Monday, 22 September 2014

Media Nut

Did I ever tell you how I became a media nut? It started generations ago as I entered graduate school in Cleveland where my uncle the Reverend Aloysius Mark Fitzpatrick was the editor there of “The Catholic Universe Bulletin”, a weekly diocesan paper. I had won an annual essay of the Jesuit University of Detroit (Don’t ask me why the Jebbies named their U’s after cities rather than saints (maybe it was to entice non-Catholics for potential conversion!) “Needed More Red-Blooded American Catholics” to advance racial discrimination. (Commies were the only Americans in the ‘40’s who were square with blacks!) That prize made me want to conquer the media world. Alas, when the doctoral committee at Western Reserve University asked me who I wanted to write my dissertation on, I replied “Marshall McLuhan”! "Who”? They replied in Unison! I silently middle-fingered them and decided to go on the spot to Michigan State, where at least I wouldn’t have to pay out-of-state tuition.

Now State was then what we called a Cow College, a university that only majored in agriculture. But Times were a-changing, mainly because of a brilliant new English Department. I had just gotten married and my first son Michael, 1952, was on the way. So I became the janitor of the East Lansing State Bank, right across the street from the U. Now janitoring was not my ambition, but you hear every bit of gossip as you you push your broom. And I heard that the 10th and 12th grade teacher had just been canned for incompetence. I asked the new English chair if I would jeopardize my graduate status if I got that teaching: “Hell, no!” he replied. The depression was just over and his department had financed their Ph.D.’s with such jobs. So I took it! The best students I ever had—children of uni profs or Lansing execs!

Here’s where the “cow college” returns. MSU was the first U to get a TV channel. And they were eager to find programs. I invented one for my students: “Everyman Is a Critic”!, a Saturday morning TV rant on teenage age leisure. It caught on—so much so that the Ford Foundation gave me a grant to spend a year in New York to goose the T&V Execs into doing more for high school students. I visited “Scholastic Teacher” and ended up as their radio and TV editor—with access into every High School in the USA:I invited myself, and found Dr. Ralph Bunche (the first black to be a rep abroad in our State Department—he had just been on a “Time” cover. The other guy asked “Well how’s it going, Mr. Hazard?” “Lousy” I replied. “I’ve been trying for weeks to get an interview with Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, NBC’s head. He was very committed to raising TV’s IQ, but nobody wanted to palaver with an English teacher from Nowhere. Finally, the other guy said, "I like your enthusiasm, and I’m on the foundation that gave you your grant”. “I’m Roy Larsen, the publisher of “TIME”, how would you like an office in the Time-Life Building. I gulped, and took his card. 

Monday I was given my own office on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Building. I called Weaver first thing. “Busy”. But I left the magical “Time” phone number, Judson 62525. “The Time PA system barked, “Is there a Patrick D. Hazard, from East Lansing High? Call NBC!” NBC was a five-minute walk across Sixth Avenue. “Fifteen Minutes”? Weaver spent four hours connected with every department at his network, introducing me to Ed Stanley, NBC’s public affairs Officer. CBS; ABC; NPR followed. I was a functioning media nut. “Freshman English” is the toughest course to teach after High School boredom. They have their own convention. I spoke. “Don’t Let Liberace steal your students”! I cried.

Three profs from Trenton offered me a job teaching Freshman English at their college. The students were great! All first college families! I finished my dissertation. And at age 30 I got a Carnegie Scholar grant to create the first mass culture course in an American university at Penn. One year to design it. Second to teach it. The third year Walter Annenberg gave Penn 2 million dollars to found a Grad School in Communication. “Faute Mieu” I was the organizer, gently dragging my mentor Gilbert Seldes out of retirement to be Dean. I taught media history, until Harvard’s David Riesman nominated me to be the first director od The East-West Center in Honolulu: Asians to learn American Technology, Americans to learn Asian Culture. Best (and shortest) job I ever had: I had a weekly radio hour called “Pacific Profile”, a Sunday Morning commercial station with my wife called Coffee Break”. 

What I was too innocent to see, the State Department financed this department to keep Commies out of the U. And my number 2, chosen without a word from me, a Seymour Lutsky had been a CIA operative in the 10 years since his Iowa Ph.D., which could “earn” by milking six cows, for four big ones. I quit on the spot. 

We (me, my wife and three children)back to our sweet Louie Kahn house in Greenbelt Knoll, an experiment in racial integration. I became English chairman of what became Arcadia University. Soon I was training into New York every Tuesday to advise them on What BBC programs they should promote for ETV and high schools and universities and wrote a quarterly essay for the BBC on the best American TV the preceding quarter. 

Once a media nut, always a media nut. Here I write this essay at 87,  judging German papers and TV for their value.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Our Forgotten Bauhaus Women

In the ten years I’ve been studying the history of the German Bauhaus, the legendary Weimar arts school that opened in 1919, one overwhelming trend has prevailed. A new generation of female scholars has buried the Bauhaus patriarchy for good and always. It had it coming. Walter Gropius early on announced a ukase that there would be a 30% quota on female applications. (He feared they would overwhelm the student body, their leisure time enrollments at art schools looming large.)

And the women suffered a Beruf Verbot as well— they couldn’t enter the allegedly prime architecture course. They were shunted off into woman-friendly occupations such as weaving! (A supreme paradox here is slowly emerging: As the architectural reputation of the Bauhaus proper sinks inexorably in the West, the international stature of women weavers like Gunta Stölzl and Anni Albers rises dramatically.)

Not that the architectural exclusion mattered in point of fact: Such a highly discussed curriculum didn’t actually exist until Gropius quit in a huff of frustration in 1928 and the Swiss Communist Hannes Meyer took over as director.

Marianne Brandt's low priority
There were other instances of patriarchal distortions. Upon my arrival in Germany in 1999, I asked the Bauhaus Berlin Archive director Dr. Peter Hahn why there had been no exhibition of so creative a Bauhausler as Marianne Brandt  (1893-1983) while minor figures like Herbert Bayer were given full-scale retrospectives. Hahn took me over to a library file cabinet and showed me his collection of Brandt photos. I asked when he had exhibited them. Not yet, but patrons could buy them for several hundred dollars!

Hahn could have told me (if he knew) that Dr. Anne-Katrin Weise had recently written a thesis on Brandt at Humboldt University in 1991 as well as her Habilitation in 1995! And that Weise had been agitating for an exhibition in Brandt’s hometown of Chemnitz (aka Karl-Marx-Stadt during the East German regime) to no avail. Dr. Ingrid Mössinger, the very creative head of that city’s art collection, has such aspirations— so we can be sure such an exhibition will ultimately come to pass, however shamefully delayed, more than 40 years after Brandt’s death.

First the Nazis, then the Communists
Her brilliant career was cut brutally short twice— once by the Nazis and then by the DDR. To the former, Brandt was “decadent.” To the latter, too Formalist! And, admittedly, that city’s excellent Industry Museum has started a biennial design competition in Marianne’s name for artists under 40.

 But it wasn’t until the Swiss Miss, Dr. Anne-Marie Jaeggi, succeeded Dr. Hahn that Brandt got an exhibition— not of her canonical metal works (still in mass production after 50 years by the Italian design factory Alessi), but of those filed photo collages Hahn had shown me as evidence of the archive’s awareness of Brandt’s importance. Jaeggi is one of the most productive of this new cadre of female Bauhaus scholars, with solid books on Gropius’s “hidden” designer, Adolf Meyer, as well as a study of Gropius’s first factory, the Fagus shoelast plant in Alfred am Leine in North Rhine Westphalia.

Women armed with Leicas
But Jaeggi is not alone: Two new Ph.D.s published a catalogue for a Dessau exhibition on neglected Bauhaus women architects. Neglected? They were virtually unknown until retrieved by these woman scholars. The Finnish photography curator at the Folkwang Museum/Essen set an admirable example in 1995 for the Dessau show when she organized an exhibition on German women photographers in the 1920s. She showed how the invention of the Leica 35 mm. camera made the emerging profession of news photographer accessible to women with cash enough for a Leica and heart enough to crash another male precinct. Many had both. (My count was 53 retrieved photographic careers.)

Anja Baumhoff has written the standard book-length study of gender discrimination at the Bauhaus. And most recently, Kathleen James-Chakraborty has put Bauhaus Modernism in perspective with German Architecture for a Mass Audience (Routledge, 2000)—showing how structures like Max Berg’s stunningly Modernist Centennial Hall (1910-13) in Breslau antedate glib Bauhaus claims for architectural innovation. Her fresh perspective perceives such large audience structures as indispensable new media for broadening working class access to political participation. Dr. Chakraborty, just become professor of architectural history at University College, Dublin, has also edited an indispensable volume of essays, Bauhaus Culture: From Weimar to the Cold War (University of Minnesota, 2006). Most of those essayists are female.

But pride of first place must surely be reserved for that ur-feminist, Dr. Marie-Elisabeth Lüders, the belated follower of that tough-minded 12th-Century nun, Hildegard von Bingen. Lüders was the first woman to get a Ph.D. in politics in Berlin (1910). She directed women’s work (and related child care) during World War I, and was elected to the Weimar Parliament, with two Nazi incarcerations for mouthing off (her inspiring autobiography is entitled Never Fear!). After World War II, Lüders helped West Berlin get up and running again politically. And Otto be praised, the speedily diminishing German patriarchate (the days of Kinder, Küche and Kirche are mercifully almost over!) belatedly honored her in 2005 by dedicating the new Bundestag Library on the Spree as the Marie-Elisabeth Lüders House.

A few details Mies neglected
But I am not concerned here with delayed honors, but with prescient architectural criticism. In 1927 Mies van der Rohe made his first effort at achieving international stature by assembling a cadre of 17 European architects for “his” Weissenhof Siedlung. Dr. ”Never Fear!” Lüders had the temerity to immediately criticize Mies’s apartments in the Deutsche Werkbund quarterly, Form (1927), from the point of view of a woman and mother.

Alas, she pointed out, Mies’s design provided no room for removing wet clothes. The external steps between floors had gaps through which tykes could fall perilously. The excessively glassed-in walls created pneumonia-generating floors on which infants crawled at their own risk of sickness. And, cruelest blow of all, when you opened the kitchen door, those same gratuitous winds blew out the flame. Little details. (Less isn’t always more!)

Heh, no mystery here. Mies wasn’t creating a dwelling, whose parameters he had carefully thought through for its future inhabitants. He was creating a work of art! He was after fame, this poor Aachen stone mason’s son, who even bristled at having to take orders from the higher-class Walter Gropius (his supervisor in the Legendary 1910 Berlin office of Peter Behrens, where Corbusier was the other Azubi). This is what I call the Philip Johnson Fallacy: Architecture begins—and ends—with a capital A. When Johnson was belatedly a student of Gropius at Harvard, PJ mocked Pius for his obsession about building working-class housing. A is for Art, the parvenu from Cleveland shrilled throughout his long, long career.

And when Johnson created a Mies simulation as the first modern house in Houston (1950) for the de Menil family, famous for their legendary art collecting, the roof leaked so furiously and long that the de Menil children thought the always-returning roofers were the architects! Johnson made the terminal mistake of insisting that these aesthetes use only Mies furniture in “his” house, deployed the way the master would. The de Menils told him to get lost and allegedly never spoke to him again. I suppose it was unpoetic justice that when Mies got around one night to visiting Johnson’s notorious Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., he said, “It looks like a Hot Dog Stand” at night.

Barcelona in Chicago (not)
 Mies wanted Corbusier to be his Top Attraction at Weissenhof, thereby securing his own international reputation as a great architect. When I visited "The Corbu" in 2002, as part of a 75th anniversary Weissenhof symposium, I couldn't imagine living in such a concrete unjungle. Last year, as it seems to happen to most Modern Icons, it was reduced to an uninhabitable Visitors Center. Ditto Frank Lloyd Wright's "Falling Water" in western Pennsylvania. And, of course, the Farnsworth House in the Chicago suburb of Plano.

Creating it as a weekend escape for his girlfriend, Dr. Farnsworth, Mies made the strategic mistake of replicating the Barcelona Pavilion"” outside Chicago. Too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, not to mention that the marsh engendered mosquitoes the rest of the year. It became too expensive to live in and, their romance over, Farnsworth took Mies to court for the non-habitation's excessive energy costs.

Final audit? It's now a Visitors Center, dedicated to the "genius" who spent a haunted life worrying about his own status and stature. So you might say that those first two female doctors, Lüders and Farnsworth, were early warnings to the Bauhaus Patriarchs that their days were numbered.

This essay is also published by Broad Street Review.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Nightmare of American Dreamers

Weimar, Germany. As a Ph.D in American Civilization, this week has been the saddest in my life! The gross militarization of local police trying to suppress protests against the unconvicted murder of a young black seems to me the lowest we can go as a "civilization". 

I came to Weimar in 1999 when it was that year the Cultural Capital of Europe to write a book on the Bauhaus, that egalitarian vision of German idealists right after their defeat in 1919. That idealism appealed to me as a blue-collar Detroiter who had to work summers in automobile factories for tuition money for the doctorate I needed to become a college professor of American Literature. I was, as a professor of Am Lit, a skeptic about the national fantasy about America as the most civilized culture in the world. Contrarily, I taught my students that the American Dream was a dangerously false myth: the Puritan fantasy that God saved the "New World" for arriviste Europeans.

We had begun by exterminating millions of the indigenous Indians, trapping "the survivors" in cruel reservations. Then we bought five millions of Africans to do the dirty work of raising the cotton to supply New England clothing factories. Their exploitation was even more severe that the Indians' had been. A tragic Civil War had created the most complicated traditions for creating an American at its most idealistic. Racism made the egalitarianism virtually unreadable.

My education at Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City, Michigan (my father had fled to Las Vegas with his secretary forcing my mother to teach in Hamtramck, a Polish suburb of Detroit) was as egalitarian as its German Dominican nuns allowed (Except for their Catholic convictions: I still remember the counsel of Sister Mary Giles--the senior dormitory nun--when I prepared as an eventually emerging English professor nuts about books) to my first visit to the Bay City Library, halfway downtown on Central Avenue, the main drag. "Patrick", Sister Giles advised: "Don't cross the streets: That's where the Lutherans go to Church!" By the way, I still remember Jim Rich, our sports coach, a poorish young man from South Bay City, who insisted on fairness in our chained fence sports football layout where we played all our sports.

I patriotically joined the U.S.Navy at 17, right out of the Jesuit High School, to become an aviation radar technician. That was so intellectually challenging that we entered the Navy as Seamen 1st class. In Boot Camp regular group used to mock us, singing, "Take down  your service flag, Mothers. Your son is a Navy RT. He'll never get hurt by a slide rule or killed by the square root of three. RT,TS, (as in "tough shit")." Indeed, those mere "Able Bodied Seaman" were bugged by their superiors! But it turned out that I met my first Jews who had the IQ required for radar techs. Some of my lifelong friendship started there. By the way, the radar schools were in the South, Gulfport, MISS and Corpus Christ TX where I got my first snootfull of racism.

So when the war was over, I signed on as a high school student at the Jesuit U. of Detroit (I was always amused by the canny Jebbie ploy of never naming their schools after Saints: Detroit, St.Louis, Marquette, for examples. Heh, how many non-Catholics learned the Catholic Faith, willy nilly! Every year the Midwestern Jesuit U's had an essay contest. I won it my senior year with a rant entitled "Needed: More Red-Blooded American Catholics" because in the forties the Commies among the few (Dorothy Day and Marshall McLuhan were Catholic exceptions). My girl and I integrated the Senior Prom double-dating with the U's only black couple,  and where I took flack from my classmates at the collective urinal for Nigger Loving!

At U of D I joined a student club that tried creatively in Northern Detroit to make racial diversity accessible to highschool students.

I began my doctoral studies at Cleveland's Western Reserve. My Uncle Al was the editor of the college Catholic weekly paper there, giving me a crutch on my first college away from home. When I proposed to write my dissertation on Marshall McLuhan, the doctoral committee uniformly spoke, Huh, Who? I moved to Michigan State, a cow college about to become an internationally regarded humanities research university via a brilliant English Department. But their "cowlish" rep won the prize of the first educational TV channel, WKAR-TV.They were hungry for programming so I, now ensconced at E.Lansing High, the best motivated students I ever had anywhere, with parents as either professors or Lansing executives. So they gladly went along with my proposal for a weekly TV romp on teenage leisure patterns, dubbed "Every Man Is a Critic". It was so successful that the Ford Foundation, unrequestedly awarded me a grant in New York to see if we could get the TV brass to sponsor more programs of educational value.

I visited Scholastic Teacher for their views and ended up as radio-TV editor to a magazine in every high school in America! I kept the job for six years until David Riesman recommended me to be the founding director to a State Department's scheme in Honolulu, The East-West Center for American Studies: Asian students learning America Technology, American students absorbing Asian Culture. It was the best job I ever had. I loved Honolulu. I had a weekly TV hour called "Pacific Profile" where I snared folks passing through Honolulu for a palaver. Taking one Communist participant to return to Goa, he astonished me with a story of how Thomas Jefferson, who was always on the lookout for his Virginia farmers almost get executed for stealing a new Italian seed in his hollow cane. I observed how I knew a lot about Jefferson, but somehow missed that anecdote. As he closed the door at the airport, "That's because you're not in the Third World, Dr. Hazard!" Yikes!  Except for one dirty detail. I was informed that my assistant who had been appointed without my approval, one Seymour Lutsky, had been in the CIA for the ten years since getting his Ph.D. from Iowa, which you get for milking as few as ten cows. Was I ever pissed! I quit on the spot and flew back to Philly to my Louie Kahn house in Greenbelt Knoll, Morris Milgrim's experiment in planned integration: 10 white families and 9 black. It was a most congenial home, with the first black Congressman, and a writer like Charles Fuller as daily neighbors.

Luckily I landed on my feet, with an English chairmanship with a tenured professorshop. I helped prexy Edward Gates and dean Margaret Leclair guide a women's college with an increasingly volatile name, Beaver College, to  the both sex Arcadia University. I stayed there till my mother died in 1982. I was pleasantly surprised when my father, who abandoned me when I was three when he sent me $100,000 guilt money and his Bigamate kicked in an additional $80,000. Whoosh. Overnight I became an x-rated Professor with a global agenda. Granted I did professor related sinecures: spending every Tuesday in New York advising Time-Life Films what BBC flicks they should gather for sale to public TV and high schools. Never did $1000 a month enter my bank so sweetly from four days a week "work".

As I was wrapping this up little whine about how the country is losing its ideals, I saw Daniel Baronbeim on the BBC, praising the East-West Divan he had created in Weimar the year I got there. The orchestra has half Israelite and half Palestine.The interviewer was wondering if the current hostilities between the two cultures was changing his mind. His answer was short and sweet: "Despair is never creative".