Thursday, 17 June 2010

A Writer That Matters: Patrick Hazard

Feisty, outspoken Dr. Hazard is formerly of Beaver College, the University of Hawaii, The Annenberg School, Time-Life Films. A Carnegie post-doc fellow at Penn, radio personality, author of textbooks, a book on Hawaii, world traveler, humanist, master of controversies, agitator, father of three, irrepressible educator and voracious reader is one of the foremost intellectual gadabouts in greater Philadelphia.

Says Hazard, "I went to a writer's conference down in the South Pacific last year. It was one of those crash and burn airway fares." We can picture the plane landing on its last teaspoon of fuel, the wings shaved to transparency by Asian aluminum scavengers and their sharpened spoons. On board, the intrepid Patrick Hazard balances a computer on a primus stove on a tartan plaid blanket.

There is an "Eye 95" to put out, an article for Connoisseur to begin. Crisp keystrokes continue through the agonies of delivering the flight up to the gate. Hazard ignores the muffled rattle of automatic weapons fire. When a stray bullet penetrates the fuselage, he frowns, stuffs a half-eaten carrot in the void.

He returned from the trip a changed man.

"I haven't watched television since," he claims, a slight note of pain in his voice. A tough choice for one who has stuck with television from its precious beginnings into its present everlasting senility.

From the start Hazard sought to look the dragon in the eye, to unflinchingly tackle the challenge of the importance of the mass media in his students' lives. In this he was helped by the lively first years of American TV, Paddy Chayefsky et al. It was an age of new promise, a time when the word "plastics" would send chills up a young person's spine, a moment for the formation of a believer. (One doubts whether we saw anything comparable in the recent excitement surrounding two-way communications with cable TV.)

Hazard became one of a new breed of media-oriented academics.

With a PhD in American Studies from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, heavy on literature, he launched his career with a Ford Foundation grant to study the impact of mass communication on English teaching.

At a 1955 Four C's English Conference, he gave a talk called "Liberace and the Art of Cultural Criticism."

While at Penn in 1957-58, he became one of the founders of the Annenberg School of Communications, active in laying the groundwork curriculum for what was to be the first in its field.

He pioneered techniques of integrating television viewership with education-and wrote "Television and the Teaching of English." Students in a Hazard class would be assigned to watch programs, then to find common ground with themes in classical and contemporary literature. A lover of good architecture, Hazard would also assign a building to his students, requesting they find out how the structure worked as a dwelling, a workplace, as art.

Today first and foremost, Hazard is a writer seeking to make the world safe for humanism; an intellectual seeking a solution to the problems of the greater, non-intellectual world.

"Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness," he is fond of saying. At home and around the world he is in search of those candles. One recent discovery is the architect Douglas Cardinal, whose Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa puts him in mind of the spiritual qualities of the Spanish architect Gaudi.

Hazard cautions us against the trend towards elitism in art, and recommends we read the recently published "The Unfulfilled Promise," by Edward Arian.

"America never really tried egalitarianism," he argues, pinpointing the formation of a homegrown oligarchy during the Jacksonian period of American history (1830's).

Though he remains at heart an optimist, he concedes that "darkness is pervasive at present." The cyclops eye of his television screen is blank, but we can look to the wit and wonderful consciousness of Patrick Hazard to light a small, clear space for us to view the world.

From Art Matters, October 1989

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