Sunday, 28 February 2010

English Majors in Decline

Patrick Hazard’s lament about the dearth of tenure-track jobs for English teachers is apt. This serious issue has also been noted recently in similar reports by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

However, Hazard’s opinion that the Modern Language Association (MLA) isn’t interested in world literature is baffling, considering that the theme of the MLA conference he discusses, which took place in Philadelphia in December, was “The Tasks of Translation in the Global Context.”

For three days, Philadelphia hosted hundreds of academics who discussed literature from around the world. This international theme was announced more than a year in advance. Anyone could have tracked down this information online in a few seconds.

So while it’s admirable that Hazard continues to sound the alarm about the horrible job prospects for English majors, his comment (stemming from his experience with the MLA in 1968) about the organization’s provincial interests in regard to literature no longer holds true.

For the record, I’m neither a professor nor a member of MLA, just a local observer with an interest in literature in translation.
Matthew Jakubowski
West Philadelphia
January 26, 2010

Patrick Hazard replies: I didn’t attend the MLA convocation and I’m pleased to learn that global literature was its theme. I have suggested that future Ph.D.’s in English present, as one of their prelims, media skills or competence in one foreign language to further our access to global literatures.

*
As an English major, I loved Patrick Hazard’s article and his point of view. I wish I had done more with my major, though I think I knew something was wrong then. At Penn (Class of ’63) I mucked around with some classes in American civilization, but no more than that.
Winnie Atterbury
Newtown Square, Pa.
January 29, 2010

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Funnies: An American Idiom

DAVID MANNING WHITE and ROBERT H. ABEL (Eds.). The Funnies: An American Idiom. Pp. xvi, 304. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963. $7.50.

It has long been a commonplace of communications theory that exposure on a mass medium itself confers status. Less evident, but perhaps more significant in its impact on elite intellectual life in America, is that mass communications research ipso facto confers status on the medium it "takes seriously." I would like, in commenting on this by-product of a Newspaper Comics Council, Inc. grant to Boston University's Communication Research Center, to distinguish between taking a common-place medium seriously and being seriously taken by modish commonplaces.

Having read this imposing looking compendium on the little old funnies with an increasingly peculiar feeling, I picked up the Sunday Bulletin comics which nearly everybody but me has been reading for the past ten years. In that decade, I had forgotten why I had long since given up even on Capp and Kelly-who both deserve Nobel prizes for the reverence they receive in this collection. This high-sounding collocation of polysyllabic content analyses has the net effect of eradicating a tiny but much more significant truth: the comics, for the most part, are a medium arrested in their development; they traffic in unbelievably immature trite-ness, sentimentality, and adventure.

Capp, Kelly, and Schulz are the sheerest exceptions proving a rule of unmitigated fatuousness. Francis E. Barcus says more than he intends in the concluding line of his essay, 'The World of the Sunday Comics." "The comic strip world, then, is not a 'bad' world; it is merely a very simple one." Indeed. But when does a world, kept simple to the point of innocence, be-come bad in the sense of ill-adapting its readers to life in a complex society? Long since, I would argue, with Robert Abel's piece on willing acquiescence in censorship by the creator of "Little Orphan Annie" fresh in my mind.

Poor reasons for taking comics seriously abound. They helped us win World War II. "Blondie" may be "read seventeen billion times in a single year (and before you tell us that there aren't that many people in the world, think of fifty million Blondie readers faithfully following the tribulations of Dagwood five or six times a week every week of the year" (p. viii).

This kind of silly statistical intimidation is irrelevant, demeaning a discipline in which Berelson and Salter taught us significant things about magazine fiction, and Lowenthal about popular biographies. No such sophisticated insight into the American character exists in this book, except perhaps in dissents like Kenneth Eble's and The Times Literary Supplement-"Any popular manifestation can achieve respect-ability by the metamorphosis to a 'native culture'." All of which brings us to the final bad reason, latent chauvinism.

Funnies are American. Gilbert Seldes probably started this bad intellectual habit in his bait-the-bourgeois-baters praise of George Herriman's "Krazy Kat"-"the most amusing and fantastic and satisfactory work of art produced in America today. With those who hold that a comic strip cannot be a work of art I shall not traffic" (p. 131). And again: Mr. Herriman was "working in a despised medium, without an atom of pretentiousness," as if humility about the obvious limits of one's craft is by definition the highest virtue.

"In the second order of the world's art [Seldes goes on] it is superbly first-rate-and a delight! For ten years, daily and frequently on Sunday, Krazy Kat has appeared in America; in that time we have accepted and praised a hundred fakes from Europe and Asia-silly and trashy plays, bad painting, woeful operas, iniquitous religions, every-thing paste and brummagem, has had its vogue with us, and a genuine, honest, native product has gone unnoticed until in the year of grace 1922 a ballet brought it a tardy and grudging acclaim" (p. 132). One can sympathize with Seldes' impatience at the American cultural cringe vis-&-vis Europe without accepting the "Buy American" overtones in this plea for the neglected "genuine, honest, native product."

In addition to the bad reasons adduced for taking triviality seriously which have already been mentioned, there is a public relations tone on behalf of comics which is completely out of place in a scholarly symposium. "Despite this slight dip in per capita readership, the comics remain on firmer ground than any other printed medium in this country" (p. 4).

In addition, the adjective "cultural" is used both in its objective social science sense and in the honorific normative signification-Al Capp's "cultural genealogy" (p. 31), with the net effect of bestowing "objective" praise on the despised medium. But perhaps the greatest weakness is a failing of all social science methodology, expertly or ineptly applied: its unwillingness-or in-ability-to conceive more satisfying alternatives.

Arnold Rose's piece on the positive effects of a mental health sequence in "Rex Morgan, M.D." brings an entirely new dimension to the subject, the unfulfilled potential of comics or color graphics as a medium of enlightenment. Humanists are, for the most part, too snobbish to care; media policymakers making enough money are too harried to dream of "doing good"; and social scientists ask only the questions they can answer with certainty. And there, unfortunately, the matter rests. Stephen Bosustow's animated cartoons show how maturely expressive the medium is under the control of thoughtful, responsible patrons.

Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 358, New Nations: The Problem of Political Development (Mar., 1965), pp. 245-246 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Friday, 26 February 2010

A Letter to the Inky

Michael Froelich's chiding your editorial judgment for front-paging J.D. Salinger's obit and burying Howard Zinn's on the back page is timely.

As a retired Am Lit professor, I knew oodles about "Catcher" and nothing about Zinn, until my filmmaker son Michael recently touted Z's "People's History". And I have a Ph.D.in American Studies, with a dissertation on an American historian. Doesn't that tell you more than you want to know about our skewed values (at the top, not just the bottom.)

No wonder we're becoming the United States of Amnesia.

Patrick D. Hazard, Weimar, Germany

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction

PAUL A. CARTER. The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction. Pp. x, 318. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. $12.95.

Carter, a historian at the University of Arizona, starts his book in a revealing way: "Science Fiction in recent years has suffered a fall into respectability. Its new status was dramatized the morning after the moon landing of Apollo 11 (July 1969) when CBS interviewed several science fiction writers-Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein-and listened to them with the same respect accorded by television that day to Henry Steele Commager, Norman Mailer, and sundry scientists, military men, and theologians. For writers like these, such deference was a new experience" (p. 3). One fantasizes fruitlessly about Shakespeare resenting his groundling audiences, or Dickens waiting expectantly for reviews of his novels in the conservative reviews. In short, the inferiority complex that plagues so many science fiction fans is much more than the jockeying for prestige that is a commonplace in the changing ecology of genres we call literary history.

After having carefully scrutinized Science Fiction: Contemporary Mythology, an anthology put together by the Science Fiction Writers Association and the Science Fiction Research Association to establish the literary legitimacy of their genre, I have come to the conclusion that the genre has a lot to feel inferior about. Even two "mainstream" literary scholars, Brown's Robert Scholes and Michigan's Eric S. Rabkin, in Science Fiction: History. Science. Vision, have only convinced me that their subject is grist for the mill of the cultural historian. Students urged me to read the "best"- Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. I couldn't finish it: sophomoric philosophizing vied with a tawdry style to alienate me. Ursula Le Guin, O.K. But a few fine swallows do not a migration make.

But the issue is not whether I am corrigibly blind to the value of science fiction as literature, but why do they whine so?

To the delight of science fictionists-and to the disdain of some "liberal arts"-minded persons, who take positive pride in their own ignorance of such vulgar matters as mathematics-[Poul] Anderson in his best work brilliantly fuses vivid romanticism with hard-headed realism (p. 72).

A session on science fiction at the 1968 annual meeting of the Modem Language Association brought writers like Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, and Frederick Pohl before an audience of English professors, many of whom had not been accustomed to taking either science or science fiction very seriously (p. 269).

Paradoxically, therefore, the science fiction magazine, which began as an outcast from American literature, has become one of the few places where the craft of imaginative writing can still be practiced, enjoyed, and paid for (p. 277).

This messianic advocacy is a shaky reed on which to build a historical essay. I remain convinced that most "sci fi" (I'm futilely warned never to use that locution on p. x!) is to serious literature what chewing gum is to nutrition: it may make the digestive juices flow, but there's mighty little nutrient involved.

Carter has divided his analysis into ten chapters plus a useful "Genealogy of Magazines Cited" and a valentine to the university's order librarian called "Vault of the Beast, Science Fiction in the Library."

1. Extravagant Fiction Today-Cold Fact Tomorrow
2. What's It Like Out There? Rockets to the Moon, 1919-1944
3. Under the Moons of Mars, the Interplanetary Pastoral
4. The Fate Changer, Human Destiny and the Time Machine
5. The Phantom Dictator, Science Fiction Discovers Hitler
6. Alas, All Thinking! the Future of Human Evolution
7. The Bright Illusion, the Feminine Mystique in Science Fiction
8. Paradise and Iron, After Utopia, What?
9. By the Waters of Babylon, Our Barbarous Descendants
10. The Dwindling Sphere, the Finite Limits and the Spirit of Man

Some of the material is plot summary, some of it critical effusions on long past ideological squabbles among the science fiction cognoscenti, some of it self-congratulation about the predictive power of the genre (this is a "no lose" situation inasmuch as only the handful of prophecies come true are cited). I found chapter seven most interesting, given that the genre seems to have been crew-cut macho from the start.

The data he presents is in fact of value for the social historian trained to interpret it. But as it stands it is either unconvincing or uninterpreted. The "art" that illustrates the genre (and this book) is appallingly grotesque or crude or both, including the color book jacket which in the author's description inside the book jacket (with a straight face, I'm afraid) "is from the very first science fiction magazine Mr. Carter ever read." "Most of the manuscript was read, in five-minute chunks, over the University's radio station, in a twice-weekly program 'Science Fiction Scrapbook' . . ." (p. 301). I hope it does not appear mean to conclude that it reads more like discontinuous entertainment than analytical history.

Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 445, Contemporary Issues in Sport (Sep., 1979), pp. 191-193 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Architectural Tithing: A New Form of Industrial Charity

John McAslan+Partners based in London, Manchester, and Edinburgh is no small time operation. Its motto is “Architecture that improves people’s lives.” Its current projects include London’s §450 million King’s Cross Station project grounding the Eurail system, remodeling and transforming the historic centre of the Stanislavky family site in Moscow, a recently completed British Embassy in Algiers, an innovative High School and Library project that is an essential part of Edinburgh’s regenerative Craigmillar masterplan , a §120 million sustainable supercampus for Manchester Metropolitan University, as well as a high quality office and mixed use complex 100 meters from St.Paul’s Cathedral known as 5 Cheapside. Yet McCaslan has just returned from Haiti after assessing how his tithing commitment (10% of pretax profits) can help further his firm’s motto in that beleaguered island.

Interestingly enough, he also seeks to protect the High Victorian heritage of jigsaw Gingerbread Gothic left from a nineteenth century American occupation, a project he had been involved in before the earthquake. “One of my great fears is that some of the damaged historical buildings that survived will be demolished. You can’t be too concerned about the heritage when there are lives to be saved, but I think one needs to hold on to the past.”(Steve Rose, “Haiti and the demands of disaster-zone architecture,” Guardian, 14 February, 2010.)

While his firm’s right hand does the monumental King’s Cross project, its left has been building low tech prototype schools in Malawi for Bill Clinton’s development charity. “Made of local brick and timber, these smart, simple buildings are designed to optimize natural cooling, harvest rainwater and do without electric lighting—perfect for Malawi’s remote villages.” (Steve Rose, op.cit.) He wants to do similar pro bono work in Haiti, and Clinton has already signed him on.

“What’s needed most urgently in Haiti is coordination,” says McAslan.”If there isn’t any, there’s a real danger a lot of effort and good intentions will be lost.” He points to the impending rainy season and the threat of sanitation-related diseases. He reminds us that there were four hurricanes alone in 2008. He concludes,”we need short-term preparedness for the rainy season, and we need a long-term commitment to reconstruction.”

His long term “pro bono” scheme is to involve local young people in his projects. He has also founded a bursary through the Royal Institute of British Architects that involves young architects and engineers in small scale design projects. (See http://www.mcaslin.co.uk.)

But McAslin has by no means a monopoly on this Kate Stohr and Cameron Sinclair, San Francisco based architects cofounders of Architecture for Humanity, had 600 enquiries a day in the week after the disaster. Article 25, the leading UK architectural aid charity, has offers of help from 350 British architects. Both agencies are cautious about complicating the crisis by prematurely appearing on deck.

Ms. Stohr warns, “You don’t go in and talk about building new schools when people are grieving. The first reconstruction doesn’t typically start from six to nine months, and there will be a period of three to five years where we’ll be actively working and need volunteers.” They’re already at work on a second edition of their Bible, ”Design Like You Give a Damn.” Too many celeb incursions could even complicate the tasks ahead. The United Nations assesses that one in seven people live in slum conditions. Their millennium goals include improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2015.

Nonetheless natural and man-made disasters have created a common agenda throughout the world: creating homes, schools, hospitals, and comparable structures needed yesterday, quickly and cheaply. A good model is Article 25’s work in Northern Pakistan. When an earthquake in 2005 destroyed the homes of 3.5 million people, in collaboration with Muslim Aid, Article 25 volunteers began building seismic-resistant homes for people who couldn’t make their own.

Robin Cross, director Article 25’s projects says the new houses look like the old ones made of stone and mud. Except for a small structural frame made of small lengths of timber. They flex until the seismic strains! They are also “nailed” to the turf with concrete plinths with steel straps, thus less likely to slide off the hillside.

Ms. Cross argues: “There is a place for innovation, but it’s often best to adopt the materials and skills found locally. We’ve built about 100 houses there thus far, but we’ve also used each one of them as an exercise in training people. It’s important that when we leave we haven’t just left buildings behind—we’ve also left a community with an increased capacity to rebuild itself.”

Is there no aesthetic dimension to this good natured charity: Stohr says YES! "Aesthetics are terribly important. Imagine you’re a child and you’ve lost everything and lived in tents for five years. That’s half your life. It is actually really important after a disaster to build back beautifully. It brings back a sense of normalcy. When all those beloved landmarks are gone, if you replace them with things that have cultural meaning and aren’t, frankly, beautiful, you’re not rebuilding that community."

As a new generation of tithing professionals hopefully replaces the bloated bonus nuts of casino capitalism, we owe a great new example to Mss. Stohr and Cross and Sinclair and McAslin. Humans can learn together in good times and bad, despite the facile fiscal lies of “unseen Hands”.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

It's a Dog's Life


For Barnaby, 1964-1976

It's a dog's life
to teach his masters
how to die humanly.
Through Vietnam you were
sanity insurance.
Through this family's Vietnam
racing our five lives
at seven times the speed
of now stilled sounds that yet break us up
remembering your welcoming hazards
of humping maiden aunts
at the door you loved to bolt from
manically chasing your silly old tail.
You perfected oafishness, Barn,
you silly sheep of a dog,
"terror" of the Longford squirrels.
Did they laugh at you too?
You lovable incompetent dog.

Photo: Media Mike

Monday, 22 February 2010

Weaver's Magazine Concept: Notes on Auditioning Radio's New Sound/part 3 of 3



"Soundmirror" is the fourth half-hour segment in "New Sounds." "Sounds of Yesterday" presents stories, readings, and voices that make the past come alive. Materials used have included a debate over the struggle between government and business recorded in the thirties between Harold Ickes and General Hugh Johnson; auto-racer Barney Oldfield; singer Florence Foster Jenkins; the first Edison recording; famous sporting events; Elsie Janis, sweetheart of the AEF; vaudeville star Bert Williams; Jonas Salk on the polio victory; F. D. Roosevelt's prayer for G.I.'s on D-Day, 1944; and the Pearl Harbor announcement interrupting a pro football game.

"Sounds of Today," a ten-minute segment, has featured tapes from Unit 99, Sacramento police; a uranium prospector; a football team in the huddle and on the line; voodoo from Haiti; sounds of workmen building the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel. "Sounds of No Importance" is a showcase for aural humor: the sound of manhole covers, hanging up clothes, knocking on doors, eating breakfast, a moth in a gray flannel suit, ash cans, goat talk, an aspirin going to work, a city at night, cracking nuts, and similar esoterica. "Soundmirror" closes with "Soundings," short editorial-page features.

Phone calls and letters from listeners are solicited and featured. The producers are anxious to expand this feedback potential, making the entire series closer to the conscious desires of the audience. It is this consideration of the audience's actual interests that strikes a freshening note in radio's new sound. For radio can thereby deepen awareness rather than supply substitutes for it.

"Offbeat" is the fifth and final half hour. It begins with a five-minute comedy sketch "Humor." "Focus on the Future," a ten-minute segment, has featured Willy Ley on such topics as satellites, monorails, and rockets; James P. Mitchell on the Guaranteed Annual Wage; an expert on Nostradamus; a report on nuclear energy from Westinghouse laboratories; the future of mobile homes; Duke University's studies in extrasensory perception; Robert Moses on city planning. "Soloscope," also ten minutes, completes the program with readings from literature. Ogden Nash reading his verse and Basil Rathbone doing "The Raven" may be taken as examples.

A.B.C.'s format attempts to retain "Monitor" 's excitement and yet appeal to radio's established listening habits-based on regular features, regularly scheduled. The short "easy listening" segments appeal to a great variety of interests; the producers are attempting to broadcast a radio Readers Digest.

It is easy to criticize this show on the same grounds that literary people have criticized its digest-magazine prototype: canned thought or Pablumized ideas is not thought at all. Yet there may be a lack of realism to this kind of cultural snobbery. Factory and office workers and housewives submit to various deadening routines to make possible the advantages of a technological society. Their psychic energies are drained by their jobs.

A certain capitulation to their lower standards of self-awareness seems compatible with an expanding culture. And critics who object to an "entertainment culture" sometimes forget that such random amusements are probably a necessary corollary of the frustrating roles inherent in technological processes. "New Sounds for You" brings the listener into frequent if not exalted contact with reality. If his news is sensationalized, at least he is made aware of the human community. If he is exposed to inconsequential nonsense, he is also exposed to useful and inspiring messages on other parts of the program. "New Sounds" has all the limitations and advantages of the magazine it has set out to emulate.

The next entrant in the battle of the broadcast magazines is N.B.C.'s "Weekday." Starting early in November, 1955, it has tried to bring "everything that is essential and much of what is interesting to the American woman." Conceived of as companion and counselor to the American housewife, "Weekday" doles out information, news, service, and entertainment. A staff of thirty backs the host-hostess teams of Margaret Truman and Mike Wallace, and Martha Scott and Walter Kiernan. Although the title "Weekday" has been applied to N.B.C. programing between 10:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M., Mondays through Fridays, distinctively new material appears only from 10: 15 to 1 1:45 and from 1 2:oo to 3:00.

Staples include a "Star of the Day" whose records are frequently played and who answers generally intelligent questions about his personal life. Gordon MacRae, Peggy Lee, Vaughan Monroe, Walter Schuman, and Debbie Reynolds were one week's stars. Food consultant Charlotte Adams gives frequent reports. There are two man-and-wife comedy teams, Ted and Rhoda Brown and Jane and Goodman Ace. "Guests of the Day," during a typical week, have included Sol Hurok, Jean Pierre Aumont, Dr. James T. Shotwell, dress designer Ceil Chapman, and Gertrude Berg. Guest editors from affiliate stations discuss their specialties.

Shirley Thomas conducts a sensitive interview from a Hollywood set each day. "College at Home" presents lectures by university authorities-Dr. Ashley Montagu was the first-on topics like "The Nature of Human Nature," an anthropological approach to child rearing. Meredith Willson explains long-haired music, with perhaps more condescension than is necessary in "Music Room."

Two days a week, Margaret Truman discusses opera and other serious music that she personally likes. Each day, there is a short story (Steinbeck and Hawthorne have vied with slick-magazine fiction), a serialized dramatization of a best seller, and dramatic readings-Cornelia Otis Skinner reading from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea was the first. There are numerous lectures by experts on topics of interest and importance to homemakers.

"Weekday" is the most literate and promising of the broadcast magazines. Look at the people it has brought to the attention of the housewife within its first month of operation: Chester Bowles, Louis Bromfield, Orson Welles, Patrice Munsel, Harry Belafonte, Morris Ernst, Ilka Chase, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Anderson, T. H. Robsjohn Gibbings, Bruce Catton, Carl Sandburg, Norman Cousins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julie Harris, George Ballanchine, Benjamin Fine, and Cameron Hawley.

This is a mere sampling of the imaginative package that N.B.C. presents daily for the enlightening entertainment of the American woman. This picture window on pertinent reality provided by "Weekday" is one of the most hopeful signs that mass culture is approaching maturity. In a very substantial way, "Weekday" provides a format for mass enlightenment that may be able to make up for many of the weaknesses of formal education in the last thirty years. To fully understand the long-range implications of radio's new programing, it is helpful to examine its ideological background-the imaginative philosophy of industrial statesmanship of Sylvester L. Weaver, now Chairman of the Board at N.B.C.

A general analysis of radio's new sound should begin with a consideration of the "magazine" concept as elaborated by Weaver. Clearly, the new forms are audio translations of N.B.C.'s television programs "Today," "Home," and "Tonight." First of all, in a magazine-type broadcast, it is possible to mix levels of taste in the material presented-something for everyone, in the Life tradition of photojournalism. And just as in one issue of that magazine, one may see "horror" photos as well as a brilliant color essay on a phase of American art history, so on "Today" one may hear a literate discussion with drama critic Walter Kerr followed by J. Fred Mugg's simian antics. On "Home," Theodore Rousseau of the Metropolitan Museum has given a ten-day course in the great masterpieces to a TV audience assembled by appeals generally less Olympian than art history.

It may be that in the multilevel magazine we have one of the most distinctive instruments of enlightenment in a cultural democracy. The difference between this conscious mixing of degrees of complexity in programing on N.B.C.'s "Home," "Today," and "Tonight" and the stratified strategy of the N.B.C.'s "Home" and "Tonight" and the B.B.C.'s "Third Programme" is clear. On the former, less sophisticated people are constantly sampling excellence of a level within upward reach; on the latter, graded audiences are hermetically sealed off from each other. There seems little doubt which system has a greater potential for bringing self-awareness to the masses.

Continuing the magazine analogy, just as one leafs through Life, looking closely at some things, cursorily at others, scarcely at all at still others, so a listener dialed to "Monitor" psychologically tunes out, by degrees, program material not compelling to him. This psychological tuning out probably works in different ways for all segments of the audience. A highbrow might conceivably hear only jazz, hard news, and Bob and Ray. A middle-brow might tune in only movie profiles and Broadway stage inter-views. A lowbrow could choose to attend to only the Saturday afternoon football games and Hit Parade tunes. There is flexibility of appeal, therefore, and-important at least to educators-the likelihood of relaxed exposure to cultural patterns of a level higher than those presently accepted.

Because advertisers do not sponsor a whole show but merely "participate" (for large or small amounts, for a long or a short time), editorial control remains with the networks in the magazine programs. When a network operates within an imaginative frame of reference, there is then the possibility of establishing several electronic magazines which appeal to the actual needs and desires of general or special audiences. "Monitor," for example, is a kind of entertainment magazine, like Cue; "Weekday," a combination of Ladies Home Journal and a supermarket slick; "Today," a cross between Time and Life; "Home," the video archetype for "Weekday" and thus analogous to similar magazines; "Tonight," an Esquire wired for jazz.

Weaver's "Wide, Wide World" also partakes of the magazine format, but might also be compared to Steichen's photo exhibition "Family of Man," particularly in its paperback form. It mixes levels of taste in a remarkable way: for example, in "American Rhapsody" there were live shots of folk music in North Carolina; of a lonely mine inspector singing; New Orleans stevedores, a jazz night club, and a marching funeral band; popular idol Frank Sinatra from The Sands, Las Vegas; a touching sequence of deaf children learning to sing in Baltimore, Maryland.

In this perfectly natural context, there appeared a profile on the National Ballet of Canada, rehearsing their production of the Nutcracker Suite. It would be interesting to know for how many people this sequence was a natural introduction to ballet, enticing them, perhaps, to become one of the 30,000,000 viewers of a full-length television production of Sleeping Beauty by Sadler's Wells Company, seen shortly thereafter on N.B.C. "Wide, Wide World" is really Walt Whitman with coaxial cables. The program is occasionally overdone; frequently, moving; in rare (and more frequent) moments, superb-just as is Whitman.

Yet the proponents of book culture are seldom impressed by the magazine (printed or broadcast) as an instrument of self-awareness and upward cultural mobility. The number of book stores in a country is still their index of vitality. Ephemeral media are suspect as sources of enlightenment. This aesthetic snobbery helps explain the polarity of opinion about Weaver. Intellectuals and critics generally regard him as a mountebank. They tend to take his pronouncements as seriously as they took his wartime campaign to send Lucky Strike's green to war.

They find him pretentious, as when novelist John O'Hara twitted Weaver in Collier's for using the polysyllabic "communicator" to refer to a plain, old radio announcer. His prose style has sustained more jibes than the late John Dewey's; and it is a rather incomprehensible jargon for a Dartmouth Phi Beta Kappa. As for his Olympian communiques, critics usually sigh and point to the fact that there are still many mediocre programs on his network, and he's been president for several years, hasn't he? He is, they insist, the humanist huckster, the Madison Avenue boy with a cerebral ulcer, a fast talker who has joined the Book Find Club.

On the other hand, people who work under him have quite another opinion. They refer fondly to his willingness to go personally to hesitant advertisers to help settle contracts for major cultural programs. They say that since he took over at N.B.C. the mediocre man is at the same disadvantage that a creative person heretofore was. The odds have been reversed. The question of censorship has ascended from a mechanical scrutiny aimed at keeping pressure groups at bay to a calculated willingness to take chances on mature situations-if they are justified aesthetically.

It is this changed climate of belief about the possibilities of broad-casting that makes Weaver such an important cultural phenomenon. For a century and a half, American culture has steered gingerly between the Scylla of gentility and the Charybdis of "I know what I like" lowbrowism. Now, an executive says and seems to show that culture and commerce are not incompatible. It is this break through the barrier of American self-consciousness about the "finer things" that makes Weaver's career of more than individual significance.

Indeed, Weaver's first principles as they apply to radio, television, and the general society demand scholarly examination and amplification. Is his responsibility report the sort of thing Lyman Bryson asks for when he says that when engineers break stable cultural patterns with technology they have the moral responsibility of reestablishing significant patterns? Do we not witness the effects of avoided responsibility in industrial design, urban planning, and architecture?

Is not Weaver implying with his responsibility report that industries must develop a mature consumer-one whose needs are satisfied and considered as on "Weekday" and on "Home"? And does this not lead to the belief that technology must justify itself not by keeping factories moving and studios broadcasting but by fulfilling human potentials and gearing its operations to know needs as Frances Horwich consciously does for children in "Ding Dong School"? We witness, perhaps, in Weaver a coming of age in American industrial leadership, in which our goal becomes a humane rather than a merely healthy economy.

This sociological dimension of radio-TV criticism is important and, unfortunately, almost nonexistent; but it does not exhaust opportunities for the creative critic. On the aesthetic level, many questions arise. Can radio's new direction-substituting the ex-citement and interest of reality for the soporific of soap opera and witless chatter-be encouraged by formal educational institutions? How can the book publishers' councils and library organizations use the dramatized best sellers and dramatic readings on "Weekday" to stimulate mere reading among housewives?

Weaver claims that "light" viewers attracted to a quality spectacular on TV are better buys for advertisers and should count more than "heavy" viewers. Could radio become a haven for such light viewers, attracted because of the continuous appearance of elite material? In this way, radio might actually become a catalyst in network broadcasting, establishing a tension with TV that would take the average programing of both to ever higher levels. Exposure to excellence on radio might swell audiences for TV's cultural events, as in an interview with Sol Hurok on "Weekday," the afternoon before he presented Sadler's Wells on TV.

Perhaps the greatest responsibilities fall on the secondary school where tomorrow's subscribers to electronic magazines are finishing their formal education. Here, a literate criticism of the media is most needed. And one is struck at this point by a major paradox. Gilbert Seldes has argued that the masses are often ahead of the media; here, certainly, the media are ahead of the educators and intellectuals. The program material on "Weekday" and "Home" makes infinitely more sense in the areas covered than many secondary school curricula. Seriously, what we fail to do in school, these programs are doing brilliantly.

Respect for contemporary art? What school gives students the respect for the complexity of the film form that Shirley Thomas does in her Hollywood interviews on "Weekday"? Who hears in the public schools of Frank Lloyd Wright or Robert Moses or Harry Belafonte or Henry Dreyfuss? "Weekday" and "Home" show more concern for contemporary creativity than do the schools. What is involved here is a major strategy for the humanities and social sciences in mass education. Marshall McLuhan has urged the creation of the "classroom without walls" that would prepare media patrons to handle modern instruments of communication with sophistication.

It seems that the magazine concept in broadcasting has anticipated this responsibility of the school by instituting the "kitchen without walls" or, to use the actual name of a "Weekday" segment, a "College at Home." Should not the school develop curricula that allow children to scrutinize and discuss systematically the best that is being said and done on the media and in the general culture? A viable criticism of mass communication ought to begin in mass education, the only mass medium relatively free from commercial and deadline pressures.

The colleges have two great opportunities in the educational broadcasting inaugurated by the magazine concept. First, there is the need for creating a sense of professional pride, a tradition of responsibility in broadcasting; such a tradition is our best guarantee of excellence. This is what Weaver is trying to do with terms like "communicator" and his theories of a common man elite. That he should be lampooned for his attempts is pathetic. The new college-level programs in communication arts ought to have as a major responsibility the creation of a tradition of responsibility in commercial broadcasting. In this way, the colleges will continuously send groups of fresh recruits to secure the beachheads of maturity established in commercial broadcasting by the magazine concept and other enlightened programs of mass entertainment.

The second great opportunity is for the scholars themselves. The appearance of people of the stature of Reinhold Niebuhr and Margaret Mead on A.B.C.'s "New Sounds for You" and Ashley Montagu on "Home" and "Weekday" promises an entirely unforeseen context for educational broadcasting. This precedent could be extended to establish the larger showcase for the nation's most creative lecturers proposed by Max Wylie in Clear Channels. One hopes that our creative people will seek out the new dimensions that the magazine concept brings to mass education.

What, finally, are the opportunities that the magazine concept-broadcasting's new contact point with reality-provides the professional critic? Will the more spectacular and thus more anecdotal programs monopolize the columns of the critics? Will glamorous TV force her dowdier older sister right out of serious discussion? How carefully will the critics examine the possibilities of TV and radio's vast new classrooms-the various electronic magazines? There has been a great deal of discussion recently of the adequacy of present criticism of the media. Perhaps a foundation will underwrite a conference at which educators, broadcasters, and critics can discuss the possibilities of critical collaboration in encouraging excellence on the networks.

For the emergence of the magazine concept on both TV and radio is a sign of a new maturity at the networks that could be lost if audiences do not materialize for this kind of programing.* Radio's new sound particularly affords educators and critics a chance to make up for the mistakes and sins of omission that have characterized the last generation's approach to commercial broadcasting. If the radio networks languish, it will be a serious loss for American culture. Remarkable new programs like "Biography in Sound" attest to the undiminished creative potential of network producers.

Somehow, the energies of mass education, from secondary school through professional courses in graduate training, should rally to salvage the benefits of network radio. That commercial broadcasters have turned to the best as a last resort is not important; at least, they have partially committed themselves, in desperation it is true, to the real needs of the radio audience. In that, they have given us a basis for cooperation. The future of network radio may well be determined by the kind of criticism educators and journalists provide it in the next few years.

* Since this article was written, A.B.C.'s "New Sounds for You" died in April, 1956, of chronic lack of sponsorship. "Mysterytime" and popular music shows are replacing the series that impressed critics but not advertisers.

Source: The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Summer, 1956), pp. 416- 432 Published by: University of California Press

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Weaver's Magazine Concept: Notes on Auditioning Radio's New Sound/Part 2 of 3



"Your Personality" features Dick Satterfield, an expert on etiquette, grooming, and beauty, and other prominent people giving their views on personality problems. "Your Success" features celebrities who explain the reasons for their good fortune; Dick Satterfield is also a regular contributor for this segment. "Your Home" cultivates the do-it-yourself craze.

So far, it has featured a furniture expert; tips on building things from old orange crates; a visit to a door store, where unusual things are made from old doors; household hints; magic with leftovers; and activities like those of the New York City 88th Street tree-planting group.

"Communicators" from Radio Central-a "push-button listening post on the world"-promised listeners that they were "going places and doing things." The new network radio service was designed to bring listeners into instantaneous touch with everything important, interesting, or entertaining anywhere in the world. News, sports, time signals, weather, and local and special features were supplemented by entertainment elements consisting of comedy, drama, music, theater, films, and records.

Each communicator works a four-hour block backed up by a name-disc jockey, experienced newscasters, a sports editor, writers, and program idea men. Features can vary from a one-line gag to a twenty-minute excerpt from a film or play. "Monitor" had that ants-in-the-pants mobility and immediacy of the American week end it was designed to enliven.

Jazz fans were quickly impressed by panoramic coverage of night spots from New York City to Los Angeles. Bob and Ray, extraordinary spoofers of excesses in popular culture, found a deserved national audience. Henry Morgan filled in radio listeners on what they hadn't really missed on TV by listening to "Monitor." In fact, despite its occasionally neurotic pace, "Monitor" had the beginnings of something long needed in American life: a relaxed yet perspicacious criticism of the popular arts.

One could scarcely ask for a better explicator of creative popular music than Al "Jazzbo" Collins, disc jockey for WRCA, N.B.C.'s owned-and-operated station in New York. His genial and informed introductions of jazz and quality dance-band music at various night spots are sorely needed as a corrective to tin-pan-alley's puffs. Shirley Thomas consistently makes her Hollywood interviews more than the usual chatter. She appreciates the art of film, and her questions tend to reveal the complexity and integrity of that new aesthetic form.

Bob and Ray are in the important tradition of popular satirists like Stan Freberg and Al Capp. They bring the tonic of laughter to areas that are impervious to other critical strategies. Literate book reviews and profiles on the American theater give another dimension to "Monitor's" coverage of the arts.

Indeed, given a little encouragement and constructive criticism, "Monitor" could help substantially to take the hex off "culture" and "the finer things" in America. Its mixture of ham-my showmanship and low-key literacy is precisely the means for easing the century-and-a-half-old cold war in American culture between self-conscious gentility and aggressive low browism.

This is not to whitewash "Monitor." It has a can-you-top-this mentality that is quickly tiring, and it brags about its technological virtuosity until you crave the era of smoke signals. Still, it may deemphasize these audience getters, in time; and, as it now stands, it remains the best extant hope for a broadcast forum of popular criticism.

The next electronic magazine launched to retrieve TV addicts was A.B.C.'s "New Sounds for You." It began late in October, 1955, in the heretofore lucrative prime evening time, 7:30 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. (NYT), Mondays through Fridays. There are five thirty-minute segments, each segment itself divided into five- and ten-minute parts with five minutes reserved for news.

The first thematic unit is "Events of the Day." "Today's Sensational Story," a five-minute tabloid feature, is followed by "Inside Washington," a controversial story from the nation's capital; "Trans-atlantic Exclusive," Europe's sensational story of the day; "Personality of the Day," the hero or heel of the headlines; and finally, "The News and You," political, economic, and social news as it affects the individual.

The second half hour is called "The World and You." Each segment approximates five minutes. "Arrivals and Departures" has included the last steam locomotive leaving the Long Island Railroad station, a visit to the traveler's-aid booth in New York's Grand Central Station, a visit to an Alaskan airport, celebrities interviewed at major transportation terminals throughout the world. "Let's Take a Trip" has featured the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N. Y., the Robert E. Lee Mansion in Arlington, Va., a spice shop, novelist Rex Stout, two travelers who had motor-scootered through thirty-three countries recording music, the United Nations, the Contemporary Art Galleries for an exhibition of Aubusson Tapestries, and a meeting of solar scientists in Phoenix, Ariz.

"Yesterday at Midnight": the New York Stock Exchange, the Bowery, a house detective at work, a cleaning woman at the Smithsonian, dancing at Birdland, an interview with Edith Piaf at her current engagement, backstage interviews. "America at Work and Play" presents spot close-ups with interesting Americans everywhere: the Pan-American Tennis Tournament in Mexico City, the warden of Michigan State Prison, a pre- Thanksgiving visit to a turkey farm, a Notre Dame cheerleaders' rehearsal, Justice William O. Douglas, the editor in chief of Field and Stream, the New York City Commissioner of Sanitation, a report on an electronic computer at the Bureau of Standards, the blind at work in Cleveland, Ohio. "From Elm Street to the Great White Way" is the final segment in "The World and You."

It has featured the out-of-town opening of the Rodgers and Hammer-stein musical Pipe Dream; a report on Three Penny Opera; a visit to the Mississippi Delta; an interview with Melvyn Douglas, star of the Broadway hit Inherit the Wind; Scottsvale, Ariz., the West's most western town; Little Theater, Dallas, Tex.; theatrical set designer Max Gorelik; Irene Selznick, producer of The Chalk Garden. Affiliates are encouraged to tape newsworthy pro-grams for this and other segments and send them to New York for editorial decision by the planning board, composed of the executive producer, his assistant, and the editors of the five segments.

This attempt to capture the regional flavors of Americana is an important strength of "New Sounds." Such decentralization of programing sources tends to encourage diversity and resist New York-Hollywood erasures of valuable differences in American subcultures. It is another example of radio's new realism-substituting the excitement and interest of real life for the prefabricated sugar nannies of earlier radio.

"Your Better Tomorrow" is the third major section of A.B.C.'s "New Sounds for You." In it, radio is attempting to build audience by serving recognized human needs instead of by creating ersatz satisfactions to fill emotional vacuums. "Your Living Thoughts" has included Dr. Billy Graham, philosophy professor Reinhold Niebuhr from the University of Connecticut, Brooklyn's oldest minister, anthropologist Margaret Mead, author Sholem Asch, a talk on Chanukah, a summary of race relations, and a moving appeal for the UN by Dr. Ralph Bunche. "Your Marriage and Family" has presented marriage expert Dr. Paul Popenoe discussing budgets, quarrels, working wives, and similar topics; Domestic Relations Judge John W. Hill; an Army chaplain discussing problems of G.I.'s; Walter Hendl with tips on when and how to teach children to play musical instruments.

(Part 2 of 3)

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Weaver's Magazine Concept: Notes on Auditioning Radio's New Sound/Part 1 of 3

"WITH A COURAGE born of desperation and destitution" was Variety critic Bob Chandler's apt description of the motives behind A.B.C.'s "New Sounds for You." This program is, according to its executive producer Drex Hines, an "effort to do in radio what the digest magazines do in the publishing field; that is, recognize that busy people appreciate a service which selects features especially for them." Robert W. Sarnoff, president of N.B.C., admits frankly that "Monitor" and "Weekday" are also moves of desperate destitution.

Radio lost two million dollars at N.B.C. in 1955. "The networks," in Sarnoff's judgment, "have to make these new forms work or else." Mutual Radio has made similar changes in programing and advertising; it calls the new pattern "Companionate Radio." Only well-fed C.B.S., relatively prosperous in terms of radio's diminished fortunes, rides out the storm with Godfrey and sponsored soapers. Even C.B.S. has had to overhaul its advertising structure, allowing many sponsors to underwrite a single program or series of programs through its "segmentation" plan.

Radio's new sound stems from changes TV has wrought in listening habits. Advertising has similarly shifted from an effort to assemble one big audience to a systematic attempt to expose one's message to a cumulative audience assembled seriatim throughout the broadcast schedule. A description of program con-tent in the new radio formats should be seen against the theoretical ideas of its pioneer, Sylvester L. Weaver, Jr.

The magazine concept in commercial radio breaks down some walls between educational and commercial broadcasting; an effort is made at the end of this paper to explore the possibilities of collaboration among mass educators, critics, and broadcasters in light of the educational implications of the "electronic magazine."

Radio itself is not in danger of extinction; it is in fact flourishing. In the first three quarters of 1955, radio-set sales increased over 40 per cent, from seven and a half to ten and a half million. Total TV set sales increased only 16.5 per cent, from five million in 1954 to six million in 1955. Largest gains were in auto, clock, and portable radios. C.B.S. has recently estimated a national total of one hundred thirty-two million radios.

TV, however, has radically changed where, when, and how these radios are used. Two out of three American homes have more than one radio set. Two out of three American-home radios are located outside the living room-bedrooms have 20 per cent; dining rooms and kitchens, 8 per cent; living rooms, 21 per cent; other rooms, 7 per cent. Four out of five radios are located outside the living room where nearly all the TV sets are. Most radio listening is done by individuals rather than by family groups.

Radio listening is up in TV homes and increases as the TV set grows older. Most daytime radio listeners do other things while listening; two out of three nighttime radio listeners concentrate entirely on listening. Since 85 to 90 per cent of the radio homes in TV cities own TV and 75 per cent of all radio homes are TV-equipped, radio has become an individual listener's medium.

TV has also changed the economic facts of radio advertising. As TV began to deliver the national market, advertisers used radio to plug holes in TV-network coverage. Spot campaigns and local-station advertising tended to siphon off what TV had left of network radio's revenue. Network radio faced bankruptcy unless it could devise new ways to lure back both listeners and advertisers. It sought to regain listeners by personalizing programing; it sought to regain advertisers by letting a sponsor gain a cumulative audience by small participation in many programs.

For instance, in the C.B.S. Segmented Program Plan, sponsors can underwrite five-minute segments of one or more of eleven big-name shows-among them, Bing Crosby and Amos 'n' Andy. Numerous possible combinations of participation are available. C.B.S. offers, for example, a segment each in all eleven programs with gross weekly audience of forty million for about $18,000. The rating point is being replaced by low-cost presentations of cumulative audiences for many programs.

The advantage of this type of advertising is that it can be tailor-made. Small companies can buy a few exposures; large ones can buy into all the programs if they want to. The national market can be saturated by a short campaign carried on major-network shows. High TV-production costs make it desirable for alternate-week TV sponsors to keep their product exposed on radio during off weeks. C.B.S., because it has been in the strongest financial position, has been able to concentrate on changes in advertising rather than in programing.

The remaining networks, on the other hand, had to get more listeners before the new participation advertising would draw many sponsors. Radio's new sound, then, is an attempt to lure back the laggard listener. N.B.C. started in the summer of 1955 with "Monitor," a week-end marathon from 8:00 A.M., Saturday, to midnight, Sunday. (Poor affiliate support of the eight hours from midnight, Saturday, to 8:00 A.M., Sunday, killed that segment.) Since the week end was a poor revenue getter to begin with, it was perhaps the safest place to experiment. There was the usual razzle-dazzle associated with Weaver enterprises. A science-fiction musical theme bloop-bleeped listeners to an awareness that something new was about to emerge from their loud-speakers.

(Part 1 of 3)

Friday, 19 February 2010

A Letter to the Broad Street Review

Dan Rottenberg quoting Luke is cool! His sneer at J.D. Salinger’s refusal to hear a global bell ringing for his attention in Cornish reminds me of a recent spat in the Inquirer—over giving a front page obit to the recluse and a simultaneous back of its page to Howard Zinn.

Let him who is without Zinn raise another Stein to reclusivity. Let 2010 be Zinn’s year. Give another high school teacher a copy of his People’s History. By 2050, perhaps, the American masses will acknowledge their true friend.

Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
February 3, 2010

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Kiwiland Far Away

AUCKLAND. This city of 800,000 (a third of the country's population, the total of which I keep reminding myself is less than Philly's metro area) is an astonishing joy. There's water everywhere: 60,000 locals are "yachties"--pinched as it is between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

I'll start with the zoo, which I stumbled upon going to the Sculpture Symposium at an open-air sculpture park in Western Springs, a half hour bus ride from downtown Auck. A flotilla of black swans (with sexy red beaks) terminally distracted me from the symposium, a lark in which two dozen local chippies were given a chunk of hinuero stone each (which formed a million years ago from lava flows--it's creamy to orange and a lovely building material.)

The zoo at a price $7 is worth every penny of it: Red--or lesser--pandas, Asian otters playing Kiwi grab ass to the hysterical delight of moppets, and cats like you've never seen in your house--the African serval leaps three meters into the air to nail its prey. A baby serval mesmerized cat lovers of all ages. And wombats, kangaroos of every ilk, and kiwis, the flightless birds with the long beaks (to extract grubs with).

The first day, I fell by Chin Chin's, a neo deco bar, to taste my first green-lipped mussels, humongous beasts that make ours look like rejects. The next week, the refurbed 1910 Ferry Building will informally open its boutiques, with Kiwi Republic an especially interesting spinoff on our own Banana Republic.

Auckland's Harbor Board Building won the NZ architects' top prize last year. No wonder. It's the nerve center and control tower for the computer-run port servicing all of NZ's North Island. I haven't been so moved by a building since Corbu's Ronchamp. I was kindly allowed to crawl all through the security-conscious building (one wharf over from where the despicable French sunk the Rainbow Warrior).

The glitter canopy is open to the wind to help cool the service core stashed on top. Inside, it's a chrestomathy of Kiwi art--stained glass, sand-blasted glass, wool hangings, exquisite Douglas fir-laminated beams.

I teased my guide, Theresa, about the Latin motto of the city, "terra marique floremus," but the joke was on me--she had taken five years of Latin and read it right off--"On land and sea we flourish." I believe it.

The Auckland City Art Gallery is revving up for a major Edvard Munch retro (which I caught in Dunedin in the South Island, along with half of Peter Watkins' contentious film bio of the troubled Norsker--172 somewhat repetitive minutes!). I opted for two galleries of local art. Oh what lovely locals, like Rita Angus, a Charles Sheeler of the Wellington area. Or make that a Hopper. Or a Burchfield. Oh, hell, she's Angus, an original of great power.

The Listener (NZ Broadcasting weekly mag, a tasty melange of original poetry, short fiction, political commentary, as well as radio and TV listings) raised a stink over an exhibit when a free-lance critic alleged that the regnant critic's wife managed seven of the 11 in the gallery. The old man punched the young man in the noggin last week in a night club. Honor, man!

The Kiwis are a remarkably open bunch, easy to talk to on the street, where the longest traffic lights in the world encourage casual conversations--at least in me. I started chatting up a Hamburg woman sitting on the wharf who turned out to be the agent for Champion Jack Dupre, a 79-year-old barrel-house piano player who has been an ex-pat from New Orleans since 1950.

He's a gas, half Cherokee and half Belgian. He never saw his parents, who were incinerated by the KKK. He fought light-heavy for ten years in his 20s. He eschews gin and whiskey, drinks only cognac and beer, and is as quirky an original as I've interviewed in ten years.

His entourage swept me up to a tea-dance where the band was the Sydney club band, Mr. Crow, on their way to the Victoria Jazz Festival and other North American venues. I pressed the 39-year-old mother of the college student working the lighting to trip the light fantastic. I hadn't forgotten, kicking her shins only once or twice.

There are three dailies: the New Zealand Herald, (the country's New York Times), The Sun (a color-filled tab), and its parent, the Evening Star. Two channels of TV are international re-runs, except for news, which is damn good. Public radio is superb. An A-plus.

Not the least of Auckland's assets is that I found someone to put the "n" back on my Olympia typewriter five minutes after arriving here. Can-do Kiwis!

Rotorua is a smallish village four bus hours southeast of Auckland. But it is the heart of Maori culture, with a splendid Maori Institute of Art and Culture on the outskirts of town. It's the least Disney-like theme park I've ever been in. The Maoris must have gone ga-ga over the thermal springs and geysers that dominate the region, animists that they were. It's spooky.

In 1886, the still active volcano really blew its led, killing 138 people and rearranging the contours of the locality. There's a splendid display documenting this key event in the Rotorua Art Gallery and Museum, as savory a bit of Tudor fake half-timbering as ever I've seen.

Gingerbread colonial is all over NZ, a tasty garnish to the surprisingly tropical flora. I stayed at the youth hostel in Rotorua for $12 instead of at the Hyatt Kingsgate for $200 (gulp!) a night. There was the usual mix of UN students hosteling their way across the world, including a "very left wing" (his characterization) Israeli demobbed soldier who engaged me in hot debate for an hour, before I withdrew, exhausted, to my cheap flop.

(The next day in Auckland at the Globe Trotter hostel a right-wing Israeli--just short of Rabbi Kahane, he positioned himself--ran me backward through the same gamut of arguments I had just heard from the opposite end of the political spectrum.)

I lucked out on the bus back to Auckland, sitting down next to a 50ish Maori nurse (with her nose deep in a textbook of Maori lineage). There is disconcerting heat lightning here over black power. Good Friday, a gang of six toughs, threatened to trash the Cook Strait ferry if they didn't open the buffet. Astonishingly, they did open it.

Simultaneously, the Wellington police seemed to me to overreact to a loud party in a "black" neighborhood (they're not black, but they pick up the rhetoric from U.S. blacks), triggering a burned-out police van and a spatter of Molotov cocktails. I quizzed a Wharf Police-constable about this seeming inconsistency, and he granted they weren't sure yet how to react, black militancy being only five to ten years old.

My nurse is full of contempt for these layabouts. She got herself a professional credential the old fashioned way--by working hard--and scorns the whiners who don't try but flaunt the "pure" Maori blood.

She contends there isn't any such, so friendly have the sexual relations been in the century and a half that Europeans have been here. In fact, if you have 1/64th Maori blood you're entitled to indigenous perks, an anomaly that causes many to complain that non-Maoris are taking these perks even though their blood is all European.

100,000 (mainly Maori) youth are chasing 18,000 jobs at the moment--or not chasing them, and the employment minister's plan to cut youth off the dole has caused a big flap in the local papers. Maori culture is great, but you can't buy groceries with it. Pakehas (white faces) are generally respectful of Maori art but not of black-power antics. The political sky won't clear soon here either.

Off to New Caledonia this evening to see why those natives are restless!

(Editor's Note: The above was sent to us inscribed helically on a pair of kiwi eggs, and it is quite possible that we have crossed spirals in a few places. The following paragraph was excised as being meaningless within context--possibly ill-hatched--but worth including on its own as a remarkable example of a Hazard to the written language.)

Across the Edenic looking bowling greens in the new District Council HQ, a splendid building by the Christ Church architect Miles Mahoney. (He did the NZ embassy in D.C.). It pays respect to Colonial gingerbread, the Prince's Gate Hotel, so called because the future Edward VII popped in there in 1880 to take the thermal baths; but the hotel itself didn't appear until 1886 where it was carted lock, stock and delectable High Vic stained glass from an abandoned gold mining town of Wahia, 100 kilometers to the north, where a dearth of the shiny stuff and a blue law forbidding drinking killed the hotel business.

From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, May 4, 1988

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Maya Lin's Sense of Wonder



I’ve been charmed by Maya Lin (10/5/59, Athens, Ohio) ever since 1982 when I got in line to scrutinize her Vietnam Memorial, designed as an “open wound” to express her sense of the gravity of the experience of honoring 58,159 victims of the second worse war we've ever undertaken. I loved the reflective black marble (from Bangalore I discover) cut in Barre, Vermont, shipped to Memphis to have the death dates carved by Glassical, Inc. in the order they were suffered. I was only vaguely aware of the controversy that preceded my visit.

But I flinched to learn that Ross Perot running for president sneered at her as an “egg roll”! She believes she never would have won that commission in a competition of 421 designs if they had been entered as names rather than numbers. James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of Interior at first refused to give her a building permit—until she faced a Congressional Committee defending her idiosyncratic design.

James Webb, “an original defender,” admitted in rejecting her concept: “I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone.” Maya points out that she grew up “white” in Athens where her father Henry Huan Lin was dean of the Art School at Ohio University and her mother Julia Ming Lin a professor of Lit there as well. Maya didn’t begin to think of her Chinese heritage until she was in her 30’s.

Frederick Hart who ran third in the blind competition consoled the rattled multitudes with his more traditional trio of “Three Soldiers”. And women (8 are inscribed) elbowed to their own icon—at first, an American nurse with a Vietnamese baby was rejected as too political—and ended up with a woman cradling an empty helmet. Ultimate judgment of Scruggs: “It has become something of a shrine.”

Indeed John Dewitt of Stockton, CA contrived “The Moving Wall” ultimately in three versions that clocked tens of millions transcontinental visitors in urban venues of from 5,000 to 50,000. I also piously took a long, long Greyhound ride to see next celebration—of Dr. King—in Montgomery, AL. But I come not to praise her brilliant beginnings.

It’s what she’s up to now that beguiles me: an international multimedia strategy to end species destruction and counter global warming. But a multimedia strategy deserves, even requires, a multi media tout. I turn you over to Christiane Amanpour on CNN.

Amanpour is CNN’s newly certified egghead commentator, a 51 year old Iranian that can elicit credible commentary on crucial subjects as diverse as Robert Mugabe and that loving, lovable media pair, Harold Evans and Tina Brown. Maya has gone global and her gentle certainties have become a needed international counselor. Christiane is on every weekday evening. But Maya is accessible with her on-line.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Light Show

Noon, dark, or dawn
Which you is truest?
Your daylight April glow
Eclipses strobes.
And midnight views
--when hands say yes--
(best yet was briefest,
flared the smoke we shared)?
Or at newest light of day,
When barely roused,
Our sweetly aching loins
Recall your other selves?
I'm blind to say
Which you to choose:
Dawn, dark, or noon.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A Fine Day with Natives of Potsdam: Just Ask the Right Person the Right Question

Potsdam II: Schinkel Territory and Cecilienhof

Potsdam's main drag is now called Brandenburger Strasse. It was noonish, Sunday, and many families were sashaying along, not a few of them going to the recently reactivated Christian churches, including, of course, that scrumptious Neoclassical masterpiece, the Nicolaikirche by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the most important architect of the early 19th Century in Germany, and sort of the laureate of the emerging Prussian cultural aristocracy.

I spied a young woman lugging a professional-looking tripod and asked her whether she made still or moving pictures with that formidable gear.

"Photos," she replied.

"What of?" I pressed.

"Of old buildings and young children." A beguiling mix, if you ask me.

So I inquired if she had a gallery where I could see some examples of her work.

"I don't have a gallery, but I live just around the corner, and you're welcome to look for yourself." A veritable American give-and-take, from this former shop window decorator turned semi-pro photographer.

As I followed her into the interior court of the Linden-strasse that led to her second floor apartment, I observed a familiar Eastern European phenomenon which I've noted from Bratislava to Warsaw to Leningrad. The external approaches to private residences look like they've just been bombed. Step inside Ulrika's apartment, however, and you could have been viewing an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

While she put her stuff away, I ogled her setup. Casablanca poster over the sink, Marilyn Monroe on the john door, Faulkner's Light in August in German (I can barely make sense of it in English) on well-stocked bookshelves.

After setting me down on a Danish modern chair, she brought me a box of her prints and a fresh pot of Braun-brewed coffee--a put a George Shearing LP on her turntable. What an array of unanticipated joys.

Her stuff was good enough, but before I could get too involved in it, her best girlfriend popped in for an unannounced Sunday visit--with two moppets (five and eight) in tow. All right. Here were two Germans whose vocabularies were my size!

I gloried in the five-year-old's actually understanding my questions. While I whiled away this Deutsche kindergarten opportunity, my hostess huddled in whispers with her buddy. Soon they reappeared with a query: "What are you doing for the rest of the day?"

I made some crude jest that I just wanted to get back to the Zoobahnhof unmugged (there had recently been a flurry of tourist hassles in the former Eastern zone). They laughed nervously--and then invited me to lunch at her friend's apartment across the city. We piled into her Volkswagen bus (no Trabbies for these Wessie-leaning Ossies) and soon we were entering a marvelous Jugenstil apartment house, dazzling even in spite of its battered condition.

There ensued the tastiest "lunch" I've yet consumed on German soil. Potatoes so light and savory I never imagined such a crude veggie could be so empyrean. And thin slices of pork that seemed to have thrown off their piggish heritage. We're talking five-star restaurant edibles.

When they served me fresh huckleberries for dessert, I thought they'd flip when I told them the American name. "You mean like in Huck Finn?" they exulted. Never have cross-cultural trivia seemed so enchanting to strangers. As I started to doze off on their comfortable couch from their sheer exhausting assault on my digestive system, they prodded me awake by asking what I wanted to see for the rest of the afternoon. Their VW was at my command. Nice Krauts, what?

Thereupon ensued one of the most exhilarating architectural sorties I've ever undertaken. Only my June day at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater vies with it. First there was a close look inside and out of Schinkel's Nicolaikirche. And the Old City Hall-turned-cultural center kitty-korner from it, where the locals put on art exhibitions. I made a mental note to take in those shows the next day.

Then we went north to the Russian Colony Alexandrowka, where the Russian Orthodox chapel Alexander Newski and graveyard recall the presence of a Russian choral group with resided there. The leitmotif of their informal seminar was how those Russian bastards had messed up everything in sight.

We were joined about three o-clock--as the youngsters were beginning to get culture-saturated--by Ulrika's divorced husband. His job was pianist for the Children's Ballet of Potsdam. Ulrika's ten-year-old daughter was prima ballerina for that troupe.

He said not to worry about my not yet seeing Cecilienhof, where Truman, Atlee and Stalin palavered in 1945. He'd take me there after dropping off the kids at home. He began by showing my where the infamous Berlin Wall began--with salvage dogs patrolling a no man's land between two electrified fences along the Heiliger See.

Cecilienhof was the last royal palace of the Hohenzollerns, a Romantic English "cottage" for the Crown Prince built just before World War I. The tour of the Potsdam conference rooms is a must-visit--Teutonically well organized and instructive.

Then we went over to the five-star hotel that's part of the setup to have a coffee and cake and wind down from this adventurous day. I wanted to play Duke de Visa and stay at this hotel overnight, but the mere suggestion drew a horrified response from my host--it would probably have cost him a month's salary.

So I squelched my impulse to live it up and let him drop me off at the Jagertor Hotel on the periphery of downtown. It was perfectly adequate and one-fourth the cost. After soaking in a marvelously commodious old tub, to chase away the fatigue, I went out on the town looking for supper.

I didn't find supper, but I found yet another adventure--in a Teestube, not a Bierstube, but a Third Worldly place where they stocked radical pamphlets of liberation movements and teas and coffees from beleaguered parts of the decolonializing globe.

I treated myself to some great Nicaraguan coffee and began chatting up the habitues. With the fall of the Wall, their ideologies were going into rapid eclipse, but not their teas and coffees. I settled down with a woman from West Berlin who managed a scientific research institute and like to come to slow, poky old Potsdam to unwind on weekends.

Monica was a great talker and eager to know minute particulars about America and its literature. So it was a swell summing up to an eventful day.

Back at the hotel, I fiddled with the TV and short-wave radio for a bit to see what had been going on in the Real World while I'd been Potsdaming. Not much, and boy was I bushed. I haven't slept that soundly in nearly a millennium.

from Welcomat: Hazard-at-Large, June 23, 1993

Sunday, 14 February 2010

1,000 Years of Pots. Damn!

Part I: Wannsee and Sans Souci

Potsdam has fascinated me ever since I was a swabbie in World War II. The conference ending the European war had seemed to me then an irresistibly interesting historical turning point.

But as long as it was a part of Eastern Germany, I saw it only from the train taking me from Frankfurt to West Berlin. It seemed decrepit from the main station, ever more run down between my trips from 1972 on. It hardly seemed worthy of Frederick the Great.

So as soon as the Wall fell, it was at the top of my Big Three East German "must visit" venues: Potsdam, Dresden, Leipzig. Last spring I finally made it to Potsdam, and I wasn't a bit disappointed. I especially recommend a visit there in 1993, the hypothetical 1,000th anniversary of its founding (a bit of tourist industry ledgerdemaining), because the Potsdamers are really turning on the charm in organizing concerts, art exhibitions, conferences, sports contests, whatever, to commemorate this once-in-a-millennium opportunity to gloat over the Prussian Versailles and its surroundings.

But strange as it may seem, I urge you to begin your visit in nearby Wannsee, at what I've come after several astonished visits to regard as architecturally the world's best youth hostel. The word Wannsee had bad vibes during my last visit, the 50th anniversary of the nefarious Wannsee Conference which set the agenda for the Nazis' "Final Solution."

That lakeside manor house is now a museum honoring the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust as well as those who helped Jews survive. You can reach it by a half-hour's walk around the shore from the youth hostel.

I make such a big deal of so minor an architectural genre as the youth hostel because it seems to me emblem of what great strides the Germans have made in the last half-century away from their Nazi past. It's worth recalling that the youth hostel movement was a German invention--1909 in Altona, and rapidly developed during the Weimar era.

It embodied the German ideals of healthy outdoor recreation and the widest possible support for youth movements. Mostly, youth hostels are architectural recyclings, usually of mediocre quality, except for rare exceptions like the new New York center on 103rd and Amsterdam, a brilliantly reworded Richard Morris Hunt residence for "respectable young ladies."

For a start, the Wannsee building avoids those onerous (and often odoriferous!) dorm-style accommodations. You rent (for about $15, generous breakfast included) one floor-level bed in a suite of four, with your own lock-up wardrobe and a private bathroom and shower for each suite. (Such a setup is ideal for a family or two couples who value their privacy in their search for travel bargains.)

And my confidence in the viability of German democracy rests not a little on the conversations I've held there with a savory mix of college students, families and retired people. (Four-star hotels don't even begin to offer such opportunities for discussion across ethnic, gender and class lines.) The respect for the person evident in this brilliant design is a symbol of how much the Germans have learned in their recovery from the Hitler disaster.

To kill time, and practice my criminally crude German, I chatted up two students waiting to visit Frederick the Great Land, a kind of pre-Disney theme park of Prussian Enlightenment aspirations. Both were students at Hannover University, but in theology and chemical engineering.

Their disparate disciplines led first to my teasing them for their odd academic coupling and ended with some fairly searching conversations about science, religion and the states of belief in contemporary Germany: Immigration. Neo-Nazism. BMW complexes.

As a former college teacher of 25 years' experience, I'm always amazed at how thoughtful and articulate European students are--especially the young Germans. They're a joy to palaver with: informed, open-minded, serious without being agit-proppy. what a serendipity to accompany two such guides through Frederick the Great Land.

You traipse through San Souci--"without care," Frederick named it, to try to forget the pain of military adventures and misadventures which characterized his reign--by linguistic groups. I accompanied a German platoon, leaning on my two students for timely translations when I couldn't get the go-for-Baroque on my own.

When I was near the point of Rococo exhaustion, we came upon the last suite of rooms--which had been designed for Voltaire, whom the monarch defended and encouraged when the French were giving their skeptic superior a hard time. It's as different from the rest as can be. Its aviary theme was parrots and other colorful birds in 3-D high relief gracing the walls. I like it.

There's more to Sans Souci than the main castle, of course. Most of the other structures are undergoing a fast rehab. And the many-terraced landscaping is super, too. Had I known, I'd have brought a picnic lunch. As it was, empty-handed, I hugged the two young ladies thanks and goodbye, and started off on my own adventures in the city proper.

(More on Potsdam in the next Hazard-at-Large.)

from Welcomat: Hazard-at-Large, June 2, 1993

Friday, 12 February 2010

Funky Professor

Cornel West at The BET Hip Hop Awards 2007

Greyer and greyer hound that I am, I'll leave the traveling up to Cornel West. But I like his Jesus!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Writers' Residences

On The American Prospect:

"Only" 55 lit stops in USA. It reminds me of my snooping and snooting on Langston Hughes. I had written him off as the Louie Armstrong of Black Am Lit. Sorry Langston!

As I overheard Hughes schmoozing at the Federal Palace hotel bar with Wole Soyinka at the First World Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal in 1964, suddenly my ears perked: "You must look into Leroi Jones, our most interesting new writer!"

I had invited Jones to Beaver College where he scandalized the faculty, but turned on the students!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Architectural Flops

Once a month, if we’re lucky, Penn Prof Witold Rybczynski leaves his office and slides us an authoritative SLATE slide essay on the state of our architecture. This month’s is “Wit-tishly” entitled “Nice Try: The East Building, Avery Fisher Hall, Falling Water, and other ambitious architectural failures”, which is to say a professional sneer at “pros” who attempted their unsuccessful experiments on a construction site instead of in an academic lab. “Buildings sometimes fail,” he alleges,”because of incompetence or shoddy workmanship, but the examples that follow failed for a different reason: architectural ambition.”

The East Wing’s Tennessee marble cladding failed, according to Wall Street Journal speculation, because its joints were too thin to allow for the marble to expand. All 16,200 loose panels must be replaced at a cost of $85 million after only 30 years. Architect I.M.Pei also goofed on the windows of the sixty story Hancock Building in Boston. Panes popped out to be covered temporarily by plywood sheets at a discouraging rate. It was taunted as “Ply in the Sky”. (I used to refer to him as I.M. (a) Pane.) The problem was not the wind. The outside mirrored layer (for esthetic effect) heated up differently from the inner sheet. Pop went the difference!

When I went to China to study Mandarin in 1982, another architecture critic from Connoisseur and I spent a night in his new Pleasant Hills Hotel outside Beijing. We were amazed to discover that I.M. Pei, his wife and his daughter had just spent hours on their knees replacing the tiles incompetent Chinese workers had installed. Pei had just come from the Paris opening of his luminous Louvre glass pyramid where then French craftsmen had done their job superbly.

In 1929 Corbusier opened a Salvation Army hostel in Paris which he planned to use seasonal air conditioning of hot or cold air with exterior walls of double glass. Even though Carrier air condition had been a success in Pittsburgh three decades before, Europe wasn’t yet up to it. It was so intolerably hot the first summer the public health authorities insisted on openable windows.

When I made a pious odyssey of Corbu’s work during the centennial of his birth, I found that his first modern house he clad in concrete. Alas, it couldn’t endure the temperature differentials in Vevey on Lac Le Man. Ominous cracks had to be covered with aluminum sheets. (This puzzled his parents for whom it was made!)

Later in the same lookaround I was serendipitously given free run of his Maison d’Habitation in Marseilles when a lady with a baby heard me chatting with the elevator operator. She explained that most inhabitants had rejected his “liberating” mezzanines. They built over an extra floor. The originals were dubbed “pas prolonge”, the changed “prolonge”. She lived in a “pas”, her mother-in-law across the hall in a “prolonge”. That would been my choice!

“Fallingwater”(1937) is, warts and all, my favorite building in all the world. When Frank Lloyd Wright showed his client, Edgar J. Kaufmann, the department store magnate, his drawings, the businessman was nervous about the gorgeous cantilevered rooms. When he politely asked Wright to let his engineers check his math, our genius was outraged. Ahem. In 2002 ultrasonic testing revealed that Falling Water would soon be falling in the water of Bear Run. Estimated repair costs range from $11 to 23 millions!

And that’s not the only goof. Wright was a peewee who faked height with high rise shoes and porkpie hats. When I first visited Falling Water on a glorious June day on my way to the AIA Convention in Cincinnati in 1980, I was puzzled that I, no giant at 5’8”, had to stoop to get through his doors! That arrogant genius had made himself the module. Further, this man who insisted the hearth is the heart of the home had made the cookpot too large to ever heat any food. (I call it his “crackpot.” And the crane, in any case, to swing it over the fire didn’t swing. Oh, Frank.

There are more sad tales. Minoru Yamasaki’s Pruitt-Igoe 33 high rise apartments (1950) blasted to earth in fewer than 30 years. But their cause was racism and poverty, not architectural hubris. Poor Minoru, my Detroit hometown hero, whose World Trade Centers also got the axe of history.

Max Abramowitz’s Avery Hall at the Lincoln Center still doesn’t sound right. And the Pompidou Centre looked good at first, but is petering out shamefully. But the two Main Culprits of modern American architecture, Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind, I leave to Judge Rybcynski.

I can’t resist repeating my favorite flop story, Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia in Helsinki. Doing another sacred centennial gig in 1998, I was stunned to find on my ritual Sunday hike around the symphony hall that all its travertine cladding had been removed. Is that a way to celebrate a Centennial I asked the first hard hat I met. “Heh,” he replied, “travertine can’t take Finnish winters. And shards are falling off and hitting tourists. Can’t have that!”

He explained that granite would suffice, but the sentimental Finns are giving him thicker slabs and better adhesives, realizing in a decade or so they’d be shelling out several more millions just to keep Aalto’s ghost quiet. I walked back to my hotel, loving those damned sentimental Finns more by the kilometer.

After breakfast, I trekked out to the Finnish Architectural Museum to savor the retrospective of his achievements. The epigraph endeared me even more to Alvar: NEVER FORGET: ARCHITECTS MAKE MISTAKES! Hear that Franks (Wright and Gehry)?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Greedy Institutions

LEWIS A. COSER. Greedy Institutions: Patterns of Undivided Commitment. Pp. iv, 166. New York: The Free Press, 1974. $7.95.

It is probably germane to report that when I agreed to review this book I expected it to be a higher level Vance Packard study of advertising and/or consumerism. But, although Coser is clear enough about what he wants to pioneer here in the sociology of politics, to this humanist observer he has just barely turned over a fresh sod. The term "greedy," indeed, is a key to more than one of Coser's intentions. Inasmuch as sociology, by the lack of virtue of its median prose, has long since displaced nineteenth century economics as the dreariest of sciences, the president-elect of the ASA apparently wants to initiate a counterrevolution in the prose of his craft.

"Greedy," as we are reminded to the point of wondering whether we are regarded as thick by the writer, is used metaphorically, to indict, really, institutions which demand too much of the private lives of their functionaries. Coser is explicitly polemical about this: there are worse things in the modern (and ancient) world than your Durkheims have ever dreamed of in their philosophies of anomie: "While I share with these modish critics their preoccupation with the quality of our lives, I feel obliged nevertheless to point out that attempts to create a 'wholeness' of social involvement might, if unchecked, eventuate in restrictions of individual freedom considerably more damaging to the human spirit than modern fragmentation and segmentation" (pp. 17- 18). And greedy is also a spritzy word, a sociologist as it were, aspiring to poetry.

After an introductory overview of the concept of the greedy institution, Coser divides his examples into three parts: serving the ruler (the political functions of eunuchdom, alien Jews and Christian renegades serving alien powers, and the royal mistresses as instruments of rule); serving the public (the servant and the captive house-wife); and serving the collective (sects and sectarians, militant collectives-- Jesuits, and Leninists, sexual repression in Utopias, and the function of sacerdotal celibacy).

The first thing one must be impressed by here is the tremendous range and disparateness of the subjects. When social scientists really do see what is functionally similar in antipodally diverse human milieux, they are of great help to professional humanists as well as general observers trying to place themselves better in a rapidly shifting social landscape. (Leo Lowenthal and Marjorie Fiske's seminal essay, "Art and Popular Culture in Eighteenth Century England," has been such a siting in my own teaching of literature, for example.)

One is less convinced by Coser. For a start, the data--mainly culled from secondary sources which were of uneven validity to begin with--are spotty. If a humanist tried to fashion a literary hypothesis from as few poems as Coser has mistresses in chapter four, he'd be hooted down. Still we know that sexuality has a heavy status component, and it is a priori that the class origins of a mistress would introduce a differential into her relationships with the king and his retainers.

But, needless to say, sociology has made a point that a priorisms are precisely what it wants to displace with rigorously observed data theoretically organized. Coser's examples tantalize; they don't convince. On the other hand, in his chapter on domestic servants, I had the impression it must have been written out of reading nineteenth century British novels. One can't ask where did he see that kind of servant come from, since the genus has disappeared except for us-middle class people who use blacks and students to do our less clean work. That chapter in fact seems more a foil for the one which follows on the housewife who by and large seems to know where she's going anyway, unless she's one of Herbert Gans' blue collars, in which case she seems imperviously content in the serfdoms that seem intolerable to the better educated.

It is not these chapters, however topical they appear to be, that establish the interest of this book or the new discipline Coser would inaugurate. One could retitle the remaining chapters with a frivolous title, All I Wanted to Say about the Function of SEX in Political Institutions but was Afraid to use that Three Letter Word in Doing So. Here the humanist observer must note that truth in sociology seems to be polarized between two extremes: ritual apologies for having to force readers to slog through the obvious because Empiricism demands that we not make reality flashy when it is in fact grubby, even obviously so, this sort constituting the bulk of sociological truths; and a tiny lode at the other extreme (one expects that sociologists live from day to day in search of such epiphanies), a truth that contradicts common sense.

The big contradiction of this book is that promiscuity and celibacy are the very same under their very different skins, functionally. In short, scratch a Jesuit priest and a randy Leninist and beneath the epidermis one finds the same obsequious soul-seeking total commitment to similarly greedy institutions. Since Coser has brought up the Jesuits I'm tempted to employ a long-discarded aphorism they taught me in metaphysics class: Quis nimis probat nihil probat--"Who proves too much proves nothing."

Surely, there is some crucial difference in function between a Jesuit order in which men voluntarily gave up dyadic (ugh) sex to embrace secular knowledge for the purposes of the Counter-reformation and Leninist revolutionaries who coupled freely through the NEP period to be better able to start and consolidate a secular Revolution with chiliastic overtones. If it is true, that to couple or not to couple (nobody after all gives up sexual drives but rather rechannels them) is the same thing functionally within greedy institutions, then what have we learned about greedy institutions? That sexuality is not important?

Manifestly not, since the covert (why does it remain covert?) theme of the book is that a principal task of all power-especially monolithic power-is that it must control sexual energies which have a strong potential for privatizing experience, for engendering disloyalty. It didn't take this book to make that truism evident. That promiscuity or. celibacy are both valid human options? I doubt that Coser implies that here although a humane sociology of politics would in my judgment establish precisely that multi-valent posture.

Finally, one has the feeling closing this book like that felt finishing early McLuhan, for example, The Gutenberg Galaxy. One is grateful for Coser's synoptic searching, introducing one to fascinating bypaths on the human journey, especially in this case the material on eunuchs and royal mistresses. Humanists complain so often about the lack of historical dimension in sociological studies that it would be churlish not to be enthusiastic about this in-creased access to other times, other places.

But as with McLuhan, one is more stimulated than impressed intellectually. And, since Coser clearly wants to remove the incubus of under-readability from the sociological canon, it is sad but necessary to give him no more than a D+ in the prose department. "Socialists attempted to construct a Gemeinschaft of like-minded antagonists of the capitalist order who endeavored in their dissent from its guiding assumptions to embody in their lives ideas and ideals that were to prevail in the ideal society of the future" (p. 125).

I think I know what he means, but I find its style in linguistic contradiction with the last sentence of his introduction: "I wish it to be clearly understood that I consider it essential that the open society be preserved above all" (p. 18). I only want to make one point perfectly clear: confused prose erodes the open society; so do half-formulated ideas.

Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 416, Intergovernmental Relations in America Today (Nov., 1974), pp. 247-249 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Monday, 8 February 2010

Indian Film



Satyajit Ray in action

ERIK BARNOUW and S. KRISHNASWAMY. Indian Film. Pp. xi, 301. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963. $7.50.

We get so used to regarding mass culture as a peculiarly American problem-I was tempted to write "disease"-that it is enormously illuminating to see an aspect of mass communication from so strange a new perspective. To us, for whom the movies today are a curiously promising mixture of wide-screen spectacles, teen-age quickies, and a fresh leading edge of low-budget innovation, it is positively heady to see an Indian perspective on the film medium: what a linguistic tangle: puritanical, Oxonian-trained socialist bureaucrats in search of dull documentaries; exotic genres such as mythologicals, vaguely related to earlier folk traditions; and a star system which makes ours look like the height of rationality, where these and other factors combine to create a system theoretically incapable of having permitted a Satyajit Ray to have emerged professionally. The Bombay-Madras-Calcutta axis is so volatile as to render our Radio City-Chicago-Hollywood entertainment triangle tame by comparison.

Several themes explored in this fascinating fifty-year history of Indian movies will interest social scientist and humanist alike. The charge of American cultural imperialism and debasement by celluloid has been a staple of both the British colonial administrator and the post-independence Indian official. Soekarno appended a surprising footnote to this debate when he congratulated astonished Hollywood executives for being revolutionaries in Asia-by fueling the revolution of rising expectations, however unwittingly, with images of durable consumers goods in their productions.

More interesting is the evidence provided of the irrelevance of All India Radio's aspirations to revive classical Indian music and extend this revival to the masses. Radio Ceylon answered this utopian pipe dream with its most successful hit-parade of banned film songs on the Binaca Toothpaste Hour, reminiscent in its audience appeal of early "Amos and Andy" listener loyalty. It would be a grim paradox indeed if India's economic take-off were slowed down to any considerable extent by the unrealistically high cultural ambitions of the Indian political literati. Radio and documentary film both, by the evidence presented here, seem to be woefully out of touch with the masses they are supposed to be moving.

Linguists and anthropologists will find the unique language and culture complex of modern India very interesting as it impinges on film. The three major film centers at the advent of sound were outside the mainstream of Hindi-140 millions: Bombay-a market of 21 million Marathi; Madras-20 million Tamil; and Calcutta-53 million Bengali. This led to the Indian expedient of shooting a film in two languages, one's own and Hindi, which was not even as easy as that sounds, for what kind of Hindi would you use-Sanskritized? Persianized? lowbrow?

Other features will attract the comparative film scholar: the intense censorship tradition, and its double standard for Western and Indian films; the greater activism of the Indian audiences; the compulsory unhappy ending which is a formula in the "social" film; the ambiguous results of the blind-and block-booking of Government-made documentaries; the "talky," voiceover-narrative tradition of these documentaries which must appear in all of India's many languages; the undeveloped role of the film society in nurturing a sense of creativity; and, of course, the relationships of the great Ray to the main body of Indian motion pictures.

As regional and national cultures interpenetrate in the emergence of a global community, we will be fortunate if we have more clear, solid books like this one. Its Indian author came to Columbia University to get his M.A. and then returned to film production in Madras; the American author, a former network writer and one of our sanest academic analysts of mass communication, took a Fulbright to India to collaborate on this book. It is an earnest model of the kind of transnational collaboration that will make an international intellectual world a productive and satisfying milieu. This side of that paradise, we must suffer inadequate indexes with a grim smile-my only quibble with a very worthwhile volume.

Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 350, The Crisis in the American Trade-Union Movement (Nov., 1963), pp. 165-166 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science