Thursday, 31 May 2012

Apple Bite

I agree with the viewer who urged Apple to pay workers more fairly. And I also shiver at the realization that most of the soft media is trivial. Like Thoreau said when our forebears were too glibly praising the new Transatlantic Cable. "And what will be the first thing to come into the broad, flapping American ear? That the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough?"

We Ams are too uncritically technophiliacal.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Rat's Wimp

Regarding We are All Nuns:

Maureen Dowd commented that Benny XVI re-earned the sneer "God's Rottweiler" with his arrogant put down of the "sexist"nuns. I prefer to call him "A Rat's Wimp".

Wimp because Hans Kung told me the aroused seminarians at Tübingen frightened this wimpy effeminate climber into fleeing to Regengsburg. He noticed that the Polish Pope rejected Liberation Theology drifting in from an enchained Catholic Latin America. So he went along.

He further displayed his wimpitude by covering up for pedaphiles as the Bishop of Munich, the first link in that total disgrace. History will record his fatuous palaver over nuns and sex as his Galileo disgrace.

Borgia sexists installed celibacy to preserve Church holdings. The pious pussycat we know as Benny XVI is a rat who wimps when he should be strong and rats when he wants to rise. He nailed his pal Kung for good, rat that he is.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


Regarding Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”:
"Scape" is a cute new suffix to flex.

I suggest the not so golden oldie "E-scape" is more to the pointlessness of exploding billions as their agendas grow more and more complex to perceive let alone deal with. The amazing re-emergence of an eighth century theology, Islam, is a very simplistic scape that seems to threaten most even the most disciplined Euro-American culture.

If Indonesia can ban Mama Gaga, then the rest of the world may close their narcissistic Facebooks and return to relish a boundless Nature.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Theory of American Uniqueness

There comes that time in every American history teacher’s career (once or twice a decade) when curiosity about new trends in interpretation and scholarship blasts him into an exhilarating orbit of the best new books and articles on his old subject. For teachers about to be so launched, Daniel J. Boorstin is the new historiographical star to watch: enormously learned but with a style that shrewdly uses the vernacular to express at once controversial and persuasive new viewpoints about the American past, this professor of history at the University of Chicago is suddenly all over the place in print. 

For one thing, his Walgreen lectures, The Genius of American Politics (Phoenix Book P 27, $1.35), have just appeared in paperback. There he argues convincingly that our belief in an American way of life as “given” made the search for a systematic ideology unnecessary; thus our faith in the existence of an American theory made a theory superfluous.

This freedom from dogmatism sharply distinguishes us from the European ideologues arguing intensely over their paper utopias; we could afford not to argue—our utopia was working. The real uniqueness in the American experiment lies in our avoidance of procrustean dogmas that try to tailor diverse circumstances to abstractions; we found our “oughtness” in the “is”—our values came from the experience we discovered. Our lesson to the world is to cherish this openness to experience.

In The Americans: the Colonial Experience (Random House, 1958, $6.00) Boorstin takes this thesis and expands it in terms of the easily forgotten particularities of the various regions and interests that made up seventeenth and eighteenth century America. Another guiding assumption of his is our mistaken attempts to assess American democracy by the standards of a European aristocracy. 

A good example of this was in his explanation in Commentary (January, 1958) of why Williamsburg, Virginia, is a perfectly democratic historical presentation compared with the typical aristocratic European tour of culture. Another magazine article of equal importance was “America and the Image of Europe,” Perspectives USA, 14. Boorstin intends to complete his survey of American history in two more volumes. He is also editing the very useful “Chicago History of American Civilization,” many titles of which are in paper editions.

He has clearly entered the first rank of American historians both literate and lively: Richard Hofstadter, William Miller, Oscar Handlin, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. For teachers anxious to recharge their scholarly batteries, these are the men to read.

Published in The Clearing House, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Dec., 1959)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Yes, But the Question is How?

 This essay was first published by the National Council of Teachers English, College English, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Jan., 1956)

“Should the college teacher try to raise student taste in movies, radio, and television?” Should the medical school keep its instruction abreast of developments in medical science? Should the engineering school reflect the industrial patterns of the society it trains people for? Should law school introduce its students to contemporary jurisprudence? 

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

The results of this self-imposed cultural isolationism have not been happy for us. The English department office is more and more the GHQ of a beleaguered army; dismal reports trickle in of a new foray from Education department, of some new usurpation of the Speech faculty, of another commercial corruption of taste. Enrollments dwindle, student caliber deteriorates, power and prestige diminish. How different all this could be! 

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

The first responsibility, developing standards for popular culture, can best be done by relating similar genres in popular culture and the humane tradition. Juxtapose slick fiction and classics; why does one surpass the other? Compare current TV drama at its best with past dramatic achievement. Systematically assign movie reviews as themes; discuss and write about Hollywood’s troubles and achievements. 

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 26 May 2012


Re Saving the Mid-Century Moderns:

Flat roofs that leaked–abolishing the gable roof, the greatest innovation since we abandoned caves; excessive glass that skyrocketed energy costs. Such Modernoid architecture put superficial looks above essential functions, a crippling heresy that Philip Johnson spent too long a life propagandizing.

Our first (and best) house (1954) was a National Homes prefab Cape Cod designed by the neglected genius Charles Goodman: $6000, $400 down,$40 a month. Our second was a sweetly disciplined three bedroom modern by Louie Kahn, (1959), $23,000, cleverly deployed into a hillside of century old oaks.

Modernoiders have ignored Nature foolishly, consumed by their hubris of “innovation” which usually amounts to callow goofs. Lets invest our future architectural IQ’s into greening exteriors and interiors at lowest possible prices by prefabbing.

I now live on the third floor of a 1782 Villa ($110,000) in Weimar, Germany, happy for its solid craftsmanship and surrounding cobbled pavements. Modernoidism has been the biggest avoidable error of the 20th Century.

What looks new is not always esthetically superb. The real assignment of the 21st century is the abolition of favelas where billions of the poorest live enchained.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Daisey Chain

Re Daisey:

I just listened to "The American Life" episode in which Ira Glass "interrogated" Daisey. He deserved to be humbled. His flaky analyses of theatrical "truths" are perhaps acceptable at beer bar displays, but it doesn't pass my standards as a professor of American Lit for thirty years (1952-82) and a cultural journalist for the rest of my writing life.

His subject was very important, his finagling with the truth disgraceful.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Goulash Communism

The first thing that caught my eye on the Metro from the Deli Pu train station was the cozy way Hungarian lovers tap their tushes as they strap hang. They may just be getting into Consumerism with a capital C, but they are already world class at copping sweet feels on the subway.

The second thing that caught my attention is the intensity with which people on the street scrutinize consumer goods in store windows. The first time I saw a clump of people absolutely fixated, I sidled up to check out the object of their affections. Refrigerators.

Why not? I remember what a pain it was, summers up at Lake Huron, emptying the always brimming-full melted water pan. The only people who take consumer goods for granted are those who have grown accustomed to them.

What I can only call consumer zeal was evident as well in a very long, very patient line in front of an Adidas store. Just a manageable crowd was allowed in—the future shoppers were quite content to savor their forthcoming moments of truth.

A few blocks away, lunch-time crowds tiptoed on benches to get a better look at an improvised fashion show during which the freshly-bedecked models sashayed out into the admiring crowd.

When President Bush was here in July (the first standing president to visit this country), he gave a rousing speech at the Karl Marx University of Economics in which—churlishly, it seemed to me—he cheered that Das Kapital had just been dropped from the curriculum.

When I went inside the university’s building to better examine its excellent architecture, it seemed to me that the huge sitting statue of Karl looked dyspeptic. When I asked two students if he looked ill because of the new free market ideas generated here, they cracked up.

Bush also announced the Alexander Hamilton professorship in business management—a Federalist allusion that would be lost on a great many Americans, I’m afraid. He also boasted that since English had become the lingua franca of international business, it was logical that in 1990, 60 Peace Corps volunteers would fan out across the country to prepare the Hungarians for world business—the first European country to receive such a blessing.

But business works in mysterious ways. In my three-star Hotel Astoria, there was Rupert Murdoch’s new Sky Television, a satellite-fed news, sports, entertainment service for all Europe.

And today the global media baron announced his purchase of half-ownership in the two new Hungarian free-market organs—the 380,000-circulation weekly Reform, which has become the largest weekly by featuring bare boobs in color, and the 80,000 daily Mal Nap, which is just as feisty but in black and white. Murdoch can take half his profits out of the country, but he promised to reinvest in Hungary’s media future.

Robert Maxwell, Murdoch’s Czech-born rival, is about to print English-language editions of the Russian daily, Moscow News. And the Hungarian News Agency’s four-page freebie Daily News announced that the printing press seized in May 1988 from the clandestine Council of the Association of Free Democrats was released to its owners. The media pot boils.

I wish the Peace Corps well, because Hungarian is absolutely opaque to this American language maven. It took me a bus, a tram, a train, a metro and the final leg in tow with a visiting Danish geography professor to find Buda Castle, where the Hungarians welcome foreign journalists.

Mischievously, the Hungarians have swapped the “y” and the “z” on their typewriters, reducing my speed to about a word a minute.

And goulash communism is not all glory. My three-star hotel tried to nick me several bucks on my mini-bar tab. Coke—in the marvelous old-fashioned Raymond Loewy designed bottles—is a merciful 60 cents, but a can of bad orange juice is an outrageous $2.

Still, the public transportation is clean, frequent and—eat your heart out, SEPTA—eight cents a pop. My first three-star night cost me $70. I’m living now on the outskirts with a family for $12 a night. I’m lost a lot of the time, but Budapest is a great place to be lost in—temporarily.

From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large (no date)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Philosophizing about America

From Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large
January 29, 1986

On the Road
By Charles Kuralt
G.P. Putnam

Made in America
By Peter Ueberroth (with Richard Levin and Amy Quin)
William Morrow

Reviewed by Patrick D. Hazard

Juxtaposition can be the midwife of invention. Thus when my hand made a beeline for the new Charles Kuralt on the non-fiction rack at the local library, it brushed past Made in America, by Peter Ueberroth (His Own Story).

Rarely have the visages of disparate American characters been so patently on view. The Redskin Kuralt—shit-kickin’ (shit-eatin’, it turned out) grin, open-collared safari shirt, the yellow center line of a back-country open road behind his balding pate, inviting Brendan Gill to burble: “Charles Kuralt is a latter-day Whitman, taking to the open road with the purposeful relish that Whitman did and reporting what he finds out there with the same accuracy and high spirits.” Hmmm: New Yorker sophisticate affirming egalitarian camaraderie.

Juxtapose the primly smirking Paleface Ueberroth—rep tie over pale blue (eminently televisable) shirt, proper dark blue business suit, against a backdrop of David Wolper’s canny upstaging of the military antics at Moscow: a single flash of 140 flags of the teams competing at the L.A. Olympics.

The only thing more disgusting than that tight smirk was the year-long toothsomeness of Mary Lou Retton selling breakfast cereals and supercharged batteries. Even the groupie prose of the multiple authorship set my teeth on edge, as if “his own story” could be told only with the help of his press agents.

But the title caught my attention because it was identical with the classic that has most influenced my view of America, John Kouwenhoven’s still superb Made in America: The Arts in Modern Civilization (1949). I scooped Ueberroth up with Kuralt, maybe to prove to myself how far America had unraveled in fewer than 40 years. Little did I suspect what an ironic reversal I was setting myself up for.

Kuralt’s Sunday Morning TV show, I realize in retrospect, had become for me a kind of very low Mass, a secular substitute for not going to church (itself a simulacrum for the ritual Sunday Times, long since abandoned). Well, I do declare, Kuralt doesn’t hold up without the audiovisual ingratiation.

To conclude a piece on a hex-sign painter in Pennsylvania, he ruminates about the symbols’ alleged power to keep away the witches: “Along the way we saw a multitude of starbursts and rosettes and whirligigs and flowers. And I got to thinking. Pennsylvania Dutch are among the country’s most successful farmers, after all. And you hardly ever hear of witches in their barns.

“Be that as it may, we bought a hex sign, a rosette for good luck, and hung it on the bus. That afternoon, coming around a curve, a ten-ton truck just missed us. Missed us, I say.

“Of course, he might have missed us if we hadn’t had a hex sign.”

This is hokum, I say, pure rubese: in fact, looking closely at his chipper put-downs of modern America by comparing it with the pockets of purity he finds way off the beaten track, Kuralt’s ploy is “rube-rue.”

Oh, rue the day when blacksmiths went out of style, when folks put their interstates above their covered bridges. This is but TV’s version of the Saturday Evening Post’s Norman Rockwell—good-old-daze genial humor on the editorial side while the Curtis Publishing Company’s ad salesmen went lickety-split, undermining the old verities with new merchandise. Like Henry Ford’s facile pipe dream, Greenfield Village, a nostalgia-ridden memorial to the rubeosities that his Model T kicked off the face of the planet.

And how’s this for crocodile tears? “Drive across the country and you find that hardly anybody makes anything. I think of my own friends and neighbors. One of them sells insurance, one of them takes pictures for a living, one’s an actor, one’s a lawyer—none of them makes anything. I talk on television. I don’t make anything either. … Years ago, nearly everybody in the cities made something—harnesses, wagon wheels, hats, violins. …”

And 99 and 44/100s of them died at an early age, burnt out from overwork, making things.

What’s better, now the country’s crawling with hobbyists, people making what they want to make on their own time—that free time the symbol-peddling society has democratized.

(Although a lot of them, true, could be better off spending time making things, human and non-human, than watching this instant nostalgia.)

Even his twitting of the youth cult seems bogus to me, “I find myself,” he confides in the section portentously entitled “Passing the Torch,” “drawn to old people. My friends back at the office kid me about this endlessly. They say I never do a story about a man until he has lost his hair and his teeth. … Old people are more interesting than young people, that’s all.” That’s just the silliest generalization I’ve ever heard a middle-aged man utter.

Tell it to Peter Ueberroth—and the 72,000 fellow employees and volunteers he galvanized into making a success of the 1984 Olympics, or to the 40 million Americans “who stood by the roadsides to cheer on the Olympic torch.” Ueberroth comes across as an all-together Jeffersonian guy—slightly shallow perhaps—whose gut reactions under pressure really impressed me, in spite of myself.

When a WASPish delegation visited to complain, in a mealy-mouthed way, that he had too many Jews in top positions, he told them to get the hell out of his office, which he would continue to staff with the best possible people, irrespective of credential or connection. And when the equestrian-set snobs harassed him with their unearned sense of importance, he basked in Prince Philip’s lack of arrogance.

By Kuralt’s standards, Ueberroth, that water-polo major from San Jose State with a graduate degree in surfing from Waikiki, never made anything either—except budget travel packages for all those symbol-pushers in America’s post-rube age. And now he’s doing his damnedest to keep baseball, the national pastime, from being too much past its time.

But he does it with the energy, the lack of false moralizing that makes Kuralt merely look deep. It’s go-getters like Ueberroth who make Kuralt’s van and network-financed odyssey possible. It’s amusing sometimes, the Ripley “Believe It or Not” stuff that Kuralt turns up in his easy-going peregrinations. But spare us the deep-thinking commentaries.

Those good old days were a mess—blacksmiths or not—as, indeed, are our times, with computer whizbangs banging away on their high-tech anvils. Rube-rue just adds the false patina of false philosophy to his archaeological digs.

Come to think of it, all this current brouhaha about Edward R. Murrow as the statesman of television leaves me colder and colder. Murrow went too quickly and too glibly from Harvest of Shame to Person to Person, that telepreparation for People magazine, for me to think much of him as a heavy thinker. Television’s heroes lead me to formulate Hazard’s Law: A desolate valley of mediocrity makes a foothill look like a mountain.

Damn. That’s the trouble with reading books. You never know where the darn things are going to lead you. A mind is a painful thing to change.

Patrick Hazard emanates from the St. Paulish area of the Midwest.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Fake Sounds and Folk Sounds

Published in The Humanities Today, The Clearing House, Vol. 35, No. 5 (Jan., 1961) 

Rarely has the bifurcation in American popular culture been so neatly summarized as it was in two recent television song fests broadcast a week apart on the most and the least mature television networks. The C.B.S. network presented a production of its electronic renaissance man, Robert Herridge, “Folk Sound, U.S.A.”; and A.B.C., where private eyes and public enemies roam at large, apotheosized teen-age fake sounds in an unrefreshingly long nonmusical pause sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company. The aural and visual juxtaposition of true vocal art with the most blatant prefabricated kitsch clarified the choices involved in having our musical culture dominated by show-business robber barons rather than imaginative and dedicated artists.

What the payola scandals never revealed, the A.B.C. teen-age special did: it matters more that the wholesome Pat Boones and Dick Clarks keep teen-agers from a truly satisfying musical heritage than that they make a lot of dough from their own music-publishing firms and pressing plants. It is less significant that the teen-agers and subteens get a bad deal on the $50 million they spend for single records each year; the true larceny is that the tinsel curtain of blah raised by the wizards of the echo chamber separates early 16 million kids from the kind of art and leisure which it takes to make adults.

This is no academic quibbling; genuine maturity doesn’t coexist with the fake substitutes for art that package producers like P & G have sponsored for a generation in soap opera, and tat soft-drink makers support in their subliminal campaign to equate sociability with the cultivation of caries. The marketing strategies of the mass-volume, low-unit-cost manufacturers (with exceptions that prove the rule, like Purex sponsoring “The Sacco-Vanzetti Story”) are committed to a philosophy that puts the profit picture of their individual corporations above any and all other considerations—the security of a country of befuddled entertainment addicts, the over-all programming balance of the dominant medium of our culture, the real growth of individuals captain in a teen-ager culture.

The “Coke Time” special provides a good insight into the dynamics of a teen-age culture, perhaps symbolized by the title of Dick Clark’s book, Your Happiest Years, its basic assumption being that maturity is a necessary anticlimax. The TV program of “face sounds, U.S.A.” sketched out this Normal Rockwell image of fun. Pony-tailed innocents affecting their fathers’ tail-dragging shirts; the stereotype (and implicitly pathetic loneliness) of the teen-ager forever on the telephone, looking for the kind of friendliness and perspective that his popular culture denies him; the dreamy irrelevance of the songs fixated on going steady (will we stop this madness when it gets back as far as kindergarten? it's back to junior high already), the terror of realizing that this program celebrating an adolescence of carefree innocence (despite the tacked on seriousness of the last few bars) is a concept of life also accepted by the adults who watch this program—half of Dick Clark’s afternoon sessions in cultural amnesia are adults, using the term loosely.

One hears about the miracles performed by tape editors and echo-chamber masters on the tonsils of Fabian and Frankie Avalon, but one has to see them, eyes full of fear and amateur-night-stiff on camera, to realize how much these children have been had. One wonders what kind of an adult life such pseudo performers can live the day they are barred from the echo chambers. Annette Funicello, who was as charming as it is possible for a Mouseketeer to be, looked literally terrified as she tried to carry a tune with Frankie Avalon. In a taped montage of “hits” by the stars, where echo chamber prevailed, it was possible to separate the singers from the long-playing pinocchios. It is interesting to speculate on the wish fulfillment involved in making stars out of them. In the ugliness of working-class sections of our big cities, it is easy to identify with someone, who, but for the grace of R.C.A.-Victor goes I, easy to forget the cheapness and despair of actual life by dreaming through television and the network of fan magazines that feed on the same pseudo-art.

But the horror of the teen-agers’ bargain with the show-business robber barons is fully apparent only when its emptiness is compared with the real article. Robert Herridge, though a kind of cultural polymath himself, is wise enough to go to the best consulting talent to develop his specials. Nat Hentoff, who collaborated with Herridge on “The Sound of Jazz,” the best single program on the subject so far on television and the only one to win a Newport Jazz Festival TV Award, was also the consultant for this program. What this means is that directors cannot take over with tricky exhibitionism, but must stick to a hierarchy which subordinates TV’s resources to the hegemony of the musical form under consideration. Cisco Houston was the narrator, keying fluid transitions from singer to group to singer as the camera explored the wide and varied terrain of folk music. The Herridge tradition of spare, even austere, staging was doubly appropriate for a program of folk music. Two things distinguished the teen-ager’s pseudo world from the fully dimensional cosmos of the folk singer: the comprehensiveness of emotional range and thematic content. There were songs about working, songs about living, and loving, and dying, chants about Whitman’s America and chants about selling peanuts, songs of hope and despair.

And there was a magnificent display of unique personalities, a colorful spectrum of individuation that made the gray blurs of the teen-age heroes all the more pitiful: John Lee Hooker, lips quivering in the honest laments of his feelings; John Jacob Niles, with a prophetic kind of intensity in both eye and tenor voice; Joan Baez, a teen-ager with voice and soul both beautifully her own; Cisco Houston, a roustabout sensibility. 

There is a certain logic after all to the gimmicks and gyrations of Teenland’s pseudo artists: they must try to establish themselves by an external sign that hides their inner lack of grace. Ed “Kookie” Byrnes, as Jack Gould wryly observed, is the only performer that ever combed his way to stardom. His narcissistic gesture, so typical of today’s teen-age obsession with surface, betrays an empty head. Just as the painfully arch hip talk between him, the “beatnik” of the Dobie Gillis Show, and Pat Boone (aging, unhip representative of that adult land known as Squaredom) is another example of the fake individuations of the teen-age kitsch makers. (Teen-agers can buy for 50 cents at their drugstores now a dictionary of hip Kookie talk.)

Nor should we be misled by Coca-Cola’s shrewd merchandising campaign in the high schools, with its sloughing off an artistic problem by a phony genuflection to Culture. Hi-fi clubs have been formed in several hundred high schools to encourage talent in the popular arts. The three winners—a painfully chopped up Chopin etude, a reasonably interesting soprano aria, and a sympathetic version of the best-selling quartet—show how possible it is for fake popular art to coexist with genteel Culture, six days of noisy tripe followed by a hushed day of reverence. If Coke really wants youngsters to grow, rather than simply to hook them early by “being more sociable’ than its competitor, it should distribute kinescopes of the Herridge program for high-school assemblies and give their English teachers free Folkways albums—to show the teen-agers what they’re missing in their sticky little cotton candy cosmos.

For when you finally get down to it, the tragedy and waste of fake art is that it renders people “connable”—these poor innocent lambs believing they’re living in the best of all possible worlds! (Don’t their transistorized ears keep telling them they’re on the right wave length?) And the measure of our respect for folk art is that it keeps little people wise in their own way, ready to spot and spurn the faker. We have Herridge to thank for making the case so clear.

--The Humanities Today, The Clearing House, Vol. 35, No. 5 (Jan., 1961)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

St. Patrick and Me

Belfast: With a name, and a gene pool, like mine, how could I resist the blandishments of an art exhibition at the Ulster Museum entitled “Patrick: His Life and Legacy”? Even though the IRA was testing the just announced Major / Reynolds Accords by tying up the London subway system and using command wires to blow up innocent parties in West Belfast? (I majored in Yellow at college, with a minor in Trepidation.) It was the cheapskate in me that prevailed: British Airways £90 return fare triumphed over my pusillanimity.

I hadn’t been to Belfast since 1967 when I flew a bevy of Beavers over from their semester in London to taste the particularities of the Belfast Festival. Two high points have persisted in my memory: visiting the Ulster Folk Museum, where I bought a fireplace warmer for oaken cakes which has since had pride of place at my hearth for its simple elegance, and getting the Festival to lend me “some Ulster poet” to tape a swatch of North Ireland poems for the students who couldn’t afford the trip.

That poet was a somewhat awkward-looking 29-year-old County Derry farm boy, recently graduated from high school English teaching to a post at Queens College. He read some John Montague, and Paul Muldoon, and James Simmons, interesting enough stuff. Then he ended with a pair of his own: “Digging” and “Death of a Naturalist.”

BAM. I was weak in the knees, a sure sign that I had just encountered a genius. I had. The awkward farm boy was Seamus Heaney, who has long since abandoned Ulster for international fame as simultaneously the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric at Harvard and Professor of Poetry at Oxford (a double header unprecedented in the history of Anglo-American verse) and persistently on the short list for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And the Ulster Museum had grown, in spite of the Troubles, from a poky, if savory cluster of three old farm houses, to a mega-museum whose new Transportation Museum (it opened last October) is such a complex of wonders, architectural and trainwise, that it would warrant a trip from the United States just on its own.

That’s the good news. The bad makes me numb. It’s not just the hypersecurity apparat: A confidential informant advised me that security costs are bleeding the British treasury to the tune of £150 million a year. I checked into the just opened Novotel at the airport—and passed through the kind of security system you have to use in the airport proper. You can’t imagine what a pall that casts on a hotel lobby.

I also stayed at the Plaza in downtown Belfast, one street over from the Opera House and Europa Hotel which were savaged by the biggest blast ever in September. (The owner of the £10 million hotel sold it to the Hastings group for 4 million: he’d had it up to there with being the biggest target for the IRA as the largest and fanciest hotel in town.) Incidentally, shortly after the Plaza opened two years ago, IRA tacticians obliterated its third floor and its plumbing system—to let them know who was boss.

The government picked up the £2 million tab for reconstruction. I was told this was part of a £20 million a year extortion racket that has gradually, over the 25 years of the Troubles, insinuated itself into every nook and cranny of Ulster business life. My informant, who was socking every extra farthing into his own personal escape fund—£10,000, he’s off to the South of France—said that what began as a method of financing IRA operations has now become a cottage industry. The Hibernian mafiosa who run this racket have no other marketable skills, and that’s why he saw no end to the turbulence.

I made arrangements to meet the poet James Simmons at Lisburn City Hall on his lunch break from teaching a course at Maze prison, a facility first built to accommodate IRA internees. We never met because they close down City Hall now during lunch to minimize security problems—as a policeman taking bulletproof vests and riot shields out of the trunk of his car told me.

Belfast itself seems to shut down around midnight, a vestige of the 8 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew of the 1970s. Walking around downtown on a Sunday morning is a foretaste of an Apocalypse—there are movable barriers everywhere, purple signs advising everyone not to stop there. It is a police state in every sense of the word.

And yet the new infrastructure and new public housing bespeak a prosperity that is sadly at odds with realities. I happened upon a late-night Christmas party (I mean late—they were still going at six a.m.) of airport rental car managers in the lobby of the Novotel. I can only say they seemed to be a bunch of psychiatric cases, so shell-shocked were they. Younger people seem pathetically eager to talk with Americans, and when I casually told the British Midlands staff how much I enjoyed my visit their reply was, “How soon will you come back?” Not “Come back soon.”

Poor old St. Pat would have his hands full driving such writhing snakes out of Ulster. Yet oddly, the Ulster Museum exhibition inadvertently shows a way out, at the same time being a marvelous gloss on what pitifully little is actually known about the British Roman of noble birth who, at age 16, was kidnapped into Ireland as a slave.

Tradition has it that he died in 493 A.D., so this was a 1500th anniversary celebration. The most striking insight of the exhibition was that the cult of St. Patrick was begun in 1088 by an invading Norman noble who wanted to pacify his unruly subjects.

Before that politically inspired action, St. Patrick was just a bishop with an interesting kidnap narrative to fuel local folklore. But once this Norman noble had his way with his folk, Irish imagination took over, and there was a reliquary boom: various sites, but especially Armagh—the Rome of the Irish Catholic church—started worshipping parts of Patrick: his head, his nose, his hand, why even his thumb for God’s sake, because the focus of pilgrimages. Until the Reformation, when the Church of Ireland (an Anglican offshoot) started moving in.

It was a shock for me to discover on my last visit to Dublin that St. Patrick’s Cathedral was Protestant! And the equally non-Catholic noble order of St. Patrick, founded about the time of George IV—who was one of the 147 knights enrolled—was clearly set up to counter Fenian maneuvers in the 19th Century. It folded when the Republic succeeded in its secession in 1922. So poor old Pat’s veneration began as a Norman political ploy and ended when the Ulster nationalists could no longer use him for their beknighted purposes. It’s a long, long way from Tipperary!

This covert agenda of the Patrick Show is clear enough to anyone trained to read subtexts. It is served as part of a tasty multi-media smorgasbord of Roman antecedents, Celtic grave stones, even a animatronic St. Patrick whose lips move when he’s orating the Latin of his only two extant writings but become curiously silent when the English translation is being given!

There’s a wattle church, a huge Celtic cross recently retrieved from the attic where it had been consigned since breaking into little pieces, a slide and photographic show of stained glass windows of St. Patrick (little Hibernians are encouraged to color their own blank sheets on the spot), and cases full of the strange reliquaries, where a variation of the one True Cross bit plays its tunes.

The real snakes of Ulster are the complementary irredentist mentalities which refuse to see how the two warring parties have been abusing themselves and each other for over a millennium now. Give and take is not yet in their vocabularies. If they could just pack away their contesting prides for a second and see how this exhibition deconstructs their reciprocating false consciousnesses, their faulty consciences might begin to exculpate each other.

But don’t bet the farm on it. Each outrage is carefully stored away in the opposed collective memories, happily worrying over the conflicting traditions like dogs licking their own vomit. God knows there’s enough bad faith to go around.

Cardinal Daly, the Irish primate has just written a book arguing that the time for reconciliation is now; but the Catholic Church has been content enough over the years to consolidate its rickety power by passively encouraging its communicants to hate the Protestants as curses of God. And Ian Paisley perfects his counsels of desperation with every countermarch. Both sides have given religion a bad name. Can’t they see that St. Patrick was both an outsider and a political prisoner? Can’t they forgive and forget, in his holy name?

From: Welcomat, Hazard-at-Large

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Style is the Man

Dwight Macdonald was one of my first grapplees--after McLoonie.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Side Effects

Re Prostate Cancer and Radioactive Love:

Holy moley, what dangerous lives we try to lead. Thank God, I was prematurely de-ejaculated: I voluntarily celebrated the nation’s bicentennial of freedom with a vasectomy at a suburban Philly hospital.

My cruel girlfriend phoned me the next day with a curt question: “Does it hurt, honey?”

What I answered, only she will ever know.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

On Walter Annenberg & American Bandstand

Regarding Not So Nice, by Ms. Eichel:

As a professor for the opening years of Penn's Annenberg School, I was puzzled in 1960 when graduating students who came to my office to explore job prospects wondered why the WFIL-TV had such low standards, often alluding to Clark's segregated "Bandstand".

And my Greenbelt Knoll neighbor the Rev. Leon Sullivan expressed his contempt for the paper's complete refusal to cover his Black Clergy's TASTEE KAKE boycott (no black jobs, no black patrons).

I went immediately to Annenberg for an explanation. The best he could do was his executive editor E.Z. Dimittman's ---"We hired a colored copyboy last summer, but he didn't cut the mustard."

In short, it would take a Gene Roberts to transcend such small-minded prejudices.

The plain truth is that Annenberg had much more money than ethical sensitivity.

Dr. Patrick D. Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Camera Eye on Poetry

Marshall McLuhan, author of the essay which follows, believes that we can use our children’s awareness of film and TV to help them better appreciate a traditional art form like poetry. His general strategy is to use contemporary awareness of technology as an open door to traditional art and literature. His book, The Mechanical Bride: the Folklore of Industrial Man (1951), will prove immensely interesting to those teachers who find this essay congenial. 

Professor McLuhan, who teaches English at the University of Toronto, is an associate editor of Explorations, a journal published at the University of Toronto and supported by the Ford Foundation. The magazine attempts to explore ways to bring the humanities into fresh contact with modern man.

When “picturesque” poetry arose in the early eighteenth century, English poets began to exploit a new way of seeing and feeling through pictures. Poetry since then has steadily developed their discoveries. And their discoveries were, to an amazing degree, anticipations of the movie and of television. For that reason, it is easy now in teaching the poetry of Gray and Collins, and of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, to train the camera eye on their verses. In so doing, teacher and student will quickly discover a great deal about this earlier poetry that is new and exciting today.

It is not necessary to begin as late as the eighteenth century, however. Let us start with the familiar ballad, “Sir Patrick Spens.” It opens with a panoramic shot of a king’s court. It is stormy weather. That is why the king sits. The court in those days had to move about because government administration could not expect people to come to court. Roads were too bad.

At once, the camera moves in for a close shot of the king conversing with his counselors. The king has a problem. Note that there is treachery afoot when the “eldern knicht” proposes his solution. At least we learn this from the angry grief of Sir Patrick a few lines later. The next shot is of the preparation of the letter. Then we shift instantly to the seashore and Sir Patrick. Then there are shots of the swift and fatal preparations for the voyage.

Everywhere the poet’s shots depend on sudden shifts and startling contrast of image and effect. The opening shot of the king and his court is contrasted with the final shot of Sir Patrick and the same nobles at the bottom of the deep. The efficiency of Sir Patrick’s preparations for sea are in contrast to the shots of his sissy courtiers and their fancy ladies “wi their fans into their hand.”

The ballad was a swift and dramatic form which relied much on short, quick shots or scenes that can be visually realized.

The students should be invited to discover these features as much as possible for themselves. They should be asked to cast the show and to watch for irony and metaphor or symbol.

If the last scene of “Sir Patrick Spens” were to be presented as a radio program, one would naturally look at it closely to discover the acoustic possibilities. The musical and other sound effects of wind and rain and tumult of the seashore would come into their own. Needless to say, in studying this or any other poem through the camera eye, the teacher and student are going to learn a lot about the art of the movie and of television. They would enjoy reading Eisenstein’s Film Form to see what a great movie director learned from the poetry of Milton and the novels of Dickens in solving some problems of movie art.

A glance at Collins’ “Ode to Evening” from the movie-camera point of view reveals an important feature of landscape poetry. The romantic poets looked for scenes that would correspond to various human feelings and emotions. (The “feelings” refer to sensuous experience, the “emotions” to states of mind.) “Ode to Evening” is a kind of orchestral arrangement of such feelings and emotions. And this orchestration is managed by a rhythmic and undulating succession of scenes which unfold as the poet takes his walk.

To turn from a camera-eye study of this poem to the Autumn or Melancholy of Keats will reveal many fascinating differences and resemblances of scene, tone, and language. Of course, that is one justification of the camera-eye approach—that it reveals the effects of the printed page through another medium. It permits the fruitful method of comparison and contrast (the best way of studying samples from any of the arts) to be followed in many unexpected ways. Also, it relates traditional poetry to our contemporary experience.

Finally, let us turn to a small poem of Wordsworth, “The Solitary Reaper.” The poet seems almost to have made it into a shooting script. Note how carefully and exactly he sets the opening visual scene. He places himself in the midst of the scene, both as camera eye and as commentator. Like all the romantic poets, he not only tells you what to see but exactly how the scene should affect you. The first and last stanzas have the same view and sounds. But the two middle stanzas do some surprising leaps and offer some very fantastic shots of Arabia, the Hebrides and ancient clan battles in Celtic mists. These effects are carefully arranged, as in a musical or pictorial composition, to bring about a single emotional impact. Wordsworth seeks the eerie in the everyday as “The Ancient Mariner” of Coleridge seeks the casual and everyday amidst the remote and eerie. Like all poets and artists, Wordsworth in this poem aims to startle and waylay the reader. Every poem is an ambush. And until the reader springs the trap and falls like Alice astonished into another world, he hasn’t made contact with the poem.

The camera eye, assisted by sound effects, will help student and teacher to discover the magic formula that will open the secret world that is every great poem.

First published in The Clearing House, Vol. 30, No. 8 (Apr., 1956)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Thursday, 10 May 2012

National Gallery

I serendipitously encountered a Cuban art historian there on my last visit. He told me the Gallery was a retread in steel of what had been designed in concrete as an exhibition hall for the preeminent Cuban rum. Castro nixed it. 

And so Mies dragged it home, another booboo of his Crystal Palace syndrome, as in the uninhabitable Farnsworth house outside Chicago where the temperature range was far from Barcelona's, and it was finally reopened as a Visitor's Center honoring the architectural genius of Mies!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Kibitzing the Bauhaus Kibbutzim

I bet you didn’t know that 2012 is the Centennial of the Kibbutz. I didn’t, until I read “Bauhaus 2” the second issue of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s magazine, helpfully including a version of the theme in English, even though sometimes hard to read because of ridiculously small type as well as an”artsy” color that Herbert Bayer would never have used. So their story begins with the decade before the Bauhaus was founded in 1919. And the prehistory of the decade is necessary to see what developed.

For convenience, let’s begin with the first international industrial exhibition in London, 1851. There the architects of the world saw the first use of steel and glass to create a dazzling icon, the Crystal Palace, an innovation that would indeed make a dysfunctional mess of many of the Bauhaus’s first highly touted “mistakes”. The first thing the Crystal Palace did to the lagging industrial Germans was to motivate them to try and catch up to Britain, the first leading Western power.

The Prussians appointed the prestigious architect, Herman Multhesius, a spy in the German embassy in London. For 9 years he snooped and scooped the winner’s habits. Unfortunately he was a generation behind in his espionage, falling in love with William Morris’s “Arts and Crafts” movement. Alas, Morris hated factories. The whole industrial enterprise he thought was a mistake. He promulgated a pseudomedievalism that obscured the emergence of modern industrial design and architecture. And so Multhesius, blinded by a false “insight” , missed the most important cultural event of the last half of the British nineteenth century—the discovery of “industrial design” by a mere botanical illustrator, Christopher Dresser.

Dresser was a Glaswegian who studied the crafts of making botanically attractive wallpapers for interior decoration. Friedrich Schiller University in Jena even awarded him a prize in 1864 for his first book. And he gave a very well-received series of lectures on his emerging discipline at the Philadelphia Centennial World’s Fair in 1876. His lectures over, he spent several months in Japan studying the manufacture of their beautifully simple domestic objects. Upon his return, he proudly declared: “I went to Japan a mere decorator, but I have returned a designer.” Fully fifty years before the Bauhaus was founded British industry was mass producing his kind of designs Gropius et al only dreamed about. Multhesius’s espionage only led to a series of solid books on the kind of country houses Morris had inspired!

He soon did much better helping to found in 1907, the Deutsche Werkbund and their journal “Form” to nudge Germany into its industrial future. Pan-European architects like Henry van de Velde and Peter Behrens led the way. The year after the polymath Behrens built the AEG Turbine Hall in Berlin in 1909, he had three of the future most notorious Azubis in architectural history,Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe! Indeed, blue collar mason’s son Mies had to report to upperclass Gropius in the Behrens office, twisting his muse permanently—valueing art over function for the rest of his long career.

Meanwhile Herzl’s Hearties were eager to try out the collectivist ideals of Zionism in” their” British Mandate Palestine. Many brought Bauhaus ideals in their luggage, especially students of the second Bauhaus director, Hannes Meyer. It is important to recall that HM was the first to teach architecture at the Bauhaus(As late as 1928 was the first course!) and there Mayer emphasized his Communist leanings, recapitulating Gropius commitment to “good design for the working classes” as his own contempt for “luxury”. (Meyer actually delivered on that ideal, whilst Gropius merely mouthed the platitude.)Which was fine for the Kibbutzniks. That was their original ideal as well-- until it kind of dribbled away over the decades.

In fact, the dissolution of Bauhaus idealism soon followed Gropius’s snap decision to quit the Bauhaus, make the Swiss Communist his successor, and head off to start a private firm in Berlin. Why did he quit? Well he had moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1926 because the Thuringian legislature had become more and more antsy about “foreign Bolsheviks”in Weimar and a liberal mayor in Dessau was interested in making the Junker Aircraft city bigger and better. But the city administration soon drifted to the right as Naziism bloomed there too.

Further, Pius asked his professorial staff to go along with a proposed 10% salary reduction and they balked. Moreover, a hot new Dessau journalist was headlining Walter as a “double dipper” --getting one salary as the director and more cash as the advisor for the Junker worker suburb he and Meyer were designing. Finally, there was even scuttlebutt that Herbert Bayer was moving on his second wife Ilse. Grope decided, Screw it, and fled to Berlin with Marianne Brandt, the best woman designer ever to work at the Bauhaus.

It was over. Dessau bounced the Commie Meyer, and Mies threw out the Commie students. (He was in a squeeze! His first success (1926) was a cemetery Denkmal to the founders of the German Communist party, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg! ) My German architect friend Bertrand Goldberg, in the last Bauhaus class (1933) and Mies’s first Azubi in Berlin, told me Mies went nuts trying to convince Alfred Rosenberg that he wasn’t still a Commie. And he sucked up to Albert Speer, unsuccessfully, until 1937 until Gropius got him a commission for a rich man’s summer home in Yellowstone. The Bauhaus was real raggedy at the end, but the Kibbutzniks had conviction and courage to keep those old ideals alive for many years.

They were helped by the likes of major architects like Eric Mendelsohn who scored big with his Einstein Turm (1921) which was designed so that the great physicist could test his relativity theories there ,as well as great department stores (a new architectural genre)in Chemnitz, Nuremberg, and Stuttgart.

Finally, there were Bauhauslers like Arieh Sharon who made their reps in Palestine. His letter to Hannes Meyer on the state of their new architecture is a splendid précis of what worked and what didn’t. Ironically, UNESCO made Tel Aviv, the White City, a registered landmark. The net result of the award was to gentrify the city far out of the budget of most of those for it was designed! Indeed, at present, something like our Occupy Wall Street movement is motivating the young and now impecunious Jews who feel betrayed by a 99/1 type economy to protest their condition. But if the rocky history of Kibbutzim idealism is any indication, Bauhaus good intentions will triumph once more.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Nowhere Man

I spent a day with Joseph Brodsky at a Pennsylvania literary conference in 1978.

Completely unpretentious. Wanted to learn Russian to get at his work. No Go. Closest was my palaver that day about a recent two week visit to Russia.

He listened amiably, smiling at my innocent enthusiasm!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Entertainer as Hero—Part III

The Stars: an Account of the Star-System in Motion Pictures by Edgar Morin
The Entertainer, a play by John Osborne

One of the most significant developments for the teacher of adolescents is the apotheosis of the entertainer as hero in American life. As the teen-ager has become the beneficiary of American abundance—to the staggering sum of $9 billion per annum—a whole new industry has grown up to cater to the concept that nothing his little teen-age heart desires can be wrong. Magazines, TV programs, movies, fashions—all insist with adult demagoguery that whatever Lolita wants, Lolita gets, no questions asked. 

The prefabricated teen-age singer who literally can’t carry a tune achieves stardom through the genius of sound engineers (and the persistence of publicity men). What matters is that teenagers can identify with the star’s mediocrity. About all such a teen-age idol can “teach” his followers is that success is based on breaks, life is a ball when you’ve got it made, and don’t let the squares (parents and teachers) con you out of having a good time. “Your Happiest Years” (to quote the revealing title of Dick Clark’s teen-age Dale Carnegie manual) assumes that happiness is identical with the adolescent’s relative freedom from responsibility. In such a world view, maturity is by definition an anticlimax.

Because such notions are subversive of the standard purposes of education, it is important for teachers to gain as much perspective on the pathologies of popular culture as possible. Two such viewpoints are provided by a French critic’s analysis of the movies’ star system and by an English play about the decline of vaudeville, which is really a parable about the emptiness of a life based on sensation and escape. Mr. Morin’s book, although largely based on very old studies—the Payne Fund books of the 1930’s, and Leo Rosten—is still a valid analysis of the psychological, sociological, economic, and esthetic conditions of the star system. Included in this study of how “industrial Pygmalionism” satisfies deeply felt needs in a superficial way at the same time that it moves merchandise is a chapter on the James Dean craze that presents a plausible hypothesis about his posthumous popularity.

John Osborne’s play about a down-at-the-heels and foul-mouthed vaudeville hoofer examines the crisis in values in contemporary English society. Archie Rice kills his father by making him leave retirement to return to the stage to save his son from debtor’s prison; their family’s favorite has just been killed in a war; the intellectual daughter cannot choose the genteel evasion of a “happy and successful marriage” even though she despises the animality of her father Archie; her stepmother Phoebe betrays the moral bankruptcy of their ideals by remarking, “Still—it’s better to be a has-been than a never-was.” That is the entertainer’s ethic, and more than any other single principle, the schools ought to oppose it.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Mickey Stern

Mickey was the most interesting man I met in MSC graduate school. I always rued that our divergent professional lives ended our friendship.

He remained an inspiration as to how a humanist should confront the
challenges of teaching.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Entertainer as Hero—Part II

First published in The Clearing House, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Nov., 1960)

This morning’s mail brought a most curious document: a press release from the largest teachers’ organization in the country announcing with pride that television actress Donna Reed will “serve as consultant to the National Education Association in the formation of a Television Committee for American Education Week, November 6-12.” N.E.A. President Dr. W.W. Eshelman explained his delight at Miss Reed’s acceptance: “Her weekly program on the ABC Television Network has repeatedly indicated her awareness of the needs of children and teachers, who are presented to the public in an intelligent and sympathetic light.” The slogan for the 1960 observance, “Strengthen Schools for the 60’s.”

Now there may be a certain poetic justice in educators’ having to turn to entertainers to wean a public away from pap to a serious interest in education, especially since education gets into intellectual trouble so often precisely because it tries to make education entertaining. What bothers me about making heroes out of entertainers is that their professional virtues—affability, a mindless, heady hedonism, a facile equation of mass popularity with importance—begin to seem the chief virtue in life.

Not that I’m against fun; it’s heartening to watch Ernie Kovacs, Art Carney, Mort Sahl, Mike Nichols, and Elaine May—performers for whom satire and irony are weapons. But TV is plagued by old-line entertains like Bob Hope, whose one-line gags pretend to controversy (in the way Jack Paar’s 1:00 A.M. statesmanship on Cuba is fake muckraking) and whose amiable feuds with Bing Crosby show how contrived and predictable these “feuds” have become. When a hundred reporters brave a blizzard to transcribe for tomorrow the lucubrations of Elvis Presley as he leaves the Army, and when the Washington Post gives three columns at the top of the page to a photo of Ethel Merman mugging at Dick Nixon, then our communications system may be said to be enthralled by entertainers. We even need them to raise money for research to cure diseases: George Gobel complains: “By the time I got there they had run out of all the good diseases.” Someone may have beaten him to cerebral palsy, but there is another disease endemic in America—entertaineritis, characterized by dilation of the eyes and a certain listlessness of the mind when confronted with difficult thought.

Paar is a good example. He has taken to crusades of varying scope and depth, most of which embody the vices they presume to bait. All right—so Winchell and Kilgallen are gossip mongers, but Paar’s vindictive sneers add nothing. And is Elsa Maxwell’s calculated vulgarity Paar’s idea of the significant?

Paar has his best argument in having presented Bob Kennedy on Hoffa; Kennedy himself says the Paar show had more effect on Congress than any other single item of publicity, and Paar considers Kennedy’s appearances on his late night program as the high point of his TV career. But note that when Kennedy reappeared and pointed out to Paar that Hoffa’s labor corruption was possible only because of the connivance of big business, and then went on to be very specific (A & P, Food Fair) Paar’s phony let’s-have-another-libel-suit-look dissolved in a look of real horror. Until Paar calls Kennedy back and lets him examine sweetheart contracts and other kinds of business corruption, it is difficult to give him a much higher grade than Winchell or Kilgallen as a champion of the public interest.

Paar’s simple-minded equation of contentiousness with controversy is not even convincing to his staff, notably Hugh Downs. Downs is one of the Chicago school, intellectual without being stuffy. He started out there on the delightful “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” show. His next appearance in the big time was for another lamented victim of TV ratings, Arlene Francis’ “Home”—a kind of TV combination Ladies Home Journal and Life that NBC’s Pat Weaver started to prove that twenty years of soap opera had not completely killed the intelligence of the housewife. As the announcer of the Paar show, Downs has much less scope for the intelligence his displayed in feature material for Arlene Francis. Indeed, given the emotional anti-intellectualism of Paar, Downs has been fighting a holding action as far as his career goes.

Increasingly, Paar’s transitions to Down’s commercials have a perceptibly patronizing air. Downs, however, is not easily conned, and it is a pleasure to see him deny the master to his face. (In answer to a rhetorical question, an unexpectedly negative reply: “Yes, you are cruel to people sometimes, Jack.”) More and more, painfully and consciously hollow laughs come from Downs when Paar’s humor misfires. The marvel here, of course, is that we are surprised on TV to see a man insisting on his dignity.

Downs is a new kind of star. At a recent Westinghouse Broadcasting Company press party, Downs was asked over a transcontinental phone hookup of five Westinghouse stations whether he thought his doing educational shows would give him an egghead tag that would hurt his career as an entertainer. Maybe in a hundred and twelve years, Downs allowed, he’d qualify if he worked as hard at it as he now does. Further, he didn’t see how it could hurt him since the anti-intellectual days of egghead baiting, he was happy to observe, were over. Another interviewer asked which gave him more satisfaction—his M.C.’ing of “Concentration,” a worthless bit of five times-a-week piffle on N.B.C.-TV, or his new role as M.C. of intellectual programs like the Westinghouse “Lab 30” series and two films he has just finished on the problems of the schools. Downs unhesitatingly condemned the game show as fluff, and said he had a sense of having really achieved something worthwhile in the ten problems on the frontiers of science “starring” the Westinghouse research team.

But ironically, when Downs tried to explain how much this series of difficult scientific experiments on TV had taught him, he revealed something about an entertainer culture. The main thing he had learned working with the scientists was that they were really people. Since it is the entertainer’s natures to be “on” all the time, rapport with an audience is a highly prized virtue. But it couldn’t matter less whether or not a scientist is warm or friendly. What matters is his ability to describe natural phenomena for the purposes of prediction and control.

The N.E.A. may be right in believing that the way to attract the serious attention of the public is through the entertainers. The troubling thing about the N.E.A. press release, however, is its tone of happy acquiescence in and even humble gratitude for the fact that the TV wag dogs the tale of our public affairs.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Reverse Conversion

I recently had a Paul on the road to Damascus reverse conversion experience.

I had just visited the new, highly touted, Surrealism museum. Blah.

What began with Marcel Duchamp's Urinal for R. Mutt seemed suddenly foolish. I was back astride my horse as a suddenly deconverted Saul, deeply skeptical. As coincidence would soon clarify, my next stop was an exhibition of a certain Renaissance painter, Sebastiano, of whom I'd never heard in my provincially specialist camp as an Am Lit professor. I was wholly beguiled!

This is what I later figured out. Begin any historical analysis of Modernism with Voltaire's shriek against the Roman Catholic Church,"Ecrasez l'Infame." It became easier and easier, if illogical, to replace that hated ego suppressing institution with the closest thing handy, one's own ID.

Koon's is a puppy dog. Sick Transit Gloria Artibus: And Damien's is a shark. U.s.w. The saddest part is the way art historians and critics fell for this trash. At least the gallerists' moves are understandably venal.

The eggheads gratuitously made omelettes of their brains.

Patrick D. Hazard

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Notes on Auditioning Radio’s New Sound

 Weaver’s Magazine Concept: Notes on Auditioning Radio’s New Sound
Published in The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Summer, 1956)
PATRICK D. HAZARD, an English teacher, is currently on a Fund for the Advancement of Education Fellowship, studying how the liberal arts can develop a tradition of criticism in the popular arts. While in New York this year, he is radio-TV editor of Scholastic Teacher.

“With a courage born of desperation and destitution” was Variety critic Bob Chandler’s apt description of the motives behind A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You.” This program is, according to its executive producer Drex Hines, an “effort to do in radio what the digest magazines do in the publishing field; that is, recognize that busy people appreciate a service which selects features especially for them.” 

Robert W. Sarnoff, president of N.B.C., admits frankly that “Monitor” and “Weekday” are also moves of desperate destitution. Radio lost two million dollars at N.B.C. in 1955. “The networks,” in Sarnoff’s judgment, “have to make these new forms work or else.” Mutual Radio has made similar changes in programming and advertising; it calls the new pattern “Companionate Radio.” Only well-fed C.B.S., relatively prosperous in terms of radio’s diminished fortunes, rides out the storm with Godfrey and sponsored soapers. Even C.B.S. has had to overhaul its advertising structure, allowing many sponsors to underwrite a single program or series of programs through its “segmentation” plan.

Radio’s new sound stems from changes TV has wrought in listening habits. Advertising has similarly shifted from an effort to assemble one big audience to a systematic attempt to expose one’s message to a cumulative audience assembled seriatim throughout the broadcast schedule. A description of program content in the new radio formats should be seen against the theoretical ideas of its pioneer, Sylvester L. Weaver, Jr. The magazine concept in commercial radio breaks down some walls between educational and commercial broadcasting; an effort is made at the end of this paper to explore the possibilities of collaboration among mass educators, critics, and broadcasters in light of the educational implications of the “electronic magazine.”

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

TV, however, has radically changed where, when, and how these radios are used. Two out of three American homes have more than one radio set. Two out of three American-home radios are located outside the living room—bedrooms have 20 per cent; dining rooms and kitchens, 18 per cent; living rooms, 21 per cent; other rooms, 7 per cent. Four out of five radios are located outside the living room where nearly all the TV sets are. Most radio listening is done by individuals rather than by family groups. Radio listening is up in TV homes and increases as the TV set grows older. Most daytime radio listeners do other things while listening; two out of three nighttime radio listeners concentrate entirely on listening. Since 85 to 90 per cent of the radio homes in TV cities own TV and 75 per cent of all radio homes are TV-equipped, radio has become an individual listener’s medium.

TV has also changed the economic facts of radio advertising. As TV began to deliver the national market, advertisers used radio to plug holes in TV-network coverage. Spot campaigns and local-station advertising tended to siphon off what TV had left of network radio’s revenue. Network radio faced bankruptcy unless it could devise new ways to lure back both listeners and advertisers. It sought to regain listeners by personalizing programming; it sought to regain advertisers by letting a sponsor gain a cumulative audience by small participations in many programs. For instance, in the C.B.S. Segmented Program Plan, sponsors can underwrite five-minute segments of one or more of eleven big-name shows—among them, Bing Crosby and Amos ‘n’ Andy. 

Numerous possible combinations of participations are available. C.B.S. offers, for example, a segment each in all eleven programs with gross weekly audience of forty million for about $18,000. The rating point is being replaced by low-cost presentations of cumulative audiences for many programs. The advantage of this type of advertising is that it can be tailor-made. Small companies can buy a few exposures; large ones can buy into all the programs if they want to. The national market can be saturated by a short campaign carried on major-network shows. High TV-production costs make it desirable for alternate-week TV sponsors to keep their product exposed on radio during off weeks. C.B.S., because it has been in the strongest financial position, has been able to concentrate on changes in advertising rather than in programming.

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

“Communicators” from Radio Central—a “push-button listening post on the world”—promised listeners that they were “going places and doing things.” The new network radio service was designed to bring listeners into instantaneous touch with everything important, interesting, or entertaining anywhere in the world. News, sports, time signals, weather, and local and special features were supplemented by entertainment elements consisting of comedy, drama, music, theater, films, and records. Each communicator works a four-hour block backed up by a name-disc jockey, experienced newscasters, a sports editor, writers, and program idea men. Features can vary from a one-line gag to a twenty-minute excerpt from a film or play. “Monitor” had that ants-in-the-pants mobility and immediacy of the American week end it was designed to enliven.

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

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

They bring the tonic of laughter to areas that are impervious to other critical strategies. Literature book reviews and profiles on the American theater give another dimension to “Monitor’s” coverage of the arts. Indeed, given a little encouragement and constructive criticism, “Monitor” could help substantially to take the hex off “culture” and “the finer things” in America. Its mixture of hammy showmanship and low-key literacy is precisely the means for easing the century-and-a-half-old cold war in American culture between self-conscious gentility and aggressive lowbrowism. This is not to whitewash “Monitor.” It has a can-you-top-this mentality that is quickly tiring, and it brags about its technological virtuosity until you crave the era of smoke signals. Still, it may deemphasize these audience getters, in time; and, as it now stands, it remains the best extant hope for a broadcast forum of popular criticism.

The next electronic magazine launched to retrieve TV addicts was A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You.” It began late in October, 1955, in the heretofore lucrative prime evening time, 7:30 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. (NYT), Mondays through Fridays. There are five thirty-minute segments, each segment itself divided into five- and ten-minute parts with five minutes reserved for news. The first thematic unit is “Events of the Day.” “Today’s Sensational Story,” a five-minute tabloid feature, is followed by “Inside Washington,” a controversial story from the nation’s capital; “Transatlantic Exclusive,” Europe’s sensational story of the day; “Personality of the Day,” the hero or heel of the headlines; and finally, “The News and You,” political, economic, and social news as it affects the individual.

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

“Yesterday at Midnight”: the New York Stock Exchange, the Bowery, a house detective at work, a cleaning woman at the Smithsonian, dancing at Birdland, an interview with Edith Piaf at her current engagement, backstage interviews. “America at Work and Play” presents spot close-ups with interesting Americans everywhere: the Pan-American Tennis Tournament in Mexico City, the warden of Michigan State Prison, a pre-Thanksgiving visit to a turkey farm, a Notre Dame cheerleaders’ rehearsal, Justice William O. Douglas, the editor in chief of Field and Stream, the New York City Commissioner of Sanitation, a report on an electronic computer at the Bureau of Standards, he blind at work at work in Cleveland, Ohio. “From Elm Street to the Great White Way” is the final segment in “The World and You.” It has featured the out-of-town opening of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream; a report on Three Penny Opera; a visit to the Mississippi Delta; an interview with Melvyn Douglas, star of the Broadway hit Inherit the Wind; Scottsdale, Ariz., the West’s most western town; Little Theater, Dallas, Tex.,; theatrical set designer Max Gorelik; Irene Selznick, producer of The Chalk Garden. 

 Affiliates are encouraged to tape newsworthy programs for this and other segments and send them to New York for editorial decision by the planning board, composed of the executive producer, his assistant, and the editors of the five segments. This attempt to capture the regional flavors of Americana is an important strength of “New Sounds.” Such decentralization of programming sources tends to encourage diversity and resist New York-Hollywood erasures of valuable differences in American subcultures. It is another example of radio’s new realism—substituting the excitement and interest of real life for the prefabricated sugar nannies of earlier radio.

“Your Better Tomorrow” is the third major section of A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You.” In it, radio is attempting to build audience by serving recognized human needs instead of by creating ersatz satisfactions to fill emotional vacuums. “Your Living Thoughts” has included Dr. Billy Graham, philosophy professor Reinhold Niebuhr from the University of Connecticut, Brooklyn’s oldest minister, anthropologist Margaret Mead, author Sholem Asch, a talk on Chanukah, a summary of race relations, and a moving appeal for the UN by Dr. Ralph Bunche. “Your Marriage and Family” has presented marriage expert Dr. Paul Popenoe discussing budgets, quarrels, working wives, and similar topics; Domestic Relations Judge John W. Hill; an Army chaplain discussing problems of G.I.’s; Walter Hendl with tips on when and how to teach children to play musical instruments. “Your Personality” features Dick Satterfield, an expert on etiquette, grooming, and beauty, and other prominent people giving their views on personality problems. “Your Success” features celebrities who explain the reasons for their good fortune; Dick Satterfield is also a regular contributor for this segment. “Your Home” cultivates the do-it-yourself craze. So far, it has featured a furniture expert; tips on building things from old orange crates; a visit to a door store, where unusual things are made from old doors; household hints; magic with leftovers; and activities like those of the New York City 88th Street tree-planting group.

“Soundmirror” is the fourth half-hour segment in “New Sounds.” “Sounds of Yesterday” presents stories, readings, and voices that make the past come alive. Materials used have included a debate over the struggle between government and business recorded in the thirties between Harold Ickes and General Hugh Johnson; auto-racer Barney Oldfield; singer Florence Foster Jenkins; the first Edison recording; famous sporting events; Elsie Janis, sweetheart of the AEF; vaudeville star Bert Williams; Jonas Salk on the polio victory; F.D. Roosevelt’s prayer for G.I.’s on D-Day, 1944; and the Pearl Harbor announcement interrupting a pro football game. “Sounds of Today,” a ten-minute segment, has featured tapes from Unit 99, Sacramento police; a uranium prospector; a football team in the huddle and on the line; voodoo from Haiti; sounds of workmen building the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel. 

“Sounds of No Importance” is a showcase for aural humor: the sound of manhole covers, hanging up clothes, knocking on doors, eating breakfast, a moth in a gray flannel suit, ash cans, goat talk, an aspirin going to work, a city as night, cracking nuts, and similar esoterica. “Soundmirror” closes with “Soundings,” short editorial-page features. Phone calls and letters from listeners are solicited and featured. The producers are anxious to expand this feedback potential, making the entire series closer to the conscious desires of the audience. It is this consideration of the audience’s actual interests that strikes a freshening note in radio’s new sound. For radio can thereby deepen awareness rather than supply substitutes for it.

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

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

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

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

The next entrant in the battle of the broadcast magazines is N.B.C.’s “Weekday.” Starting early in November, 1955, it has tried to bring “everything that is essential and much of what is interesting to the American woman.” Conceived of as companion and counselor to the American housewife, “Weekday” doles out information, news, service, and entertainment. A staff of thirty backs the host-hostess teams of Margaret Truman and Mike Wallace, and Martha Scott and Walter Kiernan. Although the title “Weekday” has been applied to N.B.C. programming between 10:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M., Mondays through Fridays, distinctively new material appears only from 10:15 to 11:45 and from 12:00 to 3:00.

Staples include a “Star of the Day” whose records are frequently played and who answers generally intelligent questions about his personal life. Gordon MacRae, Peggy Lee, Vaughan Monroe, Walter Schuman, and Debbie Reynolds were one week’s stars. Food consultant Charlotte Adams gives frequent reports. There are two man-and-wife comedy teams, Ted and Rhoda Brown and Jane and Goodman Ace. “Guests of the Day,” during a typical week, have included Sol Hurok, Jean Pierre Aumont, Dr. James T. Shotwell, dress designer Ceil Chapman, and Gertrude Berg. Guest editors from affiliate stations discuss their specialties. Shirley Thomas conducts a sensitive interview from a Hollywood set each day. “College at Home” presents lectures by university authorities—Dr. Ashley Montagu was the first—on topics like “The Nature of Human Nature,” an anthropological approach to child rearing. 

Meredith Willson explains long-haired music, with perhaps more condescension than is necessary in “Music Room.” Two days a week, Margaret Truman discusses opera and other serious music that she personally likes. Each day, there is a short story (Steinbeck and Hawthorne have vied with slick-magazine fiction), a serialized dramatization of a best seller, and dramatic readings—Cornelia Otis Skinner reading from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea was the first. There are numerous lectures by experts on topics of interest and importance to homemakers.

“Weekday” is the most literate and promising of the broadcast magazines. Look at the people it has brought to the attention of the housewife within its first month of operation: Chester Bowles, Louis Bromfield, Orson Welles, Patrice Munsel, Harry Belafonte, Morris Ernst, Ilka Chase, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Anderson, T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings, Bruce Catton, Carl Sandburg, Norman Cousins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julie Harris, George Balanchine, Benjamin Fine, and Cameron Hawley. This is a mere sampling of the imaginative package that N.B.C. presents daily for the enlightening entertainment of the American woman. This picture window on pertinent reality provided by “Weekday” is one of the most hopeful signs that mass culture is approaching maturity. In a very substantial way, “Weekday” provides a format for mass enlightenment that may be able to make up for many of the weaknesses of formal education in the last thirty years. To fully understand the long-range implications of radio’s new programming, it is helpful to examine its ideological background—the imaginative philosophy of industrial statesmanship of Sylvester L. Weaver, now Chairman of the Board at N.B.C.

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

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

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

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

Weaver’s “Wide, Wide World” also partakes of the magazine format, but might also be compared to Steichen’s photo exhibition “Family of Man,” particularly in its paperback form. It mixes levels of taste in a remarkable way: for example, in “American Rhapsody” there were live shots of folk music in North Carolina; of a lonely mine inspector singing; New Orleans stevedores, a jazz night club, and a marching funeral band; popular idol Frank Sinatra from The Sands, Las Vegas; a touching sequence of deaf children learning to sing in Baltimore, Maryland. In this perfectly natural context, there appeared a profile on the National Ballet of Canada, rehearsing their production of the Nutcracker Suite. It would be interesting to know for how many people this sequence was a natural introduction to ballet, enticing them, perhaps, to become one of the 30,000,000 viewers of a full-length television production of Sleeping Beauty by Sadler’s Wells Company, seen shortly thereafter on N.B.C. “Wide, Wide World” is really Walt Whitman with coaxial cables. The program is occasionally overdone; frequently, moving; in rare (and more frequent) moments, superb—just as is Whitman.

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

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

On the other hand, people who work under him have quite another opinion. They refer fondly to his willingness to go personally to hesitant advertisers to help settle contracts for major cultural programs. They say that since he took over at N.B.C. the mediocre man is at the same disadvantage that a creative person heretofore was. The odds have been reversed. The question of censorship has ascended from a mechanical scrutiny aimed at keeping pressure groups at bay to a calculated willingness to take chances on mature situations—if they are justified aesthetically. It is this changed climate of belief about the possibilities of broadcasting that makes Weaver such an important cultural phenomenon. For a century and a half, American culture has steered gingerly between the Scylla of gentility and the Charybdis of “I know what I like” lowbrowism. Now, an executive says and seems to show that culture and commerce are not incompatible. It is this break through the barrier of American self-consciousness about the “finer things” that makes Weaver’s career of more than individual significance.

Indeed, Weaver’s first principles as they apply to radio, television, and the general society demand scholarly examination and amplification. Is his responsibility report the sort of thing Lyman Bryson asks for when he says that when engineers break stable cultural patterns with technology they have the moral responsibility of reestablishing significant patterns? Do we not witness the effects of avoided responsibility in industrial design, urban planning, and architecture? Is not Weaver implying with his responsibility report that industries must develop a mature consumer—one whose needs are satisfied and considered as on “Weekday” and on “Home”? And does this not lead to the belief that technology must justify itself not by keeping factories moving and studios broadcasting but by fulfilling human potentials and gearing its operations to know needs as Francis Horwich consciously does for children in “Ding Dong School”? We witness, perhaps, in Weaver a coming of age in American industrial leadership, in which our goal becomes a humane rather than a merely healthy economy.

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

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

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

Respect for contemporary art? What school gives students the respect for the complexity of the film form that Shirley Thomas dos in her Hollywood interviews on “Weekday”? Who hears in the public schools of Frank Lloyd Wright or Robert Moses or Harry Belafonte or Henry Dreyfuss? “Weekday” and “Home” show more concern for contemporary creativity than do the schools. What is involved here is a major strategy for the humanities and social sciences in mass education. Marshall McLuhan has urged the creation of the “classroom without walls” that would prepare media patrons to handle modern instruments of communication with sophistication. It seems that the magazine concept in broadcasting has anticipated this responsibility of the school by instituting the “kitchen without walls” or, to use the actual name of a “Weekday” segment, a “College at Home.” Should not the school develop curricula that allow children to scrutinize and discuss systematically the best that is being said and done on the media and in the general culture? A viable criticism of mass communication ought to begin in mass education, the only mass medium relatively free from commercial and deadline pressures.

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

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

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

For the emergence of the magazine concept on both TV and radio is a sign of a new maturity at the networks that could be lost if audiences do not materialize for this kind of programming.* Radio’s new sound particularly affords educators and critics a chance to make up for the mistakes and sins of omission that have characterized the last generation’s approach to commercial broadcasting. If the radio networks languish, it will be a serious loss for American culture. Remarkable new programs like “Biography in Sound” attest to the undiminished creative potential of network producers. Somehow, the energies of mass education, from secondary school through professional courses in graduate training, should rally to salvage the benefits of network radio. 

That commercial broadcasters have turned to the best as a last resort is not important; at least, they have partially committed themselves, in desperation it is true, to the real needs of the radio audience. In that, they have given us a basis for cooperation. The future of network radio may well be determined by the kind of criticism educators and journalists provide it in the next few years.

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