Sunday, 29 April 2012

"It all turns on affection."

Wendell Berry is a longball hitter!

Berry is an underappreciated genius. As a retired professor of American Lit writing his memoir, I'm reminded I spent thirty years of teaching followed by thirty years of alternative journalism warning citizens that our toxic politics and plutocratic economics unfit us for an effectively egalitarian democracy.

I warned my students and readers that a people who don't cherish their great writers (for example Walt and Emily) eventually lose their minds. That's our current fate.

It will not be easy to extricate ourselves from going on three centuries of such abuse.

Saturday, 28 April 2012


St. Matthews Church, Berlin's Cultural Forum

Friday, 27 April 2012

An Experiment in TEEN-AGE TV

Published in The Clearing House, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Oct., 1955)

It’s Monday night at WKAR-TV, Michigan State’s new educational station. Studio A is a mad hubbub of voices, a tangle of TV cameras and props. “One minute . . . quiet in the studio,” barks the director over the PA system. And out of the unbelievable, hour-long chaos of rehearsal comes a weekly half-hour show spotlighting the best in current teen-age leisure activities. Produced and acted by high-school students from the Lansing, Mich., area, “Rec Room,” as the program is called, is a showcase of hobbies and creative work of all kinds, a forum for movie and pocket-book reviews, a place for displaying the latest fashions—male and female—and, in general, a clearinghouse for new angles and ideas on anything and everything young people do with their free time.

How did the program start? As part of a summer curriculum workshop sponsored by the East Lansing Board of Education. Two high-school English teachers, as a result of their study of the present curriculum, wondered how they might tap for educational purposes the tremendous reservoir of energy and enthusiasm expended by teenagers in their spare time. The plan started with the aim of developing a flexible program—after the “magazine concept” show developed by commercial TV—which would begin with our students’ obvious interest in popular culture and proceed from that point to suggest ways that might lead everybody to find new and stimulating leisure horizons. 

In any one show, we figured, we ought to appeal to as many levels of taste as possible. To avoid that fatal mistake of talking down to teenagers, we found the best way was to include them in the planning and production. Indeed, as the program concluded its first series—after twenty telecasts—the teenagers were actually producing it. They outlined it, made arrangements for guest talent, created title cards, and acted in it. It has been a brilliant confirmation of our hunch that teenagers can produce marvels, given a little direction and encouragement.

The pivot of the series was an articulate hot rodder. He was the M.C. of the show, and he made the program run smoothly from one segment to another. And sensibly enough, the first program was on hot rodding. He brought a hot rod into the studio and explained what went into its construction. We went to the Michigan championship hot rod races (“drags,” to the initiates) and took twenty minutes of sound film. Edited, this became an exciting, eight-minute segment of authentic documentary—screeching tires, roaring exhaust, careening cars, and interviews with contestants, police, and safety officials. The rest of the show was devoted to a discussion of manners at football games, and previews of good books and jazz records. The first program was kinescoped for publicity purposes.

This kine was extremely useful to us, because a conflict in studio schedules made it impossible for us to go on with the series for about two months. While we waited for an opening in the schedule, we went to work trying to get the bugs out of the program. We showed the kine to English classes and asked the students to criticize it. And they did! First to go was the teacher-conceived title, “Spare Time for Youth.” The old title was much too condescending, and the students told us so. Next went the section on manners; it was too preachy. Finally the format gelled into a basement recreation room, complete with pennants, “no parking” signs, and stuffed deer head. Into the “Rec Room” each week would come teenagers who had done something outstanding with their leisure; they would be the features of the program. Standard fare included three movie reviewers, a book editor, and a boy and a girl fashion expert.

What are the sources for a program like this? We are lucky in our community to have a well-sponsored youth talent show. Each year, under the combined auspices of the Lansing State Journal and the Lansing recreation department, hundreds of local youngsters enter their best work in an area-wide competition. Enough talent shows itself to run several programs like ours. The grand prize winners for 1955 were a girl who wrote a book on her family’s trip to Japan and a boy who built a complete four-cylinder internal-combustion engine. Other youth talent prize winners who have appeared on our show include sculptors and painters, entrants in graphic arts, fly tying, clothing construction, and furniture, and an amazing young man who had constructed a radio-controlled airplane.

Music was another activity we thought important. Our theme was a moving bit of modern jazz by Shorty Rogers, called “Boar Jibu.” When the Jazztone Society—a new jazz-record-of-the-month club—offered an introductory sampler of all the styles of America’s own art form, from New Orleans to bop, we asked a jazz pianist studying music at Michigan State to explain the evolution of this kind of music. With the use of a piano, our record, and his musical background, we developed a short series, “Introducing Jazz.” Student quartets, dance teams, and soloists added variety on some programs. A high light of our telecast Valentine party was a series of popular love songs rendered by local young people. We even tried, with considerable success, telecasting a cello solo by a girl from one of the local high-school orchestras.

Fashion is something close to the hearts of teenagers, so it had a legitimate place on our show. One week we would have a profile on some phase of girls’ fashions—sweaters, blouses, spring dresses, sportswear; next week would be the boys’ turn—shirts, cuff links, sports coats, sweaters. Esquire, the New York Times fashion supplements, and local merchandise provided ample material for discussion. We tried, or rather the fashion editors tried, to stress how to buy wisely and how to take care of clothes chosen to fit one’s personality and physiognomy. Some of the drawings conceived to illustrate points were artistic triumphs in themselves.

Movies may not be better than ever, but our youngsters are better movie-goers because of the discussions they have had in their weekly reviewing sessions. The downtown theaters gladly gave us all the passes we wanted for our reviewers, who fortified themselves for the program by checking their reactions with those found in Time, Newsweek, the Saturday Review, the Commonweal, and other quality magazines. We even talked the managers into supplying a few film slips for our program and frequently had movie stills to focus the viewer’s attention on our remarks.

And I suppose no program could be complete, from an English teacher’s point of view, without book reviews. We were especially lucky to have as our editor an attractive girl who is equally at home in the buzzing confusion of the adolescent world and in the more staid atmosphere of top-quality academic work. She reviewed the monthly Teen Age Book Club selections in a particularly fresh and imaginative way. Occasionally she and others would move into less charted waters—with great results. We reviewed the Museum of Modern Art’s collection of photos, “The Family of Man”; several photo essays from Life, particularly the series on religions; and similar cultural material. These forays into the domain of the high-brow (for teenagers, it’s high-brow) came off very well because they were done in a relaxed and casual way that fitted in with the rest of the program.

What suggestions can we give to others interested in extending the idea into their communities? Choose “all-American” boys and girls for the M.C.’s. They should not only be bright and attractive but also free from stiffness and stuffiness; they should be full of enthusiasm. Plan your programs ahead so that next week’s participants can watch a show rehearsed and aired before they try their luck. Have your talent outline their presentations and time themselves before the show. Always expect them to run through their material too soon and always have padding for the end of the show. Nothing can produce anxiety like running out of material with ten minutes of air time still to be filled. It’s best to keep some filler material ready; it can be used next week if you don’t need it the first time.

But by all means do get into TV. It’s fun and it’s good for the youngsters. Not the least satisfaction is that of receiving the fullest co-operation from a TV staff like that at M.S.C. While an ETV station is perhaps more eager to accept such noncommercial ventures as a youth-leisure show, there is not reason why a civic-minded commercial station could not find time for such telecasting and no reason why sponsors could not be obtained. We just never considered that phase at WKAR-TV.

What does this activity have to do with English teaching? A great deal. Although the program is strictly extracurricular, it is not extra-educational. TV is a mode of communication that, as Pat Weaver of N.B.C. suggests, could revolutionize the human situation. It could, if used imaginatively, raise mass man’s awareness to levels heretofore attained only by a very small elite. As the chief exponent of the liberal-arts tradition in the high school, the English teacher has a responsibility to see that the mass-communications revolution is humanized. 

If we can show our students the many ways in which they can achieve maturity through creative use of their leisure time, our purposes as interpreters of the humanities are well served. If we can, in a program like this, telecast what David Riesman calls models of autonomous leisure—people who know how to enjoy their leisure creatively—then we are encouraging that total maturity of the personality which is the chief aim of the liberal arts. 

I am convinced that what we do to help the high-school student raise his sights in his leisure life is the most crucial single factor in America’s forthcoming cultural maturity. If we can start a few dynamos of personal enthusiasm roaring the high-school years, the battle is won. “Rec Room” had aims like that.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Letter to the Editor:

As an ex-Catholic undergraduate schooled first in Thomism followed by two years of Logical Positivism in graduate school under Mortimer Kadish, I gave up on philosophy as a useful enterprise. These essays on Wittgenstein persuades me to take another look.

Policing the grounds to keep philosophical morons from creating useless diversions or frustrating dead ends is a noble enterprise.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Voting NO to JFK

I never thought I would bitterly regret my YES vote for JFK in 1960. I couldn’t even laugh at the cartoon of an older man leading a young lady inside to the tune of “Don’t ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your president!” (The International Herald Tribune, March 15, 2012, p.7.) The sedulous seduction was appalling enough, but JFK’s supervising a blow job on his own whoremaster staggers belief.

That is hubris of an unforgiveable degradation.

I say this as an ex-Catholic who has come to believe that the true cause of my deplorable divorce after only twenty years derived from both our parents’ sexually dysfunctional Catholic marriages: My father fled to Las Vegas with his secretary when I was three and my only sibling Mike, ten. His birth came promptly nine months after my father returned from the AEF in France in1919 to my virgin mother.

And my first wife’s father died an abusive drunk not too long after spending time in Jackson State Prison for fiscal shenanigans in the Detroit Mayor Reading’s administration. Notice neither too much sex (in France) or too little sex in Detroit are confronted only by a Catholic intimate “education” in the confessional. I laugh bitterly decades after fatuous counsel in my adolescent confessions.

Celibates are bad enough when they know nothing. They are abominable when pedaphilic. The same ignorant celibate “authorities” who pontificate from their bishoprics about the evil of contraception have been suppressing the evil corruption of innocent young children by “celibate” corruptors. It makes you want to believe in hell.

In Fareed Zacharia’s indispensable “Global Public Square” (CNN, Sundays 9:00 am. EST) for April Fools Day, four diverse voices explored the sexual complexities of the 2012 election. (See their podcast at Zacharia.) JFK’s famous Houston speech to Baptist preachers is exposed for the doubletalk that it was. Catholic doctrine holds that condoms and day after pills are “murder”, diverse interruptions of Nature. And we learn that Roger Williams was protecting minority religions against a manipulating state.

Today we are being asked by believers who argue their diverse religions can all contravene the state. The separation of Church and State has been turned upside down. The sanest voice in this discourse was Charles Murray’s, who deplores the way the 1960’s have destroyed a culture of maturity among the working classes. One person can be either heroic or hellish in the raising of children. And he urges the upper middle classes to Preach What They Practice!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Hope as Hero

The Entertainer as Hero Review of “Bob Hope’s Own Story: Have Tux Will Travel” by Pete Martin

A corollary of the assumption that our sense of national purpose sorely needs focusing is that we have raised false gods for worship in our society. Instead of admiring and emulating the professionals and scientists, artists and intellectuals, whose disciplines and skills make our society of abundance possible, our media system holds up for indiscriminate adoration and fantasy a rogue’s gallery of irrelevant characters: sports champions, socialite playboys (and their girls of the moment), and those ubiquitous stars of stage, screen, and TV.

These are, in the broadest sense, “The Entertainers,” those who, according to Webster, “engage the attention of others agreeably,” by amusing and diverting. The word originally referred to the special kind of attention one shows to infrequent guests, when they are given the run of the house or the keys to the city. But the significant thing about our mass entertainment culture is that what once was a sometime thing, an agreeable and wholesome diversion from the enervating work of survival, has now become an almost all-the-time happening. One could assume that such a reshifting of focus, or reinvestment of energies, would have equally profound characterological results.

It becomes important, then to inquire into the nature of the highly visible entertainer’s world view. “What does he stand for?” may be another way of asking what most of us will soon stand for in an entertainer-oriented society.

Bob Hope’s “as told to” autobiography is a good source of insight. The fact that it is a synthetic “autobiography” is in itself significant, for throughout the book there is evidence that an entertainer is not so much a person as a business.

So despite the flippant references to authentic autobiographers like Ben Franklin and Giovanni Casanova, and Hope’s calculated humility and diffidence about his book’s lack of order and coherence, we must remember that we are not reading a deeply felt testament but rather pool-side interviews of a man surrounded by “flacks” (publicity men), a stable of writers, and bookkeepers.

Another pervasive theme is Hope’s obsession with pay raises from a few boyish dollars winning foot races at Cleveland picnics to conning Sam Goldwyn into paying him $100,000 for a movie when his Paramount contract stipulated only $25,000 per picture. At one point, he italicizes his own philosophizing: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to make a thousand dollars a week! If I ever made a thousand a week I don’t think I’d talk to anybody. How could you make a thousand dollars a week! If I’d told them back home that I was making four hundred a week they’d think I’d been robbing a bank and was hiding out.”

This is acting out in a magnified way the American ritual of success. Fame brings money and attention, even the absurd extreme of celebrity culture that made a New York man offer Hope $10,000 just to show up at his party. (The comedian countered by offering to phone him during the party for $5,000.) But fame in an egalitarian society is a tricky business. Fame was unquestionably Hope’s biggest thrill next to a warm audience reception. He used to walk to his Broadway theater to relish this sensation: “It was a kick, whipping down to the theater and saying ‘Hi’ to the traffic cops and to people on the Avenue and to the people in the show when you got there. That was really living.”

He admired Jimmy Durante’s shrewdness for hiring a “memory” man to remember people’s names for him so he could flatter them by having remembered. “You like to remember names because your old friends get a complex about you and begin to ask themselves, ‘I wonder if he’ll remember me?’ They think ‘you’ve gone Hollywood,” … So you like to give them no reason for suspecting such a thing.” When Fred Mac Murray didn’t forget to remember Hope on the latter’s first visit to Hollywood, Hope came to this conclusion: “If I needed anything to tell me how important it is to stay human, that was it.”

There is also a childlike innocence about Hope’s sheer joy at hobnobbing with General Patton, ad-libbing with King George, golfing with Eisenhower, calling Air Force Secretary Symington “Stu.”

Thus an entertainer’s whole personality focuses on the business of being well liked. Even one’s name is tailored: Hope changed it from Lester to Bob, because he thought “Bob had more ‘Hi ya, fellas’ in it.” And the audience is always right. “He should remember that if they don’t react the way he thinks they ought to react, it’s his fault. Either he’s not selling his material, or it was bad material in the first place.” Or “When he tells his first gag and the place falls apart, his life is complete.” Why did he entertain so many troops overseas? Because they were the most receptive audiences imaginable. “…You can work an audience and pull down twenty thousand bucks, but if the audience doesn’t like you, you won’t be happy with all that money. But if you work an audience for nothing and you’re a hit and you feel that electricity crackle back and forth between you, you’re happy. Being there is worthwhile.”

In a democratic society where the common man is king, to be successful you have to flatter his superficiality and his prejudices. You identify with his averageness (George Jessel introduced him at a Friars Club celebrity night as an “average American who makes three million dollars a year”).

So Hope’s no. 1 joke is one based on today’s news headlines; next in importance are local jokes; an analysis of his humor before servicemen adds the categories of anti-officer, sex, and broad exaggeration. He avoids political controversy in deference to his sponsor; is against a disease (cerebral palsy) to build good public will; almost identifies American opportunity with his getting paid to kiss Dorothy Lamour in the movies; wants his son to be able to grow up to be President with this as an alternative; and promotes a bland kind of religion best suggested by Father Keller’s inviting him to costar with Ben Hogan and Bing Crosby in a film called “Faith, Hope and Hogan.” (“The Christophers are trying to spread religion in general. They don’t make any special effort to try to spread the Catholic Religion, they just try to spread good to the whole world … I imagine they labeled Bing Faith because of his role in ‘Going My Way,’”)

Hope regards Durante highly because “he’s bighearted and he lives to be nice to people. I don’t think he has an enemy.” In describing his own idyllic home life, he philosophizes: “You only live once and you have maybe twenty-five more years to enjoy yourself, so why not live it up until the sheriff comes and wheels the whole thing off to be sold? So that’s what we’re doing—living it up. And it’s a joy and a pleasure. When you’ve worked long enough and hard enough, I think you have the right to baby yourself a little.”

It may appear unusually humorless to subject a stand-up comedian to such grim cross-examination, especially since the writer himself is a great admirer of Hope’s wit and style. But that is the paradox of the entertainer’s usurpation in contemporary American life. As an amusing court jester, he was fine; as royalty, he is innocent and babies us too much. As entertainers become the focus of American culture, their contagious lack of seriousness becomes a serious matter. In discussing the serious professional problem of overexposure, Hope observed that “the public is rich right now as far as free entertainment goes … My hunch is that the public is being spoiled through being over-entertained.”

It is my judgment that because the entertainer monopolizes the collective consciousness with a froth of ad hoc raillery, neutralizes political commitment, flatters an already complacent audience’s prejudices, and propagandizes for the entertainer’s Weltanschauung of being nice to people, against diseases, and for Father Keller, the public is indeed “being spoiled by over-entertainment.” But the entertainment isn’t “free” at all, because it is exchanged for the precious commodity, leisure, that should be reinvested in the personal and social skills needed in a mass society.

This essay appeared in Humanities Today, The Clearing House, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Oct., 1960), pp.124-126

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Knowing and Caring

METHOD, by A. William Bluem. New York: Hastings House, 1964.
311 pp. $8.95.
Authors normally resent in a review, and rightfully, the suggestion that another book rather than the one under consideration should have been written. Yet a book as good as this one inevitably becomes stimulus to the response of asking deeper questions. Just so, the very completeness with which Bluem has chronicled the prestige documentaries of network radio and television, as well as the splendid way he has analyzed their historical roots in photography, cinema, and theatre, makes one wonder all the more whether in the last analysis even such aesthetic acuity is meaningful outside a fuller sociological context. Bluem's internal history of the documentary as a form is so fascinating that it demands a complementary external history.

That as yet unwritten external history would dig as deeply into sociological matters like personnel origins and continuity, costs and sponsor problems, ratings and audience response. What is distressingly missing from Bluem's too aesthetic approach to the documentary is a certain grubbiness of context in which the documentary form has managed to endure (if not exactly prevail), a grubbiness all too evident from, say, a weekly reading of the trades; and what is likewise missing is a sense of that anti-intellectual cacophony, American popular culture, from which the audience for the documentary must somehow be distracted.

To put it another way, however much one finally assents to most of Bluem's aesthetic judgments, the book finally reads like an Awards Ceremony; everybody is dressed up in the academic equivalent of tuxes; nobody is headachey over his movieola, fighting a deadline (even, perhaps, an intranetwork competitor); there is no yawning audience, palpably switching over to an entertainment program. These realities, of course, have aesthetic dimensions: frenetic cutting and Wowie grabbers are the aesthetic residue of a documentarian's image of his hopped up audience; the absence of some topics is a function of an operative's lively awareness of how many, many more people are ready, able, and willing to step into his producer's shoes should he prove too intractable.

This is not, it should not be necessary to add, calling for a tract. It's just that the sociology of knowledge makes it imperative to at least speculate about how the climates of both the broadcasting industry and the culture at large condition the corpus of art under analysis. For, let us not be innocent about it, the documentary represents the high seriousness of an industry perfectly content so far to acquiesce in the general public's preference for frivolity. A documentary like Harvest of Shame was an eloquent effort to make Americans know and care about a hidden and scandalous cost of their comfortable affluence. That the violent reaction of those whose exploiting finally felt the light of public scrutiny "taught" the industry to be more impartial (p. 107) is in itself a scandal. One might as well talk about doing positive-thinking treatments on slums, pollution, leprosy. The whole discussion about being perfectly objective in an industry that spends most of its conscious persuading moments being ex parte about marginally differentiated products and marginally valuable fun is ludicrous when you think about it.

And while Bluem makes excellent sense in his analysis of the Murrow-McCarthy episode, one still wants to know what small "m" mccarthyism did (is still doing?) to the documentary business: Was anyone blacklisted, were topics taboo, do GM or the Pentagon try to manage the genre? Is business censorship necessary if employment in the field is so precarious that one looks out for number one by anticipating difficulties?

Why were Nightmare In Red and The Twisted Cross, for example, so much tougher than "Project XX" films on America? Does nonpartisanship like bipartisanship in foreign policy begin at the water's edge? I also screened Douglas Leiterman's One More River at the CBC and found it moving but not irresponsible.

It surprised me that NET and Westinghouse decided not to show it in their "Intertel" series and amused me that they "arrived independently at their decisions" (p. 238). NET affiliates were in a great tizzy the summer of 1966 over the Ginsberg-Ferlinghetti film in the "USA: Poetry" series because the poets had the "effrontery" to use words like scrotum on the air. Does that mean that film makers ought to cut out what those two poets say if it might offend a PTA officer in Boise: or should NET affiliate general managers have more backbone-maybe even read poetry occasionally?

In short, the tone of Bluem's book is that we ought to be grateful for the greatness our documentary makers have managed to give us. I say, foolishness. CBC and BBC documentary makers (radio and television) say more things, more experimentally, to more people on less money than our pantheon of heroes. Bluem apologizes in the last sentence of his last footnote for not reviewing the British developments for lack of time. No one expects him to do the whole job, but when the CBC is represented by a Leiterman pan, and when the unquestionably broader range of freedom both there and in Britain isn't even mentioned, the perspective of his view of American documentary
begins to blur.

It may be true, as Burton Benjamin claims in his foreword, that TV rescued the "ailing patient in extremis" of movie newsreel and documentary, but to make a basket case barely ambulatory is scarcely cause for great joy. The task of documentary on American TV is to keep the general public as informed as it is entertained. Clearly, the marketing bias of television relegates the documentary to showcase, compensatory culture. One could even argue that the entertainment genres distort popular American understanding at a far faster rate than the handful of documentaries possibly could correct, even if everybody attended to them. In the last analysis, popular fictions may indeed be shaping the American understanding; these de facto (if subliminal) antidocumentaries are perhaps a more overriding reality than the work of our elite corps of Murrow, Gitlin, Secondari, Drew, however admirable their canon has been by absolute standards.

What, this is to say, do the facts of the documentary's marginality in American broadcasting and in popular attention have to say to us that is much more important than explications of the ioo best films from Ameri- can TV? And, in all candor, isn't the absence of local documentary not really a matter of time (as CBC and BBC analyses justly are) but more a question of nonexistence, save for a few sports like the network O and O's and Westinghouse.

Sure, Tio can hustle together a long list, but do they really represent what local TV and radio could and should be capable of, given the profit margins of broadcasting? It also seems ultimately misleading to analyze TV's nonfiction function without exploring the implications of space spectaculars, escalating war coverage, and the gatekeeper role of Big Government and Big Business on the documentary. I know any one of these is a book in itself, but Bluem has found much space for diachronic aesthetic factors in the development of the documentary; the logic of his analysis seems to me to demand at least a speculative framework of the synchronic factors influencing the documentary as a form.

But it is only because Bluem's book is so exhilarating a plateau that we can even begin to see these as yet unscaled peaks. What he has done he has done well indeed, providing every student of television who agrees with Fred Friendly that what Americans don't know can kill them with a firm base for further study-for trying, ultimately, to find out if TV is capable of making most Americans know enough and care enough about the mounting agenda Edward R. Murrow believed TV entertainment was isolating them from. Bluem's book has five parts and three useful appendices.

Part One traces "the documentary heritage" in the history of photography, film, radio, and theatre, establishing clearly and eloquently that TV drama was no tabula rasa to begin with, but had rather a rich complex of traditions, some helpful, some inhibiting. It is helpful to see the prehistory of the television genre in Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, the Farm Security Administration photographers, Look and Life photojournalism; in March of Time and other theatre films; in "the forgotten art" (a fine, normative phrase) of Roy Larsen, Norman Corwin, and Robert Lewis Shayon; and in the theatre's search for greater relevance in such experiments as "the Living Newspaper" and Brecht's epic theatre. Bluem's work herein establishes a standard for histories of television: aesthetic antecedents are there, and it is a principal duty of the historian to show what they are.

Part Two analyzes the television news documentary in two sections: "the ongoing crisis" devoted to the "See It Now," "CBS Reports," and NBC's "White Paper" series, with extended analyses of crucial episodes like the Murrow-McCarthy confrontation, Harvest of Shame, and the Newburgh, New York, welfare controversy; and "the crisis
within" which considers the ambiguities of Robert Drew's cinema verite films as well as the closely related Bell & Howell "Closeup!" series on ABC.

Part Three considers the "theme documentary," with sections on compilation documentaries like Henry Salomon's NBC series, "Project XX," and Donald Hyatt's "stills in motion" form at NBC, CBS compilation traditions like "The Twentieth Century," and ABC's series on Churchill, "The Valiant Years." David Wolper's contribution is considered under the rubric "the entertainment compilation."

One wishes there were more analysis of the network rationale of no outside producers of nonfiction, for this is the kind of thinking Bluem excels at. His final section on compilation films deals with biographies, where I find him too rough on Wolper-on the whole, "Biography" and "The Story of . . ." (especially the latter) were notable contributions to television documentary, and it is regrettable in my judgment that as Wolper became successful, he gravitated to flashier biographical genres like NBC's "The World of .. ."

Part Four explores network variations like NBC's "Wide, Wide World" and the art-oriented documentaries of Lou Hazam and George Vicas, the "notebook documentary" (a shrewd term) of newsmen like Huntley, Brinkley, McGee, and the "instant history" of Chet Hagan's specials on fast-breaking news like the loss of the submarine Thresher. It also provides a limited overview of the local documentary, justly singling out for praise WBNS-TV-Columbus for its remarkable fecundity as a source of documentaries. (This is where dollars and sense analysis, management philosophy, audience response could be particularly heuristic, for in my opinion a television documentary tradition which does not include a vibrant local dimension is only half-safe.)

I would also have explored the remarkable precedent of Westinghouse-Baltimore (WBZ-TV) hiring (however briefly) Dr. Jack Hunter as "house historian," free to do six documentaries a year. If every major market station could be teased or wheedled into such Group W type statesmanship, what a long and happy story Bluem's successors would have to record. "Intertel" and the ABC "Focus on America" experiment are also discussed. I think the omission of WCBS-TV's "Eye on New York" series as well as the remarkable low-budget documentaries coming out of Pamela Iliott's Religious Programs department at CBS News are lacunae Bluem might fill in the next edition of what is clearly to become a standard work.

Part Five is a brief exposition of Bluem's theory of TV documentary, a treatment which also seems to me too elliptical to be convincing. With the prodigious labor he has put into this book, he has earned the right to philosophize at greater length, and we have incurred the obligation to listen.

This review appeared in
Documentary in American Television: Form, Function, Method
by A. William Bluem
Review by: Patrick D. Hazard
AV Communication Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring, 1967), pp. 117-120
Published by: Springer
Knowing and Caring: The Context of the Broadcast Documentary in America

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Modernism as Covert Theology

Regarding Janet Malcolm's review of Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice:

You'll never understand the ultimate absurdities of Modernism (architecture, graphics, music, theatre, film, literature), the whole multifaceted canon, if you don't start with its Genesis.

Walt Whitman solemnly called the poet the new Priest, and "Leaves of Grass" was his Newest Testament. Philip Johnson, Jackson Pollock, John Cage, Brecht, Bunuel, Gertrude Stein are all basically secular hagiographers, rejecting the ever-morphing chaos of industrial civilization with their own "saints" and sacred texts and rituals.

No matter their politics, living high on the hoggishness of material abundance of "developed societies", they get away with their facile fascism like Philip Johnson, or cynical unSemitism like Stein and Toklas, or the rich man's communism of Brecht, they fiddled while modern civilization, deprived of its natural leaders, reached its current impasse, where as Alice Rawsthorn recently observed in the International Herald Tribune ninety percent of the world's designers "work" for ten percent of the wealthiest world's humans.

And as Architecture for Humanity is attempting very creatively to do: see that more and more architects work for the Neglected Ninety Percent. Habitat for Humanity should make Frank Gehry tremble for his future status as Humanity's Class Clown. It is so painfully obvious that it is a crime crying to secular heaven for retribution when the world`s most creative so coddle only the well off.

Fifty years as an academic humanist convince me that the universities are too rotten to change the agenda. The intellectually obese one billion stand in the way of decent lives for the other five billion souls with not enough to eat.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Monday, 16 April 2012

Catholic Colleges

Abandoned by my father who disappeared with his secretary to Las Vegas, my first ten years were spent at a Dominican academy followed by almost three years at a Catholic minor seminary. (I was ejected at Easter by the Rector who caught us smoking in the Gothic Tower at midnight.)

After two years in the Navy (1944-46) I spent three years studying philosophy in a Jesuit University. I won the Midwestern Province's annual senior essay contest with a rant entitled "Needed:More Red-blooded American Catholics" by which I meant people fighting for social justice like the Commies were at that time. When I went off to graduate school two of those Commies exploited my innocence by appointing me chairman of the new Thomas Jefferson Forum.

When I went back to my home U over Christmas, my metaphysics professor greeted me warmly with "I hear you've gone over to the enemy!" Merry Xmas! Period. Luckily, Paul Hallinan, my Newman Club chaplain, defended me before the Cleveland Chancery with "It's a University, gentlemen. We're seeking the truth." He was speaking to John Krol, then a very ordinary Ordinary, later a right wing Cardinal in my hometowm. Paul became the first archbishop of Atlanta, an intimate of Martin Luther King.

Only my sociology professor, John F.Coogan, S.J., had the balls to fight Father Coughlin and Detroit racism. Readers curious about my auto-laicized life can find it on this blog.

The intellectual morons who invoke Cardinal Newman to criticize President Obama at Notre Dame would better waste their cerebella studying Sharia Law which is the way the RC was before the enlightenment. The Pope who feebly fought Modernism in the 19th century with the fatuous doctrine of infallibility (the Virgin Mary was conceived without Original Sin), thereby insuring that celibates in the 20th century would abuse children with impunity and their bishops and Pope Benedict XV would all piously lie about these real Sacrileges.

Patrick D. Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Think of Taste before Taxes

This essay was written in 1956 and published in Readings in Economics and Politics, edited by H.C. Harlan, Oxford University Press (1958).

For over a century, ever since economics separated itself from its moralistic progenitor-political philosophy, practitioners of the dismal science have prided themselves on the clinically quantitative methods they have devised to analyze the "cash nexus." Benefits accruing from such a narrow vision at high focus have been impressive: So much so that policy makers in business and government today simply take it for granted that their decisions must be based on the objective studies of the specialist in economics. But apparently there is a point beyond which this intense scrutiny of a few variables isolated from the total social situation of contemporary man pays diminishing returns.

That, at any rate, is what this outsider-a scholar in the humanities-gathered from reading an extraordinary essay-Kenneth Boulding's The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society (U. of Michigan Press, 1956). That book follows the new fashion, of those whose courage far surpasses their discretion, of reconnoitering the interdisciplinary no man's land. In the same spirit, then, this sketch is the startling phenomenon of a specialist in American intellectual history defining what he believes will be the most important economic problem the United States faces in the next twenty years.

The more one thinks about it, however, the less exotic becomes a humanist's interest in his country's economic future. Taste and culture are often closely connected with such mundane economic matters as taxes, disposable income, and rates of investment. To be specific, the Sixteenth Amendment radically changed the nature of patronage in America, as every Guggenheim Fellow should know without ever having seen a copper mine; or .as the beneficiaries of the recent Ford Foundation grants for the creative arts will soon learn. And, to the despair of those who wish American drama had a truly popular audience, theatrical unions and Manhattan real estate conditions make Broadway an expense-account theatre. Moreover, we have seen Hollywood tighten its belt, and in the sweating process produce a greater percentage of esthetically important films, under the intense economic competition of the television industry. Finally, in terms of those social institutions most directly connected with literacy: economic change has forced the publishing industry to turn to book clubs and reprint or movie rights to maintain solvency: shifts in advertising strategy have doomed magazines of substantial circulation and valuable editorial policies; the baby boom and suburban "prosperity" have created a crisis of quality in mass education from kindergarten to seminar. Thus must the humanist himself turn to the economist for adequate understanding of the basic issues and problems con¬fronting his own out-of-the-marketplace discipline.

Moreover, there are many artistic crises in American society that seem, to the layman at any rate, to be soluble only—or at least chiefly-in economic terms. For example, if a humanist is convinced, as I am, that it is inhumane and socially retrogressive to produce too many cars and too few homes for our people, the first question he must ask is essentially economic: How feasible is it for the automobile [industry] to redirect its technological energies and investment to prefabricated housing construction or to the creation of other more "necessary" durable consumer goods. Or if a humanist knows, as I do, that the esthetic level of architectural design is depressed in America largely because of the conservative and unenlightened tastes of the policymakers in our financing institutions, then he must ask himself how the FHA's influence on mortgage monies can be ameliorated. Or if a scholar of American civilization sees that mass taste is cretinized by television entertainment sponsored by culturally irresponsible businesses such as cigarette, lipstick and soap manufacturers, he must try to find out whether there could be adequate financing for television (or newspapers, radio and magazines for that matter) if the non¬essential industries eventually had a much smaller share of the Gross National Product. The good life, the specialist in the humanities begins to see, derives its special qualities from the kinds of "goods" that can be produced and distributed in our economic context.

It may be, of course, that economic freedom does not include the freedom to decide whether or not one will live in smoky, junky cities that deform the sensibilities of the common man every waking hour; or whether or not our factories can produce objects both functional and having esthetic integrity; or whether or not we can decide that it is more important to build more hospitals, schools, and wholesome leisure arenas and fewer highways, drive-ins and marinas. But a humanist must proceed on the assumption that it still is possible for man to shape his own destiny, for the humanities are precisely those bodies of knowledge and intuition useful for clarifying the moral and esthetic choices that modern man cannot escape making. And the examples cited suggest that in most of the choices open to man in industrial America, economic considerations are paramount.

Changing the choices (or values) of our society, then, means first and foremost changing the rate and direction of capital investment. You takes your choice when you pays your money. Where risk capital goes, there the nation's heart is. Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence that these problems about the theory of value are no longer merely academic ones. For one thing, Sputnik dramatically revealed the different results of differing strategies of financial investment. The earth satellite may shatter the smugness of the tyrannous American majority naive enough to share Charles Wilson's doubts about the value of studying why grass is green and potatoes brown. But deficient financing of basic research is but one symptom of a widespread ideological disorder in the United States.

Industrial society requires both specialized training for the super¬vision and construction of its machinery and social services-preventive and therapeutic-for its increased interpersonal tensions. Even the money we do invest in these essential appurtenances of an industrial community doesn't have maximum effect because of the intervening variable of the entertainment-salesman complex. For the spurious values of the lipstick-cigarette-automobile promoters exert a powerful dampening effect on the natural growth curve of American taste and aspiration.

In order to keep our factories going, some policymakers have decided that it is necessary to bamboozle the American public into captive consumership. This means we have to dump a great deal of wasted capital into the salesman's very expansible and equally expendable expense account-to bribe him into accepting the enormous tensions of moving goods to reluctant consumers. Still more precious risk capital is frittered away on the bullish entertainment market-in order to sell a certain shade of lipstick, a special filter tip, a unique angle of tail fin. The net result of the salesman's illogical overtures and the entertainer's collective sugar-nanny is the perpetuation among vast sectors of the American public of a kind of perennial adolescence. This commercial (and unconscious) suppression of the naturally rising gradient of mass desire and enlightenment is a portentous threat to our survival at our nation's present level of industrial complexity.

American taste and intellectual self-awareness must go up or we face social and economic bankruptcy. That is the clear moral of a powerful book by three scientists from the California Institute of Technology, The Next Hundred Years: Man's Natural and Technological Resources (Viking, 1957). As industry demands more and more energy and raw materials, our pool of available skilled brainpower must increase or else the foundations of machine wealth and power are eaten away and the elaborate technological structure collapses. The central problem of the American economy, then, is how we will reinvest our technological power and risk capital into more schools, hospitals, cleaner and more healthful urban environments. We must gradually (but as fast as possible) wean the American public from infantile fantasies assiduously created by hidden persuaders who do not think of the long haul, but only of the next marketing drive, the forthcoming advertising campaign, the current TV season. Quite seriously, the problem is to root out this kind of insidious subversion, the kind that, under the tinselly banner of comfort and progress, has almost sold our birthright of enlightenment [and] idealism for a mess of "nondurable" consumer's goods.

If America's greatest problem is an education adequate for the survival of a complex technology, its greatest asset is the new leisure. There are enormous pressures, largely from short-sighted marketing specialists, for making this new leisure one big joy-ride. But to transform or deform America into an economy-sized Las Vegas is to jettison an inspiring and still viable tradition from Franklin, Hamilton and Jefferson, who wanted to see America as a new experiment for the ordinary man to excel in things that really mattered, not in the trivial razzmatazz of horsepower and horseracing. For a maturing technological culture it is essential that Americans, one and all, have constantly expanding intellectual and imaginative horizons, increasingly demanding tastes and aspirations.

Where, therefore, the American economic problem up to now has been the democratization of quantity, great parts of the new reservoir of leisure should be earmarked to equalizing opportunity for securing quality. That can never happen, however, so long as only a piddling .7 percent of our GNP goes for education, or when, annually, 150,000 promising young high school graduates never matriculate. Having solved the problems of mass production with great skill and dynamism, we must now use the indispensable resource of the new leisure to solve the more exacting and morally ambiguous problems of "class" production. The best guarantee of a wise investment of this leisure is to raise the effectiveness and scope of education in the humanities from kindergarten through professional schools. It is an illusion to think machine based leisure can be squandered with impunity; if we do not reinvest much of it in creating more complicated and sensitive producers and consumers, our technological society will inevitably languish.

To complicate the humanistic aspect of these economic problems, many American businessmen are finding a new interest in the humanities for the wrong reasons. They have discovered that the liberal arts major is a better leader than the narrowly trained technician. A liberal education gets a man used to the synoptic views needed to run a modern corporati9n, just as it also gives him in rhetoric ideal skills for disseminating corporate policy. But the humanities are not valuable because they can serve the manipulative functions of modern bureaucracy. Their real worth lies in the objective criticism of bureaucratic life that they make possible. The humanities, then, are indispensable to a free technological society because they can help us gain the foresight and wisdom to reinvest our goods toward a more adequate image of the good life. Unfortunately, this truth is not convincing most policymakers in American business.

For they "give" to education and culture such funds that other¬wise would go to the federal government. (Given the political philosophy of a great many such benefactors, there is the added pleasure of keeping just that many more dollars from the greedy and insatiable behemoth at Washington.) But such "charity" radically misapprehends the nature of our civilization. For the American business community has devised a spurious kind of double-standard bookkeeping that obscures from public view the truth that "profits" at least partly due to an earlier generation's commitment to education and culture are being spent on private caprice instead of being wisely reinvested in the technological future of generations yet unborn.

The men who make the economic decisions that will in great measure set the tone and quality of American life in the next score of years must somehow learn that taste. and enlightenment are matters to be considered before taxes; what now looks like a case of private magnanimity or corporate patronage is, in any adequate perspective, really repayments to the commonweal and public heritage that made technology possible in the first place. Unless the masters of our economy soon learn that they have a moral responsibility to replenish the sources of culture and enlightenment, that they must reinvest significant portions of their budgets in the future of the American mind and sensibility, then we have seen the zenith of America as an industrial giant. To misquote another unlucky formulation of our recent Secretary of Defense: What is good for General Motors (more "guts" for more cars of gaudier form) may be the worst possible thing for American democracy.

The gradual disengagement of our productive energies from this deadening dead-end into more humane enterprises that serve our present and prepare for the future will, however, be an extremely difficult task; it will make our magnificent solution of the problems of mass production look like a boy's job in retrospect. Specialists in the humanities and in economics must collaborate in providing the perspective that will teach the American businessman to worry about two kinds of graphs-the traditional sales curve and the upward arc of taste and intellectual discipline that in the final analysis alone make sales success possible. By bringing their special definitions of "value" into mutually stimulating contact, the humanist and the economist can give the business policymakers of our country a new maturity-the maturity to see that growing material progress is dangerous and precarious unless securely based on a growing complexity of thought and belief on the part of the common man—the mass producer-consumer.

Depress the natural rate of intellectual and esthetic development, as our entertainment-sales complex is doing at present, and you eventually both dissipate our supply of trained manpower and inhibit the maturing of true aspiration and ambition. Mass production depends on that manpower for its dynamism; mass consumption depends on the widening and deepening of mass desire for its growth. It will take all the persuading that economists and humanists are capable of to convince American business leaders that the "goods" they produce and try to have consumed end up constituting the American image of the good life.

Only by reinvesting a great deal of current capital in our institutions of culture and education can they prevent the tragic loss of the heart of our democratic heritage in a motivation-researched clambake of "scientific" toothpastes, kiss-proof lipsticks, and "adult" TV westerns. To avoid that imminently threatening fiasco, the humanist must imaginatively create the ideals or goals of a humane industrialism, and the economist must empirically develop methods for such reinvestment of our material wealth as is necessary to make the theoretical ideals practical.

In conclusion, then, "the most important economic problem to be faced by the United States in the next twenty years" is how to use our resources in education and social welfare to stimulate the growth of mass consumers whose ambitions and desires are large enough to absorb the largesse of our technological cornucopia. Somehow we have to make man measure up to the promise of the machine. Paradoxically, this problem of maturing taste and intelligence is the very one most businessmen have considered the furthest removed from their own "practical" responsibilities. Thus does short-sighted practicality turn out to be the most impractical of theories. Thus could an economy of free and easy enterprise become a mature economy of enterprising freedom.

This essay was published in Readings in Economics and Politics, edited by H.C. Harlan, Oxford University Press (1958).

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Shout Smarter

Your brilliant history of early punkuation is a godsend to an 84 year old (dashless?!) retired English professor, savoring his senility in Internut-less Weimar,Germany. But what the fuck does BFF mean, if anything?

Friday, 13 April 2012

God Gabble

You are our salvation, Sam Smith. With our country burdened with ignorant representatives, and our U's too busy with tenure crises, it takes a workaday Maine journalist to reveal the simple but profound historical proof! Mind this chance-taking Mainer!With even a better slogan from Saint Matthew.

Sam, we love ya!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Red "Casino Capitalism"

Did you ever wonder how many Americans are Red Indians? (2.9 millions out of 300+ millions, at last count.) That and much,much more I’ve just learned from “Gambling on nation-building: Tribes are at last becoming sovereign in more than theory, with mixed results,” The Economist, April 5, 2012, pp.43-44. (I’m six weeks into my first subscription and TE makes “Time” and “Newsweek” read like kindergarten primers!)

We learn from a luminous interview (no bylines in this elegant medium) with 82 year old Ronnie Lupe, chairman of the White Mountain Apache since 1964, pontificating on his Arizona reservation about the size of Delaware about his 12,000 tribal members.

He was born in a “wikiup,” a traditional Apache brush wigwam, where he grew up hearing about bloodshed between his forebears and the white man. His tribe’s land is exceptional—their Salt River Canyon is every bit as beautiful as the Grand Canyon—minus the tourists plus endless stretches of ponderosa pines. Mr. Lupe proudly observes their right to fish, hunt, log –and do whatever else they want to do—“on their land.” The only difference is “We now go to war with pens, not bows and arrows.”

That biggest change came in 1975 with Indian Self-Determination Act which authorized the transfer of power from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the tribal governments. Lupe adds that that act was as important as “the Iron Curtain falling down, with apartheid falling apart.” And it made possible the tribal autonomy to enter the gaming business, the biggest economic change of the past century: it began with a Seminole tribe in Florida and the tiny Cabazon Mission Band in Southern California.

The Seminole took their case for a bingo parlor to a federal appeals court and won in 1981. The Cabazon Band opened illegal poker and bingo rooms on their reservation. State police raided them, but in 1987 the Supreme Court decided that “sovereign” tribes could not be barred from running casinos. In 1988 Congress passed a law that explicitly allowed Indian gambling “as long as the proceeds were used to promote ‘tribal economic development’.”

Lupe’s Apaches opened theirs in 1993 called Hon-Dah (Apache for “Welcome!”) TE grimly noted that “it was like most casinos in America, a somewhat depressing place, with people in track suits yanking on slot machines in clouds of cigarette smoke.” (op.cit,p 43). By 2010 almost half of the tribes (229 out of 565) had entered the race, and had raked in $26.7 billions about 44% of total casino revenue. Alas, only a few well placed sites (Cabazon near Palm Springs) made it big: Hon-Dah in the middle of nowhere, zip. Said David Wilkins, a Lumbee and professor of American-Indian Studies at the U. of Minnesota, it was the biggest economic thing for the tribes since the fur trade of the 19th century—when used to build schools, provide health care and so on. But there were complications.

Some tribes like the Hopi consider gambling a vice, and the Navajo repeatedly rejected it in referenda until they succumbed to the revenue! Further, it often reinforced a culture as each Indian agitated for his cut. Indeed often this led to unsavoury aspects of tribal sovereignty : in California alone during one year more than 2500 Indians had been “disenrolled” because they couldn’t pass the quantum blood test! Political enemies or greedy administrators couldn’t be trusted. The outcasts might well lose tribal housing, education, welfare and sometimes cash payments, not to mention loss of identity and isolation from community.

It’s an open question how much general good this Red Casino Capitalism is doing: The 2010 census numbered 28% of Amerinds poor compared with 15% of the entire population:media family income $35,062 versus $50,046.Most Amerinds now live in cities so poverty on the 334 reservations (not all tribes have them) may be worse. Unemployment is horrendous: 80% for the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Alcohol and drug abuse are endemic, as are obesity and diabetes. Justice Department figures on reservation violent crimes are twice the national average. Amerind women are four times likely to be raped as white women and ten times to be murdered.

Chief Lupe considers his tribe still under threat: Over half the elders speak Apache, but only ten percent of the young. Alas, only about 150 languages survive from the days when the European first arrived. (And only three—Dakota, Dene, and Ojibwe) have “viable communities of speakers”. Still and all, as Ojibwe David Treuer assures us with pride in his book “Rez Life”: “We stubbornly continue to exist”. So the next time you lose big at one of their casinos, it’s mostly going to a Good Cause!”

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Monday, 9 April 2012

McLuhan Martialed

The McLoonie piece by Alan Jacobs is full of surprises: While he wrote for the NAEB, I was in my Carnegie grant.

I never heard of the NAEB enterprise though I had many connections there, beginning with MSU/WKAR TV programs at East Lansing. Neal Postman and I were on the NCTE TV Committee together, though he wrote the report while I planned the "TV as Art" essays connected with the Cleveland TV Fest.

Marshall's daily communion explains him enough to me. He was a glib nutcase. I'm glad in retrospect Reserve rejected dissertation proposal on McLuhan. I still think my assigning TV playwrights was the practical thing to do.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Surprise Pritzker

The so-called Nobel Prize for Architecture mostly goes to quirky types like Frank Gehry, a headliner who justifies the publicity needs of the sponsoring hotel chain. Not this year! Wang Shu (Who?!) a 48 year old autodidact from Hangzhou is the first Chinese citizen so honored.

I.M.Pei had long been an American when he got the Pritzker. He got first degree at the Nanjing Institute of Technology at 33. When he got his M.A. from Nanjing in 1988, he didn’t start work as an architect. He started research on the environment and architecture in relation to the renovation of old buildings--at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. Almost a year later he went to work on his first project—the design of a 3600 square foot Youth Center for the small town of Haining (near Hangzhou) completed in 1990.

For the next decade he worked with craftsmen to get actual experience in building—without the responsibility of designing structures. In 1997 he and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded their professional practice in Hangzhou, with beguiling name of Amateur Architecture Studio. (He explained that strange name, ”For myself, being an artisan or a craftsman, is an amateur or almost the same thing.”)

In making the award, Thomas J. Pritzker observed that “the role that China will play in the development of architectural Ideals” is crucial because the question of the proper relation of present to past is particularly timely, for the recent process of urbanization in China invites debate as to whether architecture should be anchored in tradition or should only look to the future.” (NYTimes, 2/28/2012)

Cannily, Wang has recycled the pieces of abandoned structures to create stunningly new replacements. For example, in designing the Xingshan campus of the Chinese Academy of art in Hangzhou he reused two million tiles from demolished traditional houses. “Everywhere you can see,” Wang argued, ”they don’t care about the materials. They just want new buildings, they just want new things. I think the material is not just about materials. Inside it has the people’s experience, memory—many things inside. So I think it’s the architect to do something about it.”

At first, his musician father and school librarian mother encouraged Wang who wanted to be an artist or writer to study science and engineering. He compromised by studying architecture. The humanism shows in his recycled Chinese materials and history. “My work is more thoughtful than simply ‘built’---the “handicraft aspect” of his work is very important to him. He scorns much of the “professionalized, soulless architecture as practiced today.”

“Wang says he approaches design as a traditional Chinese painter would; he studies the settings—whether cities, valleys or mountains—for about a week as the design materializes in his mind.” (NYT,op.cit.) For a visual treat, see his most significant achievements. His stuff is gorgeously idiosyncratic, but almost impossible to put into prose.

Now if we can only get the Pritzker happy narchitects to think as freshly as Wang. He is now the director of the Chinese Academy of Art. Lucky students!

Another version of this essay is published at Broad Street Review.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Will the Real Nat Hentoff Stand Up?

If you asked me what was the highpoint of my two year Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellowship at Penn (1957-59), I wouldn’t hesitate: the night Marshall Stearns invited me up to his Greenwich Village apartment to discuss with him and Nat Hentoff their plans to help George Wein field the first Jazz Critics Symposium at his Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. Captured for the eternally curious in Bert Stern’s film “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” (1960): the only historically comparable media event was Bob Herridge’s ”The Sound of Jazz” (CBS-TV, December 8, 1957), with the musicians chosen by “New Yorker” jazz critic Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff.

Up till now, before reading his second last book,”At the Jazzband Ball: Sixty Years of the Jazz Scene” (U of California Press, 2010), Nat was just a mental collection of jazz reviews. How serendipitous to encounter in the Franz Liszt Musical College this new view of his “autobiography” (in quotes , because the book is mainly about the jazz headliners he interviewed over the decades for their nonmusical views). But for the first time, I got to know the man behind the jazz reviews.

That, for example, he’s slightly older than me (b. June 10,1925). That he’s been married three times: though he proudly brags that the last still extant one has already lasted over 50 years—Four--two girls and two boys to show: the first girl, a circus performer, the second a performing, composing pianist teacher. The boys have bloomed into legal eagles. So his children reflect his two sides: the jazz reviewer and the First Amendment fighter. His most impressive act was risking losing his first big job: New York Downbeat editor in 1957 for hiring a colored associate, against the wishes of his boss. His journalistic heroes I share, George Seldes and Izzie Stone. They set his standards mighty high, and he measured up. Both his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. He love to brag that he “was a member of the Proud and Ancient Order of Stiff-Necked Jewish Atheists.” (p. xiv.)

His career in radio was a fluke. He had worked in a candy store with an announcer at a Boston radio station. When his pal graduated from a teaching job, he got Nat a slot as an announcer. Hentoff talked himself into a jazz interview show with the likes of Duke Ellington and Rex Stewart in dead airtime. Dead in the sense that it wasn’t yet sold, but Nat soon made it very alive, and nurtured his reviewing career with those contacts. His passion for jazz began at age eleven when he passed a record shop loudly playing Artie Shaw records. He then attended Boston Latin, long regarded as the best public school in the country. He got his B.A. with highest honors at Boston’s blue collar Northeastern University. In 1950 he spent a year at Harvard, followed by a Fulbright at the Sorbonne.He came back to a short-lived (1952-57) stint at Downbeat after a clash with his racist boss.

Then he worked on the Jazz Review with Martin Williams (1958-61). Soon he was into multiculturalism at WMEX. “There were regular Italian, Swedish, country music and Jewish hours—the last featuring renowned cantors, who I told Charles Mingus at the time, were the Jewish version of deeply resilient blues singers.” (p.97.) Saturday nights in one of the studios they celebrated with black gospel music performed by Boston church choirs. "The disciplined, often virtuosic fervor of this witnessing has often regenerated me from then on.” (Strange Jewish atheist!) “I collected gospel recordings; and one Sunday morning, during a Newport Jazz Festival (I was there that year!PDH), hearing Mahalia Jackson in a church in town, made this nonbeliever able to imagine rewards if I could ever make that leap into faith.” He never made that jump, but boy did that music civilize him deeply.

Sometimes he was reduced to announcing wrestling matches at the Boston Arena, but he never gave up his commitment to jazz which was (before his national influence) a decidedly minority fad. And I don’t mean black majority! I was amazed to learn during his interview with Ron Carter that black Howard University forbade the great critic Sterling Brown to use jazz in his lectures! The brass felt the music had crummy origins that would detract from the status of their college. (I think this was a general contradiction in colored schools influenced by W.E.B Dubois’s concept of cultivating the Talented Tenth to liberate the Negro of all classes and aspirations.” Brown got around the problem cleverly. He used pieces like Stravinsky’s “Ragtime for Eleven Instruments” as well as jazz-influenced music by Milhaud. Then Brown proceeded: “Now,I’ll show you where it came from;” and he put on some Lucky Roberts and Duke Ellington.”(p.196.)

Nat explored another aspect of this black blindness. ”Some years later Adam Clayton Powell had a paper in New York in competition with Amsterdam News. I knew the editor. He knew jazz—I saw him at Jazz clubs—but he never used Jazz, and the implication was that it wasn’t right for the image. So what you said in that interview was that the black press, the black media, has a great deal of responsibility in the lack of, and the possibility of, increasing the visibility and viability of jazz”.(p.197.)

What an unnecessary impediment! (Call out the Jewish Atheists to spread the Gospel!) Louis Armstrong was upset about how little the New Orleans Schools did to promote jazz to the black and white kids. It would take another generation for Ellis Marsalis and his capable jazz family to take the curse off of one of America’s richest contribution to musical culture. No single man did more than Nat to break this foolish barrier.

Nat’s autobiography is a perfect complement to his prose on the arts of jazz . Teachers have no excuse anymore to keep quiet about the historical and contemporary achievements of jazz as an art form. It’s all here. Fresh, lively, controversial. You’ll never have so congenial a guide.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Saving the Philadelphia Orchestra

Dare we learn from socialist Venezuela’s remarkably successful establishment of children’s orchestra?

The old Main Line arrogance toward our underwashed masses probably doesn’t help either.

Heh, Bach to Brubeck ain’t that long a hike.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Grimly Glum GOP


Leave it to Sam to see that our grimly glum GOP presidential entries are Santa Clawed frauds.

Why are our highly praised novelists and humorists not doing a Dickens facing up to these phonies? Patrick D. Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Poetry Magazine Centennial

We future-obsessed Americans have a hard time paying attention to our usable pasts. An encouraging exception to this mindlessness is “Poetry Magazine”'s yearlong celebration of its founding in Chicago in 1912. Courtesy of a 200 million dollar grant from the heiress of an Indianapolis drug fortune, this centennial is aspiring to a nationwide reach. (Full particulars at its website.)

As it happens, there’s a strong Philly angle to the story. Ezra Pound’s mother couldn’t stand the cultural vacantness of Hailey, Idaho Territory so she took her 18 month old baby to Jenkintown. His urge to be a poet bloomed early in the Quaker run “dame schools” he attended. His first published poem was a limerick praising the populist politician William Cullen Bryan:

“There was a young man from the West/He did what he could for what he thought was the best,” Jenkintown Times Chronicle, 1896. He was eleven! With a lot of room to improve.

He entered Penn at 15, perfecting bit by bit, his idiosyncratic style. He was described as “clever, independent minded, conceited, and unpopular.” Except to one other Penn oddball, Hilda Doolittle, daughter of an astronomy professor, who fell for his odd line, and would eventually be dubbed H.D. the Imagist—after she followed him to London where she refused his offer of marriage (her father was, understandingly, skeptical.) Ezra blew his Penn dissertation on the plays of Lope de Vega. The stiff old school English chair, Felix K. Schelling, didn’t dig his class antics and cancelled his fellowship.

Meanwhile William Carlos Williams had entered Penn’s Med School with a friendly split personality,half doctor, half poet. He and Ezra plotted the victory of Modernism together. Harriet Monroe would set up shop in Chicago, and H.D. and Ezra would send her the poems they discovered.

Please get involved in Poetry’s Centennial. The provincialism you loose, you’ll never miss. And Poetry will become a structural part of your consciousness. And be sure to celebrate, not for heaven’s sake pontificate.

My life has never been the same—after celebrating my two friends, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. The first was a lucky fluke. I was driving my girl back from celebrating her birthday at Cape May on Walt’s birthday, May 31. I was teasing her for having a birthday so close to Walt’s when she asked me what his mausoleum in Harleigh Cemetery was like. I had been in Philly for almost twenty years and I’d never once visited his tomb. Damn! I made a blind turn off the Walt Whitman bridge to head straight to Harleigh.

The site was a horror. The 1891 construction was disintegrating. I wondered later if Walt’s extemporaneous performances (he was no longer a great creative poet!) discombobbled the masons whose work was now falling apart. Another painful datum: It was 1973, the centennial of the stroke he suffered in D.C. that brought him to his brother George Washington Whitman’s side in Camden.

Luckily, the National Council of Teacher’s of English was holding its annual convention in Philly over Thanksgiving. (It’s what we Am Lits call a “remarkable providence”!) I wrote the Executive Committee and asked them if I could walk the aisles with billboards saying on one side “SAVE WALT’S VAULT” and on the other “A BUCK FOR THE BARD’S BONES”. Sniffily they said YES if I dropped the meretricious rhetoric.

Responding Whitmanlike, I still used my quirky injunctions and ended up with over a $1000, if you added Buckminster Fuller’s serendipitous last minute $100 check. (I thanked him for a hundred bucks for the Bard’s Bones.) The left over funds, after the mausoleum was repaired, helped finance a “Wake Up To Whitman” 1974 calendar for all the Beaver College faculty and student body.

Duly noted on that calendar was the date for Grave Yard Party at Harleigh (May 31) at which local poets read their odes to Walt and drank American wine (no fancy French stuff at this U.S.Party). Alas, I must report one failure: As a tribute to Walt’s poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” (a poem on Lincoln’s assassination), we planted a lilac bush, and “blessed” it with a topping off of the wine.) The wine killed the foundling bush.

Better luck with Beaver College music chairman Dr. Bill Fabrizio’s composition “Far Luckier”, an allusion to Walt’s poem about Death being far luckier than Life because everyone spent an eternity as leaves of grass. This ceremony was broadcast live over NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

As I had decided that after my mother’s death I would quit classroom teaching and become a global alternative journalist, I pondered on how to celebrate Emily Dickinson creatively. Back I went to my pal Fabrizio. We decided to hold a Birthday Ball in the Castle on Emily’s 150th birthday, December 10, 1980. Bill even booked Jimmy Dorsey’s famous singer, Bob Eberle, to give class to our hoopla. (We would need it inasmuch as I would make my first (and most probably last!)appearance as a jazz singer.

We created a contest for the best couple dressed as lines from a Dickinson poem: First prize was a free, all expenses weekend in Emily’s Amherst on Walt’s birthday. (Cool!) Second prize, such a weekend in Walt’s Camden on Emily’s birthday. (Not so cool! In fact Too Cold.) Dean Margaret LeClair agreed to be the head of a jury of nine (the muses number) to assign the prizes. A lesbian couple won first prize as “buccaneers of buzz” (Emily’s image of bees stealing pollen to make their honey!) I was proud to make the M.C. of the whole shebang the Brooklyn poet Norman Rosten who was the first writer to get Emily on Broadway. And Bless the Beaver pairs who passed the night reading aloud, all 1787 ED poems.

And I drove my buddy Norman back to Brooklyn—with a pitstop in Princeton so we could personally praise Thomas H. Johnson, the Princeton prof who edited ED's corpus. Penn’s Bob Spiller was there to crown the scholar.

“Celebrate” stems from the Latin verb to “frequent”. America needs more anything else citizens who frequent their great writers and thinkers. Not their boxers, or movie stars, or millionaires. Our writers. Not because it’s better for them, though that’s a plus. But good for US! Not solemnly. Happily. Our literary past is moistly buried ! Dig it up. And dig it. They’ll be so happy you have. Think of 11 year old Ezra, In Jenkintown! And London. And H.D. In Chicago. It’s our past. Go for it.

Another version of this piece is published at Broad Street Review.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Re “Here’s what I meant to say”—

Rutter’s perceptive putdown of excessive explanations reminds me that Modernism, now a hoary century old, justifies any/everything in its Gropian moods.

The Higher Goofy is an esthetic misdemeanor, whether in architecture or ballet. Methinks they explain too much about too little. Good art is its own explanation.

Unlike hard science, weak art too often gets an undeserved pass.