings the bell this year at 21 billion dollars.

I was seething with populist rage until I finished the Audrey Hepburn story. It turns out that the former owner of that iconic sheath, Dominique Lapierre, is giving all those rupees to City of Joy Aid (Calcutta) which was founded 25 years ago to “buy bricks to put the most destitute children in the world in the world into schools.” And in today’s Inquirer, the Comcast family millionaires are kicking in $20 million to help finance a new cancer fighting institute at Penn. We’ve been thrilling for months at the Gates/Buffett initiative to fight easy to abolish epidemics in Africa and elsewhere.

So there you have it. Obscene distortions in the distribution of wealth. Silly inflation of “cultural assets” (broadly enough conceived to include Hepburn’ sheath and Eakins’ “Gross Clinic”). And exploding human needs at home and abroad. Half of our citizens have been so infantilized by their TV boobs that they don’t even vote. What do they care if the federal government subsidizes sugar and wheat and corn conglomerates that keep poor farmers in the developing world poorer and poorer?

Where are the evangelical Christians with their pseudo wars against Plan B pharmaceuticals and stem cell research when our federal policies crudely subsidize millionaires? We need an moral agenda that their Jesus would accept—defend the weak and mock the Pharisees. And we need artists who satirize the super rich out of their foolish fantasies—the way Otto Dix and George Grosz did in Germany after World War I. (Most of them dream now of cashing in on the art stock market!)

Emerson was right when he moaned "Things are in the saddle/ And ride Mankind." Our thoughtful rich have already shown us how to be responsible with their wealth. Let us start a civilized conversation on how we can bring more and more of the poor out of their darkness. We need to deploy our assets in less assinine ways. Even Hepburn (who actually had a great record of supporting UNICEF) would thrill to learn what her old dress is now covering.

Monday, 24 August 2009

You Snap: We Do the Rest

That perky slogan that Kodak used in the 1880’s to sell their Brownie cameras turns out to be an epistemological tangle. Frank Rich used a photo of a group of young people “lounging” on the Brooklyn waterfront against a distant backdrop of the smoky disaster of the fallen World Trade Center on 9/11. He chided their “complacency” as “shocking” in the face of a calamity. Wrong.

And the paradoxes that ensued as the German photographer who took the shot and the Brooklyn couple “lounging” with ambient strangers tell the truer story of that “simple” snapshot: It warns us not to oversimplify the complex network of daily modern media. SLATE runs this exemplary untangling in its “Arts and Life” section for Saturday, 16 September 2006.

SLATE writer David Plotz started this polylogue with an essay questioning the reading that Frank Rich gave the image; and invited the unknown “complacents” to tell their sides of the photo. Forty year old artist Walter Sipser responded first, with two mugshots establishing without a doubt that he was the man on the right end of the photo. (He thanked the commentators for calling him “young!") And established as well that the twisted lounger was his then girlfriend and that the bicyclists had just happened by. All of them were stunned by the disaster.

The former girlfriend checked in next, attesting that she was a third generation New Yorker who loved every inch of the five boroughs. Chris Schiavo was, in addition, a professional photographer who claimed she would never shoot a subject without permission and an explanation of her intentions! In addition, both her parents were architects who had spent their lifetimes making New York more attractive and lovable. Indeed, her mother actually assisted Minoru Yamasaki in building the World Trade Center. Rich, it appears, was really off target with his sloppy moralizing over the photo.

Then Thomas Hoepker, the Magnum photographer from Munich who took the shot checked in. He described how he tried to get from his digs on the Upper West Side to Ground Zero, but was blocked by traffic jams on Second Avenue. So he took a chance on the Queensborough Bridge and then hugged the shore of the East River looking for images to document this horrific event, all the time hearing radio reports of the disaster.

When he got to the Waterfront Five in Brooklyn, he shot but three frames and quickly moved on to get closer to Ground Zero. When he got back to the Magnum office, it was so flooded with images they decided on the spot to publish as a book. But the photo we are discussing was put in Box B, not making the cut.

Back in Munich, Hoepker was preparing a 50 year retrospective of his own photographic career when he quibbled over the photo in question, as perhaps being a “devious lie of a snapshot” as “strange and surreal” and “fuzzy and ambiguous” as it was. A Magnum colleague, David Friend, was making the book, "Watching The World Change” (2006) and included this questionable shot in a half page version. Fifteen German newspapers ran the shot. (Only one U.S. paper did.) But at an exhibition in Munich about his career, he was constantly asked by the visitors he accompanied to explain the WTC shot in more detail. He couldn’t!

The show stumbles on. SLATE urges the other unidentified bikers to email their own bloggery versions. Rich has been asked to join the Fray with a rejoinder, but he hasn’t yet replied.

And so on. The metaphysics of our mass culture is not the sandbox we too often assume. A photo is not necessarily worth more than a thousand words. Indeed, it may take more than a thousand words to determine just what it means.

SLATE, in its mastery of our emerging visual culture, shows us how to ask questions and gives anyone willing to think out loud a chance to join the conversation. Parallel to the New Museology SLATE has been pioneering is a framework for comprehending the simple complexities of our multimedia universe.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Letter to the New York Times

On Senator Vitter's Sin:

That George W. Bush, the brain-damaged Frat Boy, has always considered himself above the Law is the crucial story about his irresponsible tenure that both National Legislators and the Mainstream Media have scandalously ignored. It’s part of the same elitist justice system that puts poor blacks caught with crack in the Klink for eternities whilst slumming sloburbans snorting cocaine are wrist slapped at worst.

Can our democracy long survive such a schizophrenic legal system? Cynics shudder at the effrontery of “Signing Statements” (essentially the Executive saying to the Legislative: I comply only when I want to–a complete corruption of our constitutional separation of powers). But what does our brain-dead President know about thinking,he who told his MBA professor that John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” was “boring”! And him from Midland TX!

Look at his record: DUI in Kennebunkport–no punishment. AWOL in Alabama from the Texas Champagne Squadron–no punishment even though we tax payers were nicked for $1,000,000 for his pilot training. Four serial bankruptcies for this intrepid, know-nothing entrepreneur. The fourth tempted him to Inside Trade,which is also called stealing from your investors, a federal offense with jail time. The SEC gently inquired why he hadn’t filed the necessary papers many months after the legal deadline. No punishment.

This swag was what he used to become a partner with the new Texas Rangers.He wangled a free stadium out of the taxpayers of Arlington,TX. And then retired to Crawford as a millionaire B(r)ush Cutter. And this guy has the gall to lecture the sheikhs on Democracy. He wouldn’t recognize It if It hit him on the head, which it hasn’t. Yet. But I’m hoping President Obama will bring both him and Cheney before the bar, before they and their minions have completely destroyed our faltering democracy.

Friday, 21 August 2009

From Bauhaus to Your Houses

Careful readers will notice an allusion in my title to a very slanted book by Tom Wolfe, "From Bauhaus to Our House". It is a snooty take by an upper middle class Yalie corrupted by Philip Johnson's facile aesthetic that only Capital A Art, not social purpose, matters in architecture. Wolfe sneers at the fact that Gropius and his peers actually concentrated on housing for low wage workers. Since when is an expensive Villa the only creditable kind of housing.

I grew up in Detroit, lower middle class. My single Mother, a school teacher in Hamtramck, then the Polish sector of Greater Detroit, moved us from apartment to apartment, almost yearly, as she pinched her pennies summer vacations. In 1943 (she was then forty-eight) took advantage of the FHA policies to buy a house with another teacher in the Far Northeast of Detroit. I was sixteen at the time. On our left was an immigrant Polish couple working in a defense industry who moved in their new house shortly after us. On the right was a family of three German immigrants also working in defense. It was a relief to have a place you could call home for more than a few months. And it was FDR's social policies that made such home ownership possible.

Eventually, I finished the course work for a Ph.D. in American Literature, and started teaching high school English in East Lansing Michigan while I finished my doctoral dissertation. We lived our first married years boarding in a Cleveland apartment, and then in Michigan State University barracks, left over from World War II. I'm not complaining. We were happy to have cheap housing. But in 1954, our housing horizons expanded broadly. National Homes of Lafayette Indiana hired the AIA innovator, Charles Goodman, to design prefab housing in a corn field outside Lansing, Michigan. A simple three bedroom Cape Cod, with grooved redwood siding.

It was not a fixer upper, but they left it to the first inhabitants to lay the tile and the flooring. It miraculously exacted only $400 for a down payment, a $40 a month mortgage for 20 years to pay off the $6000 cost. We were in Seventh Heaven. Our own house! I was 27 and my wife Mary was 24. For blue collars that was a wonder.

In 1955, I was awarded a Ford Foundation fellowship to study how English teachers should deal with the new medium of television. I had written a piece for "Scholastic Teacher" on using original teleplays in tenth grade English called "Everyman in Saddle Shoes". The magazine asked me if I'd like to be radio-TV editor of that magazine. It seemed a natural: I devised a Teleguide format that would enable teachers throughout the country to prepare their classes for specials like Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Macbeth" with Maurice Evans, and Edward R. Murrow's "Harvest of Shame". Curiosity prompted me to go down to Washington for a White House Conference on Education on the next Saturday.

As I entered the foyer of the Washington Hilton, I saw Ralph Bunche (he had recently been on the cover of "Time") in earnest conversation with a man unknown to me. I sidled over and hesitatingly introduced myself as Pat Hazard, an English teacher from East Lansing on a Ford Fellowship to study classroom access to the new medium of television.

As you might imagine, these two international celebrities were dumbstruck by my impertinence. Finally, the unknown man asked, "Well, how is it going, Mr. Hazard?" I told him about my editorship of Scholastic Teacher and how frustrated I was by not being able to interview Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, the innovative head of NBC-TV whose mantra, "Enlightenment Through Exposure" seemed a natural theme for me to pursue.

After some more chatter, the unidentified man announced that he was Roy Larsen, the publisher of Time magazine, and that he was on the Board of the Fund for the Republic that had given me my fellowship. "How would you like an office at Time to expedite your work?" Gulping incredulously, I allowed as how I'd love to learn more about that magazine. He told me to call his secretary the first thing Monday morning. I did, and before you could say Henry Luce, I was looking out at Manhattan from my 38th floor office! What the fuck do I do next, I asked myself. Weaver's secretary had sounded colder and colder after every attempted interview appointment.

I swallowed hard, and dialed his NBC office. This time she was so arctic, I could see the frozen waves coming off the wires. "Mr. Hazard," she said, in a very frustrated voice, "this is the beginning of the Fall Season and Mr. Weaver is very busy" I replied as politely as I knew how, "Well, I'm very busy with my new fellowship, but if Mr. Weaver has fifteen minutes free, please call me at JU 62525." And hung up. Fifteen minutes later, she called me back and asked if I could visit Mr. Weaver today at eleven a.m. I assured her I "could clear my schedule". It was nine a.m.

The RCA Building is a quick five minute hike across Sixth Avenue into the Rockefeller Center. Weaver's secretary gave me a hearty welcome, and knock softly on Weaver's door. He was working his Bongo Board, a kind of one man see saw, that relaxed him and hence make him think more clearly and quickly. He asked me about the aims of my fellowship, and explained in fascinating detail the plans behind his mantra of "Enlightenment Through Exposure."

One of his favorite initiatives was the new live program, "Wide, Wide, World." I was a little discombobulated by the Bongo Board, but the sanity of his NBC aspirations matched my aspirations. He advised his secretary to set up appointments with Sid Lussin, his PR veep, Stockton Helfrich, his censor, and Ed Stanley, a man in charge of religious and other public affairs programming. What a serendipitous encounter that had been at the Washington Hilton.

I should explain that the Ph.D. I was finishing was in a new interdisciplinary discipline called American Studies. American Lit is peculiar: in the seventeenth century it was Theology, in the eighteenth, Politics, and not until the middle of the nineteenth century did we achieve Belles Lettres. Harvard celebrated its tercentennial in 1936 by setting up the first such inter-disciplinary studies. I prepared five fields: two in
American Literature, and complementary fields of American art and architecture, American economic history, and American philosophy and its European antecedents.

My dissertation was a study of how John Fiske, without private means and without a university teaching job, tried (unsuccessfully) to exemplify Emerson's ideal of the new American Scholar, his Phi Beta Kappa oration of 1836. The epigraph came from a New England preacher, Theodore Parker, who said the intellectual in the new democracy should "think with saint and sage, but speak with common men." That became my mantra.

I wrote visual essays for Scholastic's "Literary Cavalcade" on bridges and architecture. I explained by ambitions with paperback pioneer Ian Ballantyne and Folkways archivist Moe Asch. And watched in wonder the photo editor, managing editor, and editor of Life put together an issue. They flew me around the country to observe their operations. Towards the end of that annis mirabilis, I gave a talk at the 4C's national convention on "Liberace and the Future of Cultural Criticism". 4C's (the Conference on College Composition and Communication) was focused on Freshman English. At the end of my talk, three English professors for Trenton State asked me if I'd like to sing that Liberace Tune in their college. I did.

In the middle of that year, the University of Pennsylvania awarded me a Carnegie Post Doctoral Fellowship to create a new course on "The Mass Society" for their American Civilization Department. First semester was on Mass Communication (print, graphics, broadcasting). Second was Mass Production (industrial design, architecture, urban planning).

Once a week I tried my ideas at a seminar run by the economic historian Thomas Cochran with visitors like John William Ward from Princeton. It was heady, and even hard to keep up with! The first year I studied and traveled to places like Stanford's Center for Behavioral Sciences where I conversed with Daniel Bell and Bernard Berelson. The Columbia University American Studies seminar had me speak on my television projects, "Silent on a Couch in Darien." I met my mentor John A. Kouwenhoven whose books "The Arts in America" first guided me through the new field of the Vernacular. David Riesman invited me to a TV seminar at Harvard.

The second year I taught my new course. One highlight was the death of Frank Lloyd Wright the day I had scheduled Lewis Mumford. He tore up his prepared lecture and extemporized on how immature FLW had been and how great a loss that was to American architecture. I had just visited the new Guggenheim, where to my amazement I was standing next to Adlai Stevenson. I asked the Governor if I could take a photo of him looking-to tease my Republican students at Penn. He slyly complied, "Nothing more far out than a Cezanne," he warned me. The following week there was a NY Times story about his radical friends taking him on a SoHo tour!

Another serendipity was about to bloom. Walter Annenberg gave Penn two million dollars to found a graduate school of communication. Faute de mieux, I became a gofer at large. I had just written an essay for Lewis Leary's anthology, "Contemporary Literary Scholarship". My chapter was on "The Public Arts and the Private Sensibility", basically about how Gilbert Seldes and Lewis Mumford had pioneered studies of the public arts outside the Academy, and that it was high time to catch up with their intellectual pioneering. I argued with the Penn brass that Gilbert Seldes' "The Seven Lively Arts" (1924) made him the perfect candidate for the first Dean. I became his gofer!

We had reluctantly left our Charles Goodman Cape Cod in Dewitt, Michigan for an apartment in Flushing, NY on the edge of where the World's Fair of 1938 had been held and where Robert Moses laid out the 64-5 Fair, the subject of my first and only documentary, "Moses' Land of Promises". When we moved to Trenton, we rented a Levitt house on Thornyapple Lane. Lots of space for a few bucks. It was an achievement not a defect.

The scorn of New York intellectuals for Levitt was one of the greatest trahison of clercs I have observed in America. Herbert Gans, the German immigrant who wrote a landmark book on the three Levittowns (NY,PA,NJ) was a colleague at Penn who confirmed my hunch that in spite of the egghead blathering was a real move up for former blue collars, excluding of course the blacks who were excluded in PA and finally took over the NJ Levittown and renamed it Willingboro.

In 1960 the Daedalus journal sponsored a symposium on Mass Culture during which the same New York intellectuals flattered each other by sneering at mass man. Alas, Gilbert Seldes passed over his invitation to me, meaning that I was the only pro-Mass Culture speaker. My program was simple: use the public schools to introduce the undereducated to the choices they had to make in this really New World. Needless to say, the same literati had defected from their Jeffersonian responsibilities. They abandoned the public schools before World War I and spent their days mocking John Dewey and other thinkers who were not so irresponsible.

The Daedalus Conference literally ended with the poet Randall Jarrell waggling his Isaiah beard at me and intoning, "Mr. Hazard. You're the man of the future, and I'm glad I'll not be there." Alas, he did in fact commit suicide shortly thereafter, disappointing me since I enjoyed teaching his poems. By then we had moved to Morris Milgrim's experiment in racial integration called Greenbelt Knoll. Our neighbors included the Lion from Zion, the Rev. Leon Sullivan, and the first black Congressman from Philadelphia, Robert N.C. Nix. As we moved to get it historidally registered in 2006, its golden jubilee, we were informed that Louis Kahn had designed the housing.

I gave this short autobiography to set the context for my regard for Walter Gropius and his Bauhaus idealism. A working class Detroiter that the GI Bill and automobile factory work eased the rise to a Ph.D, I understood in my bones the German idealist conviction that art and technology should be fused to give the poor access to good design.

I still admire his vision, which I have made mine, even though I have come to believe that he was a mediocre architectural designer (his silent partner, Adolf Meyer, controlled the pencil), and ineffective as an educational pioneer, and almost a total failure to get mass production going in his curriculum. His strong suit was making his vision of blue collar access to good design a permanent part of our Western heritage. To put this achievement in focus, we need to begin in the nineteenth century with the careers of Christopher Dresser and Herman Muthesius.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Yes, but the Question Is How?

"Should the college teacher try to raise student taste in movies, radio, and television?"

Should the medical school keep its instruction abreast of developments in medical science? Should the engineering school reflect the industrial patterns of the society it trains people for? Should law school introduce its students to contemporary jurdisprudence?

The question sounds curiously beside the point considered in such a context. Indeed, that we still ask ourselves whether instead of how we should do it most effectively is a measure of the adequacy of our response to the emergence of mass culture. It symbolizes how far off balance the humanities have been thrown by this radical shift in the focus of our culture.

Generally, our reaction has been one of studied aloofness. The results of this self-imposed cultural isolationism have not been happy for us. The English department office is more and more the GHQ of a beleaguered army; dismal reports trickle in of a new foray from the Education department, of some new usurpation of the Speech faculty, of another commercial corruption of taste. Enrollments dwindle, student calibre deteriorates, power and prestige diminish.

How different all this could be! Instead of the gloomy headquarters of a war of attrition against plummeting standards, the English office could become a center for intelligent criticism of American popular culture. It could likewise become a source of vision for a commercially oriented popular culture that badly needs some. These two responsibilities--developing standards of criticism for popular culture and creating a vision of creativity within the popular art forms--are, in one man's opinion, the major tasks of the humanist in contemporary America.

The first responsibility, developing standards for popular culture, can best be done by relating similar genres in popular culture and the humane tradition. Juxtapose slick fiction and classics; why does one surpass the other? Compare current TV drama at its best with past dramatic achievement. Systematically assign movie reviews as themes; discuss and write about Hollywood's troubles and achievements. Assess the function and effectiveness of our popular critics--Crosby, Seldes, McCarten, Ace, Hamburger, and others.

Term papers on any aspect of popular culture not only develop communication skills, but also provide the participant in popular culture a perspective he unfortunately isn't getting at all presently. Even the most inane element of popular culture becomes significant and serves our purposes of deepening cultural awareness if it is made the object of close and careful scrutiny; such study becomes indispensable, as a matter of fact, because thereby a member of popular culture is enabled to pierce the tinsel curtain of superficiality that now separates him from the humane tradition.

But even more necessary than the development of a tradition of popular criticism in America is the creation of a vision of the possibilities of mass culture. The promising young English major must be made to feel it is as important to write TV drama and movie scenarios as to publish in the little reviews. As long as America's creative talents think it is beneath them to create for the popular arts, there is little hope of over- coming debasing commercial tendencies.

Given, however, a new criticism for the patron of the popular arts, and given new directions to the creative talents of the next generation, we may expect an integration of popular culture and the humane tradition which will mean much to a maturing American art. The English teacher more than any other can use mass education as a countervailing force to anti-humanist tendencies operative in the popular arts.

Criticism and creativity, to be effective, must perceive the context in which they are to operate. Increasingly, this context is that of mass society. If the English teacher ignores these fundamental changes, both he and general American society will be poorer for his withdrawal.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Irony of America's Search For a Unique Culture

From the very start, America has had the feeling of being something special. The idea got its first formulation from the Puritan Divines who wished to create a New Zion in the wilderness. To the Jeffersonian, some century or so later, the emphasis became less religious, more political. America was a land without the dead hand of the European past of feudal and clerical privilege.

Complementary to this sense of election was the notion that America had a special mission in the world, a sense of purpose that perhaps reached its apogee in Woodrow Wilson's campaign to make the world safe for democracy. When in fact the first World War instead made the world open to demagoguery, America seemed to lose its high idealism. What had been the source of great spiritual strength to our culture declined to the level of the after-dinner bromides of fatuous optimism.

The ideals of unique opportunity and responsibility, to be sure, are still ours, however fallow we may have let them lie. It is the purpose of a readable survey of this tradition, The American Idea of Mission: Concepts of National Purpose and Destiny (Rutgers University Press, 1957, $9.00) by Edward McNall Burns, to describe the special character of American nationalism and then test those ideals against present performance.

"Purged of its dross of conceit and illusion," the professor of history and political science writes, "the mission of America remains one of the noblest expressions of idealism that any nation has embraced. What it needs most of all is more wisdom and tolerance in carrying it out. Intelligently applied, its elements of liberty, equality, democracy, and peace are the prime essentials to give the substance of hope to a tortured humanity.

But we must mean what we say if our slogans are to have lasting value." This political dimension to American idealism must be understood as background for appreciating America's long search for a unique culture; for we needed Great Art as a kind of esthetic justification of our experiment in democracy. Dr. Benjamin T. Spencer, professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan, has recently published a definitive study of the literary phase of this search for arts commensurate with the ideals and aspirations of the new republic, The Quest for Nationality: The Long Struggle for American Literary Independence (Syracuse University Press, 1957, $5.00).

Although Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to Emerson's Harvard Phi Beta Kappa oration on "The American Scholar" as our declaration of cultural independence, Spencer shows the roots of that artistic independence go as far back as Cotton Mather's preference for a plain style in prose, "one comprehensible by the great body of readers." Much of what was actually done in pursuit of a unique democratic American art now seems mildly amusing, e.g., the noble epics in heroic couplets of the Hartford Wits in Revolutionary Days; or the embargo on the imported imagery of skylarks and yews, too often usurping the place of homegrown bobolinks and pine trees; or, to carry the theme to other art forms, the intention of Albert Bierstadt to catch the bigness of America by painting on bigger and bigger canvasses; and George Henry Bristow's choice of "Rip Van Winkle" as the theme of an opera in 1855.

(It was actually an Italian opera in English, with Rip's daughter falling in love with a British officer during the Revolution to justify soldiers' choruses and a martial song by the heroine.)

The real irony of the American search for a unique artistic expression is that we didn't know when we had actually achieved it in minor ways. For example, back in the nineteenth century, Anglophile critics were embarrassed by the vogue that popular humorists like Crockett, Downing, and Sam Slick had in England. And Seba Smith, Jack Downing's creator, denigrated his own humor in favor of more pretentious efforts, like a metrical romance on Powhatan.

The same holds for jazz, held by some to be the only really unique art form so far created in America. To most genteel people, this art was too coarse and vulgar to be taken seriously. But Europeans, not as self-conscious about art as we have been, took it up with instinctive zest; to this day, there seem to be more eager audiences for first-rate jazz in Europe than in America. This cultural myopia is silly, and a balanced program in the humanities must do its bit to redress the balance.

Themes and research papers on American music can help to make a better focus. Very useful for such investigations is the admirable and compact A Short History of Music in America (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1957, $5.00) by John Tasker Howard and George Kent Bellows. Although this survey has only a few pages on jazz, it does show the interest of some serious composers in the popular form. And its detailed table of contents is a very complete topical outline of the main themes in American music from Puritan psalm-singing to last night's TV musical.

There are also good bibliographies and discographies. On the subject of jazz itself, the recent CBS-TV "The Sound of Jazz" (Columbia LP CL 1098) is a perfect example of how the integrity and expertise of the musicians are all that is needed to communicate to a general audience. Read Eric Larrabee's fond review of the show in his "After Hours" column in Harper's (February 1958), also reprinted, as the jacket liner notes, for the Columbia album. Six of the stars on that show (Pee Wee Russell, Coleman Hawkins, "Count" Basie, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, and Roy Eldridge) are represented in a collection of twenty-one portraits, The Jazz Makers, edited by Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff (Rinehart, 1957).

(Hentoff, by the way, was one of the critics whose insight and affection made the CBS show a success; the other was Whitney Balliet, poetry editor for the New Yorker.) The biographies include analyses of each jazz artist's style, and his place in the development of jazz. The things that some of the Negro musicians have had to put up with are frightening in their inhumanity, and surely account for the moral waywardness of some jazz creators.

This is by no means a matter of Southern Jim Crow either; as a native of Detroit, I share the shame of the moral obtuseness described by Charles Edward Smith in his article on Billie Holiday: "At a Detroit theatre she was asked to apply dark grease paint, so that she wouldn't be mistaken for off-white. Conversely, when she played a Detroit theatre with the Artie Shaw orchestra there was some apprehension about her appearing on the stage (with a white band) because of her dark complexion."

All the more reason for teachers to hold up the ideals described by Professor Burns in The American Idea of Mission. One artist who, for me at least, rep- resents those ideals at their very highest in contemporary America is the painter Ben Shahn, whose Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard last year have just been published as The Shape of Content (Harvard University Press, 1957, $4.00). One of his lectures, "On Nonconformity," was printed in the Atlantic last July. The title comes from Shahn's attempts in the lectures to make sense out of a current controversy over meaning and communication in non-objective art.

The New York School of abstract expressionist painting has swept the art circles, and in my judgment is fostering a cliche in its theory that form, not content, is the only thing that matters in art. Shahn claims that form is simply the shape that a thought- ful and conscientious painter gives to his ideas or feelings (content). He doesn't prove his point "abstractly," but rather as he worked it out as the theme of "Allegory"--a painting about his horror at death by fire. Amidst the anti-intellectualism that stultifies a great deal of contemporary American painting, it is reassuring to see Shahn make a brief for the importance of a broad humanistic education to a painter.

The notion that a painter can't explain his esthetic purposes but can only ugh at his canvas is also scotched by Shahn's highly developed powers of verbal expression; and his illustrative drawings (wonderfully underlining points made already in print) are a treat in themselves. Shahn's career also points up the irony of the genteel expectations of art in America; for his art appeared in unexpected places--CIO posters, OWI posters, CBS tune-in ads and promotion pieces, as well as the cover and illustrations for Harper's (December 1957).

What is still vital about our tradition of searching for a unique culture is the feeling that democratic art must be put into the hands of the people. The classroom is still the place for that to happen. And we must also learn that art cannot be tamed or even--at times--completely housebroken.

Gentility is not art but nostalgia. Thus when and where we least expect it, our greatest and most confident artists find materials to express the human situation-in jazz, in political posters as well as private testaments on canvas, even, to close on a short-sighted note, in "The Marvelous (and myopic) Magoo," a stimulating photoessay on the UPA cartoon character, in Literary Cavalcade for February 1958.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Review: The Public Arts: The Meaning of Madison Avenue

THE MEANING OF MADISON AVENUE James Playsted Wood. The Story of Advertising. Ronald Press. 1958. 502 pp. $6.50. Martin Mayer. Madison Avenue, U.S.A. Harper. 1958. 332 pp. $4.95.

Teachers who hesitate to generalize about the literary merit of Faulkner after years of studying his works are often far less cautious in their judgments about the worthlessness of contemporary popular fiction. Scholars willing to pit their eyesight against volumes of yellowing, obscure, even illiterate diaries in the hope of new insight into an earlier era dismiss the data of their own age as illiterate and vulgar.

Surely all of us know at least one humanist who preens himself on never watching television, and surely we know several who are ready to dogmatize in spite of lack of experience with the medium. My favorite vignette of this attitude is the middle-aged teacher student of mine who, after several months of classroom study of popular culture, complained, "I know less now than I did three months ago; then I was at least able to make brash generalizations."

Of all the media, perhaps advertising draws the most fire. Those who would retreat from the fray with popular culture buy books instead of TV or radio, and movies too they can ignore. But they cannot avoid the billboards--to say nothing of the bombardment of sound trucks, direct mail soliciting, car cards, throw-aways, free samples, and skywriting. And even the Partisan Review carries publishers' ads.

Two new books offer complementary research on advertising for one who would come to more reasoned terms with the hucksters than a chronic sneer for gray flannel (actually never really a popular fabric on Madison Avenue, says Martin Mayer, upsetting one popular generalization). James Playsted Wood's The Story of Advertising is a history of advertising from the earliest London street cries to the modern advertising agency.

It is the result of library research, and has the flavor of the thesis written from too many notes by an eager scholar also anxious to keep his typist's fees within an academic budget. Martin Mayer's Madison Avenue, U.S.A., on the other hand, dips into history for an occasional briefing, but it is primarily a study of how the modern agency works. Liberated from the great god Chronos, Mayer is the more entertaining. Some of the questions a teacher may want to answer about advertising are the legitimacy of its origins, the image that its sires had of themselves and their medium, the effects of advertising (cultural as well as economic), the public image of advertising.

These things one may glean from Wood but glean he must. Wood is rather oriented toward the "first" and the "earliest," which elicits the same philistine "So what?" from one reader as those obtuse bronze plaques one sometimes finds on historical monuments. Closely related to this antiquarian concept of history is the reproduction of the "picturesque." Mr. Wood both quotes and reproduces ancient advertisements and anecdotes about the business, but they are so uniformly picturesque that the book seems more a sightseeing tour than serious reconnaissance. Mr. Wood avows in his Preface that his volume is "neither attack nor defense."

He does offer both attacks and defenses of advertising. He looks upon P. T. Barnum's, however, with a certain amused tolerance; for the Stuart Chases--and other Consumer-Report type critics of advertising--Mr. Wood has only contempt. "Self-appointed critics" is his withering epithet for these, who, he darkly suggests, were really attacking The American Way.

One would ask what other kind of critic than "self-appointed" Mr. Wood suggests as more compatible with The American Way? One would also ask, who appointed Wood critic of the critics? In a civilization that however facetiously builds an ethic on consumption ("You Auto Buy Now"), it seems that every man a self-appointed critic of advertising is a goal devoutly to be wished. Wood's general attitude toward criticism of advertising is one of quietism: A typical statement: "To argue that men and women are defrauded and deluded by competitive claims which have no basis in measurable properties of the advertised object is often to argue that people should be different and feel differently, live by other standards and values than they recognize or wish to appreciate." (p. 495).

In less academic language, to quote one of Wood's exhibits, "There's one born every minute." The implications of this philosophy are, to anyone who cares about cultural values, horrendous. What, after all, are the aims of religion, of education, of civilization, if not "to argue that people should be different and feel differently, live by other standards and values than they recognize or wish to appreciate."? Martin Mayer's Madison Avenue, U.S.A. is a more witty book, more urbane. Mayer interviewed ad men and toured their habitats, and the differences in his method are obvious in his book.

Mayer, too, announces that he has tried to stay out of the book--with considerably more success than Wood had. Mayer puts the ad man himself on a slide. He also turns the lens on the organization of the ad agency by minutely examining the largest, J. Walter Thompson. He explains the various styles of advertising, distinguishing between Ogilvy's sophisticated eye-patch brand-image, and Ted Bates' "reason-why" sledge-hammer style, for instance.

He investigates the role of marketing research, and the growing part played by social scientists in advertising. He follows through an ad campaign--the boo-boo that accompanied the Edsel's big automotive bomb. When he comes to the biggest question of all, however, he is no less infuriating to the humanities-trained reader than Wood. Mayer dismisses all of the classic arguments for the value of advertising and proceeds to offer what he considers his unique evaluation: Advertising offers added psychological values to the consumer.

Mayer's explanation: "But the fact that value is fictitious as perceived by the consumer does not mean that it is unreal as enjoyed by the consumer. He finds a difference between technically identical products because the advertising has in fact made them different." (p. 311) Throughout both books I was irritated by both authors' abuse of "creative" applied to "creators" of such masterpieces as "You'll wonder where the yellow went," and "philosophy" as applied to the adman's view of the easiest way to separate the sucker from his dollar.

My misgivings were well-founded when Mayer can, with a straight face, construct that metaphysical impossibility he presents as his rationale of advertising's value: Actually identical products are in fact different. One wishes Mayer had somewhere been subjected to a logic course--to say nothing of ethics. Both Mayer and Wood, then, agree that the consumer is a sucker. Since the consumer wants it that way, however, it would be uncharitable of the adman--or the critics--to enlighten him.

One finishes both books wishing that a humanist with Wood's facility with a card catalogue and Mayer's pass to the agency inner sanctums as well as a sense of the cultural importance of the mass media would write still another book on advertising. But such a humanist will have to watch TV commercials and read the ads in Life--not to mention these two influential books--to be able to write the kind of book we need on advertising.

Meanwhile we can learn what our putative manipulators think of us from Wood and Mayer.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Public Arts: Drama's Electronic Renaissance: I.

Drama's Electronic Renaissance: I. Teaching drama has suffered severe handicaps for the past century. When cheap print democratized literature, it seemed to give drama as big a break as it unquestionably had given the genres of poetry, essay, and fiction (the last of which it made dominant). A text of the play, however, nowhere near approximates the dramatic act in the sense that a poetic text is itself sufficient stimulus to artistic understanding.

Acting is the essence in theatre, and we have been hobbled in our efforts to teach the drama partly because we assumed that if we had the text, we could simulate the intensity of drama in the classroom. This assumption may have cost us dearly: we stuck faithfully to our Shakespeare and produced several generations with an almost compulsive dread (part guilty conscience, part arrogant lowbrowism) of the most popular playwright of all time. Happily, the public arts of TV, film, paperback, and LP now provide us powerful resources to bring to reality our earlier impossible dream of democratizing great drama for the popular audience.

Ironically, TV seems the place to start in our efforts to bring the treasury of world theatre into our curriculum. Within the new medium's useless wastes of prefabricated mediocrity, there are two useful areas of programming: original teleplays and adaptations of classic and Broadway plays. The original teleplays, since they are closer to the sensibilities and moral contexts of our students, are a more natural point of departure than the classics. To our great advantage, more and more printed materials are available to make teleplays teachable. Take the growing literature by and about Paddy Chayefsky. Simon and Schuster has published six of his plays, first in hard covers, and, more recently, in paper ($1.50).

Chayefsky's illuminating essays on the problems of his craft precede each play. The scenario for his new movie, The Bachelor Party (Hecht-Lancaster Production), is a February Signet release (New American Library, S 1385, 350). Literary Cavalcade (33 W. 42nd Street, New York 36) prints The Printer's Measure with Chayefsky's notes on its construction in the March 1957 issue. Gore Vidal's collection of Best Television Plays (Ballantine, 350, and a Teen Age Book Club selection) contains Chayefsky's The Mother as well as representative plays by authors some of whom also have complete collections in print: Robert Alan Aurthur, Horton Foote (Harcourt, Brace), J. P. Miller, Tad Mosel (Simon and Schuster), Reginald Rose (Simon and Schuster), Gore Vidal (Little, Brown), and Rod Serling. (Simon and Schuster will soon publish a volume of his plays and movies with the author's commentary on the problems of translating from one medium to another, an approach that will make this volume most useful in English classrooms.)

Unhappily, these hardback volumes, with the exception of Chayefsky's, have not sold well, surely only because English teachers are unaware of their existence; the support of our profession alone could make the publication of such volumes profitable. Henry Maloney has prepared a series of literate, imaginative study questions for the Balla- tine paperback collection that should persuade English teachers of the feasibility of teaching teleplays in print (Clearing House, March and April 1957).

Another teacher's perspective on Chayefsky appears in the same magazine's May 1956 issue; a scholar's appraisal of the Bronx realist appears in the Winter 1955 issue of the Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television. But teaching teleplays in print is no better in the last analysis than teaching Shakespeare by print alone. After a great deal of badgering, the network producers of teleplays are finally providing this writer with advance scripts of promising TV plays: for my teaching suggestions, see the weekly column "Listenables and Lookables" in Scholastic Teacher.

Programs that seem consistently important to me: "Matinee Theatre," during school hours (see producer McCleery's invitation to English teachers and their students in Teacher, February 1, 1957); "Playhouse 90"; and the weekly hour- long dramas, Alcoa, Kaiser, "Studio One," Montgomery, and Kraft--a play a day, Sunday through Thursday, ideally timed for followup class discussion. The drama section of the Sunday New York Times and the TV" Guide list all the plays; "Listenables" has space only for those plays that seem teachable, and for which scripts arrive before my deadline.

The publication of Lewin and Frazier's Standards of Photoplay Appreciation, including a "Photoplay Approach to Shakespeare" (the Gielgud-Mason-Brando Julius Caesar), in a limited (2,000), expensive ($4.75 for 160 well-bound, high-gloss pages) edition reminds us that Lewin and others have for a generation spearheaded the kind of critical approach to movies that we urge for television drama. Lewin makes the point that, through 16 mm release of Hollywood features, schools can now do a "much better job of utilizing children's natural interest in movies."

He might have added that television's use of a much greater backlog of feature films puts the English teacher in an entirely unexpected and remarkable position to teach the history of the sound film: WOR-TV, for example, made arrangements with the New York City schools to distribute a free study guide for Abe Lincoln in Illinois while the TV station showed that old feature.

We hesitated to teach the films when they were new because we couldn't require a class to pay admission; now the same features will be showing free on local TV stations. Lewin's backlog of "Photoplay Studies" may in many cases provide us with ready made critical points of departure (available from Educational and Recreational Guides, Inc., 10 Brainerd, Summit, New Jersey; current guides are available by subscription for $3.00 a year, $5.00 for two years).

"Photoplay Studies," although not of uniformly high quality, do provide the teacher with useful approaches to current entertainment films. The general editor, William Lewin, has himself written a particularly good one on The Barretts of Wimpole Street, starring Jennifer Jones and John Gielgud. The cost of this illustrated guide for those who do not subscribe to the entire series depends on the number of copies purchased (under twenty-five copies, 30 each; in 5,000 lots, 60 each).

Dr. Lewin's excellent summaries and suggestions in this particular study guide should prove very effective for teachers who want to use the handsome color and wide-screen film to motivate reading of the Brownings' poetry. As he points out, Caedmon Records (277 Fifth Avenue, New York 16) have two excellent recordings to provide classroom follow-ups for student patronage of the movie: James Mason's reading of three dramatic monologues; and Katharine Cornell's reading of Elizabeth's sonnets, backed by the three famous love scenes from the original Besier play. Another source for study suggestions on current entertainment films is the series of study guides on the reverse side of The Green Sheet from Joint Estimates of Current Entertainment Films.

Dr. Joseph Mersand's Committee has recently provided teachers with free guides to War and Peace, The Friendly Persuasion, The King and I, Moby Dick, Lust for Life, and A Guidance Program in Film Appreciation and Taste. Write to Dr. Mersand at Jamaica High School, 168th Street and Gothic Drive, Jamaica 32, New York; he welcomes requests for these and forthcoming selections. Hecht-Lancaster, the producers of Marty, have engaged Kenneth Macgowan, editor of the Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television, to compile an educational manual about the making of that firm's current production of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, starring Sir Laurence Olivier.

Designed for college courses in movie appreciation and production, this complete, illustrated report on the making of a movie from inception to finished picture will also have value for the upper grades of high school, just as Lewin's Standards of Photoplay Appreciation is a worthwhile book for the lower grades and terminal students. Lewin's inclusion of a study guide for the widely anthologized Julius Caesar will appeal to teachers who know that the 16 mm MGM film will help them teach the play more successfully.

As a matter of fact, next month, in this department, we will explore how the media of recordings and print make our task of teaching the classics more rewarding in the same way that broadcasts and films have enhanced our explication of contemporary drama.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Broadcast & Film: The Public Arts

Maurice Evans will produce and star in George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman on November 25, 9:00-10:30 PM (Hallmark Hall of Fame, NBC-TV). This is a fitting celebration of the Shaw centennial year. NBC Radio should be persuaded to rebroadcast its "Biography in Sound" of the playwright, preferably a few weeks before the telecast, for this aural essay by friends and acquaintances of Shaw is a first-rate production. Write Joseph Meyers, NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York 20, to obtain such a rebroadcast, promising an audience.

Meanwhile, you can prepare your classes with the special GBS issue of the Saturday Review (July 21, 1956); a two-page sampler of his writings from the New York Times Sunday Magazine (July 22, 1956); and the many paperbacks of his work. "My Fair Lady" (Columbia OL 5090, 12" LP, $4.98), a recording by the cast of the brilliantly acclaimed Broadway musical, would seem an excellent approach to Pygmalion.

A study guide for the Evans' telecast is slated for the November issue of The English Journal and for Scholastic Teacher (October 4). Ford Star Jubilee (CBS-TV) starts its in the story of the first trips to the moon. Jim Stanley is back on the project to help construct the moon ships at the space platform. As in the earlier book, he has some difficulties with his human relations and finds that he drives the men under his command too hard and accomplishes less than do other foremen.

The project is plagued by political problems between the two great alliances: the Western World and the Eastern. Finally, however, a compromise is reached and men realize that space must be international. The great interest in the Del Rey space stories, other than their accurate scientific speculations, lies in their presentation of political and social problems arising from the advancing frontiers. Well paced and good reading.

ALMOST APRIL. By Zoa Sherburne. Morrow. $2.75. The adjustment of a teen-ager to a change in location and to a stepmother is a theme on which we need more books. Karen has been passionately devoted to her father, and she is instinctively jealous of her stepmother when she goes to Oregon to live with them. She is hardly prepared for her stepmother, a friendly, outgoing person not much older than herself, who does everything in her power to make Karen feel at home.

Karen finds some outlet for her bitterness in her friendship with Nels Carlson, a rough and tumble boy, who like herself fights a constant battle with life. Karen's conflict with her father deepens throughout the story; but as in most such tales, after building up a situation beautifully, Sherburne solves her character's problems a little too patly and a little too rapidly. However, the book fills a real need.

OLD YELLER. By Fred Gipson. Harpers. $2.75. It is only once in a long time that we get the rare, warm animal story of man and beast inextricably bound together in their life patterns. The Yearling was one and Goodbye, My Lady was another. Now comes a third in Gipson's Old Yeller. Fourteen-year-old Travis is charged by his father with watching after the family on their Texas farm while he goes up the trail with cattle to Kansas. Old Yeller, a huge old brute of a dog, makes his appearance and does everything wrong, though he is stoutly championed by five-year-old Archie.

Travis comes bit by bit to a growing admiration for the beast, but he finally has to kill the dog in the end in a neat set of circumstances. You will cherish this book both for yourself and for your students.

Cole Porter is not the only musical dramatist that deserves consideration in the Eng- lish classroom. Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I is a brilliant film, ideal for an introduction to a serious discussion of the musical comedy in America. The fact that Carousel and Oklahoma, two other successes of this team, are still playing some theatres makes such a unit all the more auspicious at the present time. Ellen Kennedy, research associate of the mass media program of the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation, has written a study guide for The King and I in Clearing House for October.

Life's color essay on the film (May 28, 1956) would grace any bulletin board. Anna and the King of Siam, on which the film is based, is a current Teen Age Book Club selection (33 West 42nd, New York 36). There is excellent background material on the musical comedy available. Richard Rodgers' essay, "Son is Wedded to Story in Our Musical Dramas," New York Herald Tribune (July 29, 1956, Section 4, p. 1), is an inside story. Cecil M. Smith's Musical Comedy in America (Robert M. MacGregor, New York, 1956) is the best study of the genre.