Alas, the "moderator" (censor) never approved of my response! So it wasn't printed. It began "Oprah's genius is being congenial." Basically, I chided him for obscurantist neologisms like "mediatization" and quoted two lines of Whitman as being religious texts I preferred to his.
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels. My theology! Walt.
In a more generously poetical spirit, I give you a Berryman quatrain that echoes Walt at his best:
Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake, inimitable contriver, endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon, thank you for such as it is my gift.
I will bless his memory every time I look at the Charles Beck bird I bought from him. Which is to say everyday since it sits on the window ledge overlooking Beethoven Platz in Weimar, Germany. A Kenyan spotted kitty guards him from evil spritz. Or her. I never got Beck to tell me about its sex. It's just sexy. Period.
La Berceuse (meaning "lullaby, or woman who rocks the cradle")
Arles suffers from a Van Gogh problem. It has no Van Goghs. Ten years ago, making a pious odyssey after Vincent, I was depressed by what I found of the Dutch genius in the local museums—a reproduction, discolored and curling away from its shirt laundry cardboard backing, clipped from a vintage Life magazine. What a way to salute a local totem.
And given the current state of his art market, what could an economically depressed small town do to celebrate the centennial of the artist’s coming to Arles to create a Utopian colony for painters, where the living was cheap and the light was the best in Europe?
The short answer is “lots.” Two canny initiatives have deftly done an end-run around the escalating cost of Van Gogh originals.
Since 1984, under the energetic inspiration of Yolande Clergue, a foundation called Vincent Van Gogh-Arles has been shrewdly maneuvering to fulfill Vincent’s century-old dream of a maison des artistes he conceived when he spent those crucial two years under the sun of Provence, 1888-89.
Their first bold step is on view at the old headquarters of the Knights of Malta, under the rubric “Birth of a Collection, 1985-1988,” a gathering of homages to Vincent by a global roster of artists. Not many of the homages are masterpieces, but a few come mighty close, and none is a discredit to the memory of the hapless painter.
My favorite is Karel Appel’s “Portrait de Van Gogh,” a huge, freestanding wood sculpture of Vincent’s head with the image rendered in Polaroid and acrylic, the face obscured by hanging hawsers. When I ran into Appel a week later at FIAC in Paris, I asked him what was with the ropes.
“I’m a man of the sea, an Amsterdam man, and hawsers appeal to me,” he replied. “But it also means reparation, healing, binding together the wounds of the modern world which Vincent suffered.”
But other homages pleased my eye as well: Francis Bacon (whose ectoplasmic image is the poster logo), Fernando Botero, Arman, Vincent Bioules, David Hockney and Peter Klassen.
In any case, it’s not a competition but a collaborative celebration. And Mme. Clergue is nothing if not populist—one virtue spotlights the original manuscript of Don McLean’s song, “Starry, Starry Night.”
Meanwhile, across town, in that museum that virtually disgraced the memory of its hero with such faint praise a mere ten years ago—what a difference a decade makes. The city fathers are hard at work recycling the old hospital on the Rue Gambetta as “L’Espace Culturel Van-Gogh.”
Even in its half-complete condition, it is very beguiling. And though the Mediatheque and the library and archives won’t be ready until spring, the exhibition hall has opened with an absorbing glimpse of what Arles looked like when Vincent arrived.
I have never seen Beaux Artsy street-straightening plans and garden improvement schemes used so creatively to produce a lively sense of place. And there are old photographs, trade posters (for that hot innovation, the department store) and diverse memorabilia which really do convey what is must have been like when the artist sought his ideal venue there.
Beginning in January, the Arlesiana ceded—to a borrowed show of the real Van Gogh—paintings assembled from all over the world to honor the centennial of his residence there.
With all this creativity in exploiting a neglected regional resource, can the Office de Tourisme D’Arles-Camargue be far beyond? No way. The first shot in their campaign they hope will be heard round the world is a most useful map of all the holy places in the city, with directions on how to walk it alone, in silence, or in groups with paid commentary.
If tourists from all over refuse to be seduced by these sweet overtures, they deserve to be bored wherever else they stay. As I walked into town from the train station (a morning bus will take you to Saint Remy), I ran into a Midwesterner in front of the Hotel Van Gogh packing his rented car after an overnight in Arles.
“How was it?” I schmoozed. “Terrific. This is our second stop here.” So even the no-star hotels are inviting, including a visit to the local winery which has a you-know-who label. Of course, you can stay at the Julius Caesar, a four-star closer to the town center.
Meanwhile, up north in Amsterdam, I checked into the Van Gogh Museum to get oriented to his whole life and oeuvre. It was my dumb Irish luck to arrived the same day as a one-man show, Vincent, which explores the Dutch painter’s short and mostly unhappy life in Arles from the viewpoint of Gauguin.
Watch for it at your local cultural center. It’s cathartic. And the Dutch actor has already wowed the U.S. circuits with his version of Vermeer. So don’t fret the high cost of market art. Find an angle, and illuminate.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, February 22, 1989
So he was really just a "wise guy" pretending that his humble attitude made him wiser than the ignorantly prouder. Still this book looks lively in what it reveals about democracy at its first birth. I love the jury of 500. Try to wangle that many.
Dan Rottenberg’s feint at praising Tina Brown (Editor’s Notebook) is more salt than food. The median IQ of the Internet makes ranters like Rush Limbaugh look thoughtful. Nicholas Carr and Shirley Terkle constitute an emerging vanguard of commentators judging internet “thinking” as infra compos mentis. Leo Lowenthal long ago indicted the celebrification of American media, a sort of secular canonization that encourages Americans to worship at the altar of the trivial and flashy.
Editor’s comment: The concerns expressed today about the Internet are largely identical to those expressed 500 years ago when Gutenberg invented movable type— i.e., that it would stir up the masses and lead to an outpouring of pornography. Which it did. But didn’t the benefits outweigh the liabilities?
Tunisia as a way to collective sanity? Let’s hope so. But in my 90-day trek around the Mediterranean to celebrate my 50th birthday in 1977, my pit stop in Tunisia between Algeria and Egypt was a puzzle.
Yesterday a young “German” Kosovan Muslim killed two Americans on their way to Afghanistan and wounded two others at Frankfurt’s airport. He tweeted with a gun, not a phone.
Still, if global optimism is good enough for Moses and a Reconstructionist Dan, I’m holding my crossed, ex-Christian, fingers. Hard.
Patrick D. Hazard Weimar, Germany March 4, 2011
Writer's note: I almost asked the editor to kill his edited response. Here's what he killed. "Tunis was a puzzle. I hiked out to Carthage straightaway. It was completely empty! Except for a soldier waggling an AK47 at me to stop shooting pictures (of what turned out to be the President's House!) When I got back to the city, a local explained Carthage's emptiness (it was Muhammed's birthday!) and why I was silenced with an AK47."
Stunned by that pipsqueak Gainesville preacher’s nitwit notion of burning Korans and terrified by the escalating global reactions, I ordered a highly recommended book for perspective, Reza Aslan’s “Beyond Fundamentalism” (Random House, 2010). It erased a lot of my culpable ignorance of Christian/Islamic history, but its analysis of the contemporary standoff was not at all reassuring.
The most astonishing information was about how widely the American military was employing more and more a crazed version of Christian fundamentalism as a battle strategy. General level officers talking openly about End Time Christianity and what that allegedly implied about defending Israel at all costs.
I had missed Ronald Reagan’s contending that Catholic Liberation Theology in Central America was a “threat to U.S. national security.” (p.142.) Our military tactics in the Middle East involves soldiers passing out Bibles in Arabic. Fundamentalist Air Force Academy professors and chaplains are using their positions to evangelize their students. Comic books about Christian hell given to Islamic youth.
Easy to understand why Jihadists were upset by our tactics: "Indeed, the United State’s conduct in both Iraq and Afghanistan—the evangelizing soldiers, the humiliation of Muslim prisoners forced under torture to eat pork and curse Muhammad, the Crusader rhetoric of the military officers and political leaders—has not only validated the Jihadist argument that these wars are “a new Crusader campaign for the Islamic world” conducted by “the devil’s Army.” It has provided Jihadists with the opportunity to successfully present themselves as the last line of defense against the forces that seek to “annihilate Islam”.”(p.100.)
As I am reading this book, our media reveal the horror stories of American soldiers killing Afghans for kicks and cutting off fingers as souvenirs. We hear a lot of inflated rhetoric about our brave soldiers, but nothing about the lowest dregs of our volunteer forces, the least educated losers in our unemployment debacle, sworn in as soldiers in a desperate last minute effort to fulfill quotas. We saw them before in Abu Graeb. Hyper Christian officers and some American soldiers a shameful disgrace to any religion.
It is equally disconcerting to learn for the first time about the First Crusades: In the Conference in Clermont, Pope Urban II in 1095, spelled out the protocols: Forgiveness of sins for those who fight the Church’s enemies. "I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds. . . to destroy that vile race/the Muslims/ from the lands of our friends.” (p.65.) "All who die, by the way, whether by land or sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”
Dystopian fiction is to literature what chairs are to architecture: If the successful tale-teller doesn’t take a crack at a gloomy view of the future, he’s no more world-class than an architect who doesn’t try to give us all lower back pain with an innovative machine for sitting in. So when two of my favorite fictional whiners, Paul Theroux and Margaret Atwood, perpetrated gloomy future stores almost simultaneously, I thought I’d run them through my sensors. Both are worth a go.
Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Houghton-Mifflin, $16.95) is shorter and more acidulous. It’s an inside narrative of the 22nd Century, when Falwell’s U.S.A. has escalated into the Republic of Gilead. Pollution—both moral and ecological—has engendered a sterility crisis, and abortion has become the regime’s most horrible crime.
To insure the future of what looks less and less of a human race, there are little genetic enclaves, each run by a commander and his wife, where, in a macabre act of procreation, the sperm-carrying commander mounts the handmaidens one by one. But at each ritual insemination, the barren wife “backstops” the womb of the night. Grow-tesque!
Needless to say, this monotheocracy has its liberating edges. “Aunts” guard the integrity of this stud farm, and one of the feistier captive wombs kills an Aunt in the toilet, dons her uniform and escapes to the outside and an underground Pleasure Palace where the commanders get their covert jollies.
She also follows her own lusty loves with the commander’s chauffeur and, with this kind of waggle introduced into an otherwise airtight system of repression, heads for the tall timber of Canada.
We never know whether she makes it, has tale having been discovered by a researcher who give a scholarly paper at the Twelfth Symposium in Gilead Studies, held at the University of Denay, Nunavit (groan, I just got the pun, typing it) in 2195.
Atwood’s point is that the counter-revolution against feminism represented by the Moral Majoritarians inevitably will lead to these absurd forms of sexual exploitation. The point of view is that of an oppressed female seeking release.
Paul Theroux’s The O-Zone (Putnam, $19.95) is more a plague on all your genders. It turns the American Garden of Eden myth inside out: “What had been a disaster area was now the last great chance in America.” That is the dream of Hardy, a geophysicist for Asfalt, a corporation which seeks to dump excess petroleum on devastated areas, creating mountains of t he stuff so huge that they can change the weather and turn barren regions back into green.
It is multi-national hubris at its most egregious. The O-Zone is a part of the Ozarks in southwestern Missouri that has been officially abandoned because the scheme for using its salt caves for storing nuclear waste has backfired.
This story begins with a New Year’s Eve party of owners from New York City who look for a lark by getting a rare pass to enter the O-Zone. The party backfires when these high-techies suddenly learn how helpless they are in the wilderness. Fizzy, the precocious hacker whiz, is captured by the Aliens, whose adaptation to their low-tech milieu eventually earns the humbled respect of the technocrat.
Fizzy’s mother, on another track, goes on a quest for Fizzy’s father. Fizzy was sired in the anonymous clinics where wealthy owner-ladies go to by serviced by mask-wearing penis-pushers. She finds him eventually as a Walden isolato in a post-earthquake California. He is an enforcer for the volunteer militia, Godseye, which flits about the countryside gunning down Aliens (all the underclasses who aren’t in the minuscule Elite) with high-tech weaponry.
There’s another pseudo-theology loose in this insane world, the Space Pilgrims. They perform security duties in New York’s cavernous high rises while waiting to be “elected” to populate space. And there’s Hooper, who falls in love with a teenage Alien and risks all to bring her back to make himself feel alive.
Two themes weave in and out of both of these tales: The triumph of media-manipulated sex has demeaned most humans to the point where they’re incapable of love; and technology, far from being the benign blessing we turn to whenever we feel a malaise, is a Sorcerer’s Apprentice whose service is worse than any peonage of yore.
Well, this Christmas our kids are getting jolly with laser weapons; and this season Madonna and Prince are urging them to do it. Now. Zap. Powie. Happy Holly!
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, December 22, 1987
One of the unexpected blessings of senescence is belated validation. Take the “Daedalus” conference at Tamiment in the Poconos in 1959. My mentor Gilbert Seldes was too busy learning his academic gig at the brand new Annenberg so he coaxed me into taking the “pro” side of the Mass Culture argument. I had just completed my two year Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellowship at Penn, creating a two semester course in American Civilization on the Mass Society, first semester on mass communication, second on mass production. I was eager to go “national”. That’s the same conference that ended with the poet Randall Jarrell waggling his beard in my direction and exclaiming,”Mr. Hazard, you’re the man of the future. . .and I’m glad I’m not going to be there.” GULP! I was so beaten down by his contempt (widely shared there, it seemed!) that I didn’t even bother to read the subsequent “Mass Culture” issue of “Daedalus”.
Zip forward fifty years, as I belatedly read Michael Kammen’s thoughtful intellectual biography (1996) of Gilbert Seldes. He (surprisingly) generously praised my work alone and with Gilbert! And alluded to a book I had never even heard of, ”Culture for the Millions? Mass Media in Modern Society” (Beacon,1961), edited by one Norman Jacobs,with a forward by the preeminent Paul Lazarsfeld.(Notice the slyly skeptical question mark, instead of a colon, separating the title and subtitle!) Kammen’s curt footnote (Jacobs, ”Culture for the Millions”, p.7) alerted me to Google that one Norman Jacobs was the director of Tamiment, that cultural oasis in the Poconos. The book itself made Jarrell appear oafish in his unsupported putdown of me. And no less a sage than Lazarsfeld himself gratuitously praised me for being the only conference participant to note that physical phenomena(industrial design, architecture, and urban planning) were an essential aspect of mass culture.
My proposals were simple, but grossly misinterpreted: Identify the best efforts of mass culture and analyze their ambience, to encourage the next generation to emulate such achievement. For example, in my first nationally published article (“Everyman in Saddle Shoes,” Scholastic Teacher, 1954) I had described how I had assigned a Paddy Chayefsky teleplay, “Marty”, and then had my tenth graders at East Lansing High write overnight TV crits. At Tamiment, Norman Podhoretz, the CCNY Trostkyite suddenly morphed NeoCon, sneered that such drivel was “kitchen sink” drama, beneath academic contempt. (I had speculated that such childish rancor that the New York clerisy brought to their analyses of Pop Cult was a viral hangover from their miraculously swift conversions from Far Left to Far Right.)
And as I retrospectively analyzed the composition of the fifteen “certified” Tamiment participants, only two had media experience: Seldes and Frank Stanton, the Ph.D. running CBS. There were only three artists, James Baldwin, Arthur Berger, and Randall Jarrell, hardly a representative jury. The rest were social scientists of one ilk or another, quick to fantasize pseudo-empirical categories (highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, for example.) Any person could be a multiple mix of these brows, not to neglect the phenomenon that millions were constantly changing their brow levels, even as social science punks were nailing them to their naïve research walls.
And, alas, only one literary critic (if you excluded me!), Stanley Edgar Hyman. He was so good (on me!) that I’m going to quote him for your edification: ”The third ideal of mass culture I take from a letter Patrick D. Hazard wrote to me in 1958 in connection with some remarks I had published about the ironic mode. He wrote: ’Now it seems to me that a great many intellectuals have achieved a viable irony, but I wonder how the great mass who are no longer folk and not yet people can find a footing for their ironic stance. Do any of the following seem to you footholds?’ He then proceeded to list such newer comic performers as Mort Sahl and Jonathan Winters, such older comic performers as Groucho Marx and Fred Allen, and such miscellaneous phenomena as Al Capp, ‘The Threepenny Opera’, and ‘Humbug’ magazine.’ His comment on this list was: ’These things seem to question in one way or another some aspect of flatulence in popular culture, its sentimentality, fake elegance, phony egalitarianism, or it perennial playpen atmosphere.”( Jacobs,p.132.)
Hyman allowed as how he had no answer to my questions but that they suggested a third ideal: ”This is that mass culture throws up its own criticism, in performers of insight, wit, and talent, and in forms of irony and satire, to enable some of the audience to break through it into a broader or deeper set of aesthetic values. Again, I much prefer this sort of evolutionary possibility to types of patronizing enlightenment.” (Op. cit.,133.)
I would add that their class-formulated, snobbish rejection of meliorism is a major cause of such cultural impasses. Still, it takes a deep breath of Faith when our current “aliteracy” has sunk to the level of Rush Limbaugh and Emimem. But the true moral of this fable is not to give up too soon, in this case of premature ejaculation.
Do you suffer mild anxiety attacks about rereading American literary classics? Especially Swedish affirmative-action Nobel laureates in literature? Pearl Buck and Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck? Why, even Hemingway?
The last time I taught A Farewell to Arms—1982—I was embarrassed by its sentimental ending. All that whining in the rain. So the first flurry of publicity about the Golden Jubilee of The Grapes of Wrath found me sitting on my hands. Even the belated news that the original scheme of a photo essay—only now seeing the light of prints—redoubled my suspicions.
But a brilliant Soundprint that bracketed the celebration with really nutritious audio from Okies who had made the trek and thrived in California—as well as those who stayed and survived (some of the abused and abandoned cotton land was now growing blue grass for race horses)—broke down my skepticism.
(Soundprint, by the way—the latest brain child of All Things Considered inventor Bill Siemering—is consistently superlative, and you can replay the best to your ear’s content for $10 a pop from WJSU-FM, the Johns Hopkins University public radio outlet in Baltimore).
Parts of the book were surprising, 40 years after my first reading. The sexual candor, for a start. Pa Joad doubts that Casey was meant to be a cleric because he had too long a pecker for a preacher. And Steinbeck’s aversion to the mechanization of farming that was driving his Okies onto Route 66 he expressed by visualizing the seeding machines as “penes” raping the land.
There’s quite a bit about sacred hanky panky outside the revival tents, suggesting that the Swaggart / Bakker syndrome was well established in the pre-television era. And the hots that afflict Tom’s kid brother Al are a leit-motif that adds to Ma Joad’s anxiety about the family falling apart.
This is still the most touching part of the novel for me. From the tough decision Tom has to make to risk parole violation by leaving the state of Oklahoma down to Rose of Sharon’s painful stillbirth, it’s Ma’s fate to worry and fuss about every threat to the family’s persistence through a dirty laundry list of afflictions economic and psychological. I think this Earth Mother is Steinbeck’s greatest achievement.
But there are other aspects of Steinbeck’s epic that strike me a mite pokey. Turtles who march imperturbably through the dust toward some kind of enduring life look a bit worse for their too obvious symbolism.
And what I can only describe as Farm Security Administration prose poetry (the kind you’ll remember from the soundtrack of Pare Lorentz’s The River or Auden’s track for Night Mail) is there to pump up the dignity and timelessness of the Joads’ diaspora.
It makes me restless, the way the overpraised prose of James Agee’s Let Us Know Praise Famous Men detracts from the cool clarity of Walker Evans’ photos.
I’m not as willing as I once was to suspend my disbelief about the utopian government-sponsored migrant’s camp. It reminds me of Social Realist paintings: happy tractor drivers and smiling milk maids.
The Good Samaritanism that preached at the nightly rendezvous alongside Route 66 seems a tad utopian as well. It’s not that it’s easier to believe in depravity, but that Steinbeck approaches the tract when he contrasts the evil with the good.
Not that I regret having been put to the re-read test by Soundprint. It’s still a good read and an indispensable part of the downside of the American Dream.
I couldn’t help wondering if there isn’t some Mexican migrant worker right now gestating the deplorable conditions of the undocumented aliens who’ve replaced the Joads in the Trail of Tears, that unseen side of Agribiz: the high human cost of those cornucopian bins at our local supermarkets.
Our Nostalgia Industry being as productive as it is these days, I noted that the Joads’ journey was bracketed bicoastally in 1939 by two of the most unprescient crystal ball gazings in our country’s entire history—GM’s Futurama in Flushing Meadow on the one hand and Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay on the other.
You’ve no doubt noted that 1939 was also the apogee year of Hollywood as our Dream Factory. But maybe it passed you by that it was also the year that the Little League was founded in Williamsport and that baseball opened its Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Lots and lots of things distracted the bulk of us from the contemporary misery of the Joads. History is like that.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, October 25, 1989
I come not to bury mass culture but to praise it with criticism motivated by love—not rancor or the sullen almost surly stance characteristic of the humanist attitude toward the mass media. Shils has said that mass society is characterized by people making many new kinds of choices; that this has set loose the cognitive, appreciative, and moral potential of the population. He feels that curiosity, sensibility, and privacy are present in mass society and reminds us of the great differences in the cognitive, appreciative, and moral capacities within this society.
The function of the intellectual, I suggest, is not one that he chooses but rather one that society provides for him: in briefest terms, to clarify the many ambiguities that beset people who have not made these choices before, to help them develop their cognitive, appreciative, and moral potentials.
It seems to me that this whole discussion centers around the term “excellence.” When I try to come to any meaningful understanding of this word, I look for instances characteristic of the new kind of society. One of our problems is that we have some free-floating conformity. If we are to make any progress at all, we must be more precise in what we mean by these two words.
There is a continuum of excellence available in mass society; one man’s excellence is another’s mediocrity. The converse is also true. What we want is to get as many people as possible developing their own capacities along that continuum of excellence.
Furthermore excellence exists in a social context. It seem to me that the anti-business bias of most humanists makes it impossible for them to see what excellence exists in a mass society.
We ought to agree that the creation of material abundance is not a minor feat in human history. The problem in America is that there is a serious imbalance between our material productivity and our cultural productivity.
Much of the criticism of mass society reads like a coroner’s report. The humanist has been imprudent in the way he has invested his critical energies; humanist criticism is shamefully over-invested in literature. What most humanist critics mean when they contend that mass culture and excellence are incompatible is that the aesthetic forms that flourished in, say, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe do not flourish in twentieth century America.
It is, of course, perfectly legitimate for serious artists in literature, painting, and music to be concerned with the effects of social change on their genres. But it is an insufficiently acknowledged virtue of our mass society that it is more permissive to a wider range of aesthetic forms than any other culture in history. Never have the elite arts had, in both relative and absolute numbers, larger and more sophisticated audiences; and it is my impression that the opportunities for both creation and appreciation are rapidly increasing.
I suggest that we start reinvesting our critical energies in the new art forms characteristic of mass society. To do this we have to examine the art forms that have come out of mass production and mass communication.
Let me take mass production, to begin with. I have rarely heard critics talking about Charles Eames, George Nelson, or Frieda Diamond. Yet Charles Eames is perhaps the most impressive of our industrial designers. His plastic innovations encompass forms as diverse as colorful building cards for children, chairs and a brilliant color movie popularizing information theory.
George Nelson is another important designer with an articulate rationale. The Information Center at Colonial Williamsburg is an excellent example of how a first-rate designer like Nelson not only humanizes the artifacts and milieu of an industrial society but also makes the past meaningful and accessible.
One reservation about the work of our important industrial designers is that it is so expensive. In recent years, however, this objection has become less significant as designers like Frieda Diamond have aimed for the five-and-dime market and have executed pieces of high quality and low cost for such firms as Libbey Glass. Paul McCobb’s furniture has also appeared in reasonably inexpensive lines. Alcoa’s Forecast collection—plastic speculations about everyday shapes of the future done by the best designers—promises the convergence of good design with a mass market.
The increasing visibility of these patterns of excellence is an earnest of a progressively more attractive physical environment. It is hard to imagine that a generation of school children reared on Eames classroom furniture will be complacent about the over-stuffy designs of the neighborhood furniture store.
Moving from design to mass architecture, Carl Koch in his Tech-built Homes has successfully used prefabrication and the modular principle to make good architecture available to low income people. He is an unsung hero of mass society. Another is Charles Goodman, who for some years has been designing fine homes for National Homes, Inc., of Lafayette, Indiana, the largest manufacturer of prefabs in this country. Their lowest price house is a striking structure within the reach of the least paid factory worker.
Urban planning is still another area in which mass production has its impact on the new society. I find very few people talking about Victor Gruen’s planned shopping centers in Detroit, Saarinen’s General Motors Tech Center, and the revival of downtown in cities like New Haven, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. At Northland and Eastland in Detroit, for example, thanks to Gruen, shoppers not only have a pleasant time about their business; but the green vistas with contemplative sculpture for adults and play sculpture for children present a strong argument for the indispensability of amenities. The General Motors Tech Center north of Detroit is a vision of what industrial America can be like to live and work in.
It is true that there are very few instances of this excellence, but why should the intellectual feels that its extension ought to be easy? I should think he would address himself to the arduous discipline of extending the beachheads of maturity rather than engage in cerebral whimpering about the lack of excellence.
It is a polite cliché in our circles to talk about advertising as intrinsically debasing to man. Yet recently at the New York Art Directors’ Club I saw forty-five minutes of television commercials that were extraordinary in their almost minor lyric art. Anchor Books were only a Jason Epstein away less than a decade ago. When the book clubs started in the 1920s, horrified shouts of conformity echoed through every bookshop in the land, but by now the intellectual has made his peace with this method of distribution in the Mid-Century Book Society. The Teenage Book Club of Scholastic Magazine sold over ten million paperback books in one academic year.
The essentially snobbish attitude that humanists have had toward the mass education system in America has contributed materially to its present crisis. Our educational system is part of our multipurpose mass communication system. It is long overdue for a series of imaginative innovations in instruction, such as the closed circuit TV system financed by the Fund for the Advancement of Education in Hagerstown, Maryland; or the fleet of 16 station wagons taking science teachers to small high schools in the Northwest financed by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Oregon. Who would have believed five years ago that Michigan State University, a school built around trips to the Rose Bowl, would found an elite campus at Oakland, Michigan to reassert the primacy of the academic?
Can one find a via media between the Pollyannas and Cassandras of mass culture? I should like to see some hard-headed idealism among my humanist colleagues where they use as much imagination trying to develop a new kind of society as they expend extolling what they think is a past one. The trouble with the coroners of mass culture is that they find a morbid fascination writing obituaries on a society just doffing its swaddling clothes. There may not be a satisfying surplus of excellence in contemporary America, but there is just enough around to confute those who don’t care enough to look for it, or who wouldn’t recognize the excellences of this new kind of society if they saw them.
The only significant agenda for the humanities in a mass society is to husband the few archetypes already achieved and settle down to the workaday regimen of seeing that these first faltering steps don’t go unnoticed and unimitated. In other words, instead of a doctrinaire Utopianism, I think we ought to have some kind of meliorism about mass society where we try to look for its characteristic excellence and do what we can to encourage its growth.
Reprinted from Culture for the Millions, Mass Media in Modern Society, Beacon Press; edited by Norman Jacobs, pp. 156-159
BREAKING NEWS: The glamorous Huff not only reports news. She makes it big, as in AOL not only giving her 315 millions for something worth 20 such, but cops as well the lead editorship of the enhanced media complex. She’s always making news as well for her weathervainities. Now that she’s trimming centerwards, the Left is bellowing—the same way the Right bellyached when she veered Left. Take it from a daily reader of her erstwhile Hyperblog, whether she listens with her left or right ear, her nose for news remains central.
Arianna Huffington’s ”Third World America” (Crown, 2010) is a beguiling take on an impending catastrophe. Sexy, contentious Cassandra, she is an ideal referee of the political fisticuffs confounding the allegedly (by US) “greatest nation on Earth”! She talks about seeing a statue of Harry S. Truman on her way to school, and her country’s great gratitude that his Marshall Plan had soothed a befuddled Europe. At sixteen, she spent a year in York, PA and never lost her idealism about America. She returned for good in 1980 and has spent an increasingly indispensable career at reminding the complacent rich at how egregiously they are betraying their own country, destroying the middle class that has been the emblem of American aspiration for the entire world.
Most of the book is a chapter and verse indictment of the Americans who have been busy since Ronald Reagan’s blind reign of demeaning, yea, demolishing the very open middle class that used to be the Lighthouse of the world’s poor. How bitterly ironic that tele-stunned American was sold down the river by a B actor notorious for teleshilling General Electric’s dumb slogan that “Progress is our most important Product.” But the canny Greek mixes the dire statistics of loss and befuddlement with dozens of mini-CV’s that restore your faith in the ultimate restoration of the American Dream. A country full of such resilience in the face of so much personal and family hard luck can’t lose forever.
America was a “place that failed to keep up with history. A place not taken down by a foreign enemy, but by the avarice of our corporate elite and the neglect of our elected leaders.” (pp.3-4.)She cites Elizabeth Warren’s judgment as head of the Congressional Oversight panel monitoring TARP: One in five is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than §5 trillion from pensions and savings.” (pp.5-6.) And 12 hedge fund brass pocketed billion dollar bonuses. Wall Street screws Main Street. And only the poor and colored go to jail. Unemployment rate by income? $150 G’s and up: 3%; middle range: 9%; bottom 10%: 31%. “These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager income into destitution,” wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. “And such gruesome gaps in the condition of groups at the top and bottom of the economic ladder are unmistakable signs of an impending societal instability. This is dangerous stuff.” (p.13.)And Huffington contrasts the positive reaction to Benjamin Disraeli’s novel “Sybil”(1845) about the miseries of a working class Brit with our TV series “Undercover Boss” where tragedy turns unconvincingly comical. The economically obscene: 1970: Top execs of S&P 500 5x’s their workers; 2010, 300x’s. (p.25.)
Toothless regulation, wall to wall lobbying, 40% of corporate profits goes to newly expanded financial sector! By 2020 federal expenses in five sectors (Medicare, Medicaid, social security, net interest, and defense spending) will amount to 77% of expenditures. She bemoans the wasteful, meaningless wars since Vietnam. Poor Ike had it right. But every congressional seat has its eye on earmarks for defense. She cites Rome and the Soviet Union as well as historian Arnold Toynbee for their warnings about turning imperial. The first four sections of the book describe succinctly and with great passion the fix we’re in.
Amazingly, the final section is a gloriously persuasive series of successful partial recoveries from our economic miseries. Pissed at the banking and credit card systems that are designed to entrap even the careful? JOIN A CREDIT UNION! And over two million have made that commonsense move. Out of work? Don’t give up. Go communal. Elevating stories of little people with generous souls who defeat despair by systematically helping others worse off than they themselves. Read the first parts just to keep the issues clearly in mind. But linger over the final section. It will restore your confidence in the sanity of American Dreamers.
I despise Celebrity "Culture”, but I dig interesting people. So when I covered for NPR the opening of "Selma!”, that quirky activist musical on the famous March at LA’s Huntington Hartford Theatre in 1976, I suddenly found myself standing next to Groucho Marx and his nurse/girlfriend. He literally had gotten up from what would soon be his death bed to honor his old friend, Martin Luther King, Jr. Alas he was being harassed by a loathsome teenage autograph hound. I cornered the brute and explained in whispers how ill Marx was, until the jerk finally slunk away shamefacedly. His nurse had explained quietly how weak he was. I bodyguarded him for some minutes, until we moved to our front row seats. Later at the afterparty, Redd Foxx, who was financing the fiscal flop, told me what an effort Groucho had made to make the opening. Having a long silent look at Groucho’s eyes was communication enough for me. Autograph searching is the mental disease of morons infantilized by too much television. So I don’t look for interesting encounters, but Dumb Irish Luck has given me more than my fair share of serendipitous! Such as. . .
In 1958, as the gofer for the newly founded Annenberg School of Communication in Philadelphia, I was invading the teleprecincts of LA. An NBC flack allowed as how Polly Adler’s brother was opening a new restaurant today, “Wouldja like lunch there?” Freeloader that I was from my proletarian roots, I complied. And soon found myself seated next to Polly Adler, the most famous Madam of Hollywood. She had upgraded her recent retirement by earning an Associate Arts degree from Los Angeles Community College. She must have majored in Professor Evaluation because she plied me with queries (Queeries?) that allowed her to decide whether I was an asshole professor or Good Guy. After dessert she announced her decision that was a GG. And gave me a Hollywood embracero such that my Contaflex whomped her ample boobs. She withdrew in horror, chiding me snidely,”Patrick, you are acting like a goddam Tourist.” “Polly,” I replied with some conviction, "I am a goddam Tourist:” I believe to this day that Groucho would have chuckled at my witticism.
And then there was my encounter with Duke Ellington in a Holiday Inn elevator in Trenton, 1971.I had just dropped off my daughter Cathy at the Amtrak station to return to the Rhode Island School of Design. I was killing time before Trenton’s great museum opened—by going to the top of the hotel to see if the Big T was as ugly from on top as at the bottom. Alas, it was! Down I went until the 7th floor when who popped in. None other the Duke. “Mr. Ellington,” I began,”what are you doing on noon of a Sunday in Trenton?” “Honorary doctorate,” he replied. “Princeton, this time.” Meaning I deducted, you can stuff the old doctorates from Fisk and Tuskeegee!” Fifth floor: “I want to thank you belatedly for your band’s breaking into “Take the “A” Train!” on Easter Sunday at Liberty Stadium for the opening of the first Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal in 1964.” This coolest of cats broke into a tiny smile. My twelve year old son Michael standing next to me in Dakar levitated! Third floor.”I could hardly hold my camera steady!” Ground floor, doors open. "And I have the only color footage of that concert.”
Duke:”What’s your name --and address?” So we went over to the registration desk and I signed my first and only anti-autograph: Dr.Patrick D. Hazard, Beaver College, Glenside PA 19038.”Thank you, Dr. Hazard. I look forward to seeing your footage!” “You’re welcome, Duke!” Andy Warhol once bragged that everyone deserved fifteen minutes of fame.” Heh, how about fifteen thrilling seconds in an elevator with the Duke?”
Which reminds me of my brief encounter with Mahalia Jackson at the Newport Jazz festival of 1958. I had arrived at the HQ Viking Hotel late in the evening, so late that I had ordered the last chicken on the menu. Soon after, the great singer arrived, hungry after a long day of travel. I did a Boy Scout good turn and gave her the last bird and listened enchanted as she gabbled about her career! It was like a dinner dessert you never ate all of!
I was there for the first Jazz Critic Symposium at the suggestion of Marshall Stearns, the great jazz historian who also taught Medieval English Lit at Hunter College. I had run into him and Nat Hentoff in Greenwich Village in 1956 when I was a Ford Fellow figuring out how English teachers could master the new medium of television. Stearns’ example proved to my satisfaction that I could teach American Lit and be a good TV critic simultaneously. As the symposium entered its closing minutes, I noticed Mahalia Jackson at the back of the Auditorium. “What do you think of the conference,” I asked the singer. She replied tartly: “I don’t knows what youse been talkin’ about.” Pause. “But I sure do loves jazz!” Much more satisfying that chasing autographs is looking for serendipitous encounter you’ll never forget.
“Nattie” Birnbaum’s droll posthumous valentine to his beloved “Googie,” in the form of George Burns’ Gracie: A Love Story (G.P. Putnam’s, $16.95), is a beguiling read, the kind of summer stuff you can lay down every time the comic verbally puffs on his stogie (a signal to the audience that something funny has just happened).
Birnbaum picked up his stage name Burns from a New York coal company as more marquee-worthy than his natal moniker. The George he nipped from his brother Izzy, who found it more assimilationist as well.
George and Googie surely must have managed the most successful inter-ethnic marriage in American show biz history. I was astonished to learn that Gracie grew up in the San Francisco Richmond working-class district, a few blocks from where I boarded with a Chinese landlady in 1984.
I can see in retrospect why my Fitzpatrick clan was so inordinately fond of her. Her Irish Catholic success in the entertainment industry pre-figured Kennedy’s arrival in politics a generation later. That, and because her dumb-Dora persona was so perennially funny and easy to comprehend.
When historians talk about Depression radio being a psychic band aid, they must have had George and Gracie, Goodman and Jane Ace, and Fibber McGee and Molly in mind. How innocent and simple were their comedic strategies: the overstuffed closed, the Easy Aces malapropism, Gracie’s silly sense.
When she went to the Los Angeles General Hospital in a skit, she demanded to see the General, and when they wouldn’t allow her to go to the top with her complaint, she insisted on at least seeing Private Ward.
I must say “classic” radio reads better than it plays—I find myself tuning out in disappointment at WCAU’s replays when the Phillies are rained out. Once you get the hang of the formula, it goes pretty slow, unlike, say, swing band golden oldies from the same era. Goodman, Shaw, Miller and Dorsey don’t date at all to my ear. Yet these entertainers were both appealing to the same median audience.
Gracie’s candidacy in 1940 for the Surprise Party completely eluded my 13-year old mind. Thousands met at her whistle stops from L.A. to Omaha, in spite of the fact that she was so neurotic about its possibilities that she almost backed out before she saw the moiling crowd.
Given her terrible affliction of migraine headaches, it appears clear that what Nattie lacked in comedic talent he made up for in his nurturing of her muse and nursing of her body and mind. It’s a mark of Nattie’s generous spirit and entrepreneurial shrewdness that when it became evident she was no good as a straight man in their first vaudeville act, he flipped and became her straight person.
The subtext of the memoir is the way the couple and their peers used the seats of their pants to find out how to “do” radio, then movies, and finally—hardest of all for a comedienne without broad sight gags—television.
The way they tried to come to terms with the phenomenon of the studio audience and how to manage laughter (live, nonexistent or canned) is a fascinating episode in the evolution of pop culture genres. They knew they had it whipped when a sponsor offered free radio-audience tickets to paying vaudeville customers and the fans paid for the vaudeville, then skipped the show and came to watch radio.
Reading this book doesn’t deepen my hunch that Burns was a man who made a little talent go a long, long way. I wonder how many of his fans come 40 years later to be reminded of Gracie. A bunch, I’ll bet.
Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, May 22, 1991
Paul Theroux was the first prose writer I "discovered". Just as Karl Shapiro was my "first poet". Like the first girl you kissed seriously (Fran Gilpin), I'll never forget them! What a brilliant essay on the autobio (1797!) even as he vows not to autobiographize.
Call it dumb Irish luck, my sitting down next to Philly Joe Jones’ sister Geraldine at the Mellon Jazz Festival jam in his honor this summer. She and the drummer’s son Chris formed a kind of honor guard for the star’s widow, Eloise, in the front row in the Warwick’s grand ballroom.
First thing I knew, the matronly looking lady in a lovely rose silk dress with ruffled collars was whispering sweet somethings about “little Joe” in my left ear, between every tune and between sets. You see, Mrs. Lee was six years older than brother Joseph Rudolph Jones, the youngest of nine children of Amelia and Louis Jones, which puts her on the brink of 70.
And when Joe’s bricklayer dad died (at age 37) when the drummer-to-be was one, Amelia had to start as a housekeeper in Chestnut Hill, thereby making Geraldine “little Joe’s” de facto mother. Geraldine carted him off to the Joseph E. Hill elementary school in Germantown where he “day-cared” in kindergarten from age three to six. Out of this mothering came the lovely recollections with which she blessed me the night of what Mayor Goode had proclaimed Philly Joe Jones Day in Philadelphia.
She said—with the only sad look she gave me—that little Joe used to ask every man who came to their house, “Are you my daddy?” Geraldine theorizes that his drumming developed from his deep frustration. When he got the inevitable “No!” from each male visitor, he’d wander off, pounding everything that made noise with any stick that came to hand—furniture, banisters, glassware. It was, she believes, a tortured apprenticeship.
But the overriding impression she leaves of her childhood with little Joe is his mischievousness, an overflowing of animal spirits. She recalled that when he tried their tired mother’s patience, beaten down from a day of dusting and cleaning with the white folks in Chestnut Hill, she’d hide Joe in her bed, to turn away the wrath of the dog-tired parent.
She has the liveliest recollection of his first “professional” performance on the drums, decked out in a white suit with a sailor’s cap, the unexpected high point of May Day festivities at their elementary school. He was four. But when the piano player came to the end of their piece, little Joe wasn’t finished—he just kept paradiddling, to the delight of the astonished audience of parents and children.
There was no end to the madcaps she fondly recalls. He’d go into the 5 & 10 in Germantown, get the sales lady to put on a jazz record, then he’d improvise, dancing up and down aisles.
“He was something, all right. You know, colored couldn’t eat in Horn and Hardart in Germantown back then. But little Joe shined shoes to help out with the family’s expenses. And after he finished shining someone’s shoes, he’d march right up to the counter, sit down and eat. I think they were all just too amazed to bother with him. I never saw the likes of little Joe.”
Did his mother like his jazz?
“Did she ever! At the last party we had for her at our brother William’s—he was a chief warrant officer, 32 years in the Army—they put on Philly Joe’s records, and Momma walked over to him, held out her arms and said, “Let’s dance, Joseph.” They did, too. She was wonderful, shaking to his drumming.”
As the musicians picked up and packed away their instruments after the last set honoring Philly’s most famous drummer, Geraldine Jones Lee retreated up the center aisle with her memories of mothering as fresh as dawn. I thought to myself, some sibling! Some sister! Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, October 21, 1987
Stan Kenton was my idol for a decade (Late 40's early 50's) to the degree that I even bought a lapelless suit to emulate him. Imagine my astonishment to learn last year that he was incestuous with his daughter Leslie ages 10-13!
The last time I palavered with him was in those great Pennypack Park free concerts. He was too drunk there to be coherent, but I still loved his music which even prompted me to imagine being a band leader for a nonce--until I succumbed to the feistier charms of philosophy.