- POPULAR CULTURE
- MENTAL HEALTH
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
- APPLIED SCIENCES
- PRINT & MEDIA
TELEVISION STUDIES: AN OVERVIEW
Television studies is an academic discipline that deals with critical approaches to television. Usually, it is distinguished from mass-communication research, which tends to approach the topic from an empirical perspective. Defining the field is problematic; some institutions and syllabuses do not distinguish television studies from media studies. Some study programs classify it as a subfield of popular culture studies.
Television studies is roughly equivalent to the longer-standing discipline of film studies in that it is often concerned with textual analysis. Analyses of so-called "quality television," such as Cathy Come Home(BBC drama 1966) and Twin Peaks( USA drama, 1990), have attracted the interests of researchers for their cinematic qualities. However, television studies can also incorporate the study of television viewing and how audiences make meaning from texts, which is commonly known as audience theory or reception theory. My own experience of television studies has been part of my film and media studies as a teacher in colleges of advanced education(CsAE), technical and further education colleges(Tafe) and, finally, a school for seniors. This experience covered the years from 1974 to 2004, from my 30s to my 60s in Australia.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE PRINT AND ELECTRONIC MEDIA
Although my remembered experience with the print and electronic media began insensibly and sensibly by 1950 after my conception in October 1943, my formal study of these media did not begin until I taught media studies at the Ballarat College of Advanced Education, now the university of Ballarat, from 1976 to 1978. I was then in my early thirties. I taught media studies again in the 1990s at the Thornlie College of Technical and Further Education(Tafe) in the 1990s. now the Swan College of Tafe. Media studies became one of the subjects in the long list of subjects I taught in this Tafe college in Perth Western Australia.
When I retired from teaching in July 1999 I kept the three arch-lever files of notes on media studies, notes which I had accumulated by 1999. In the 15 years of my retirement, 1999 to 2013, from the world of jobs, these three files have become five arch-lever files and three two-ring binders. Media studies, cinema studies and television studies are among the many areas I have taken a greater interest in during my years of retirement as I head into the last decade, 70 to 80, of my late adulthood--the years from 60 to 80 according to one model of human development used by psychologists in their analysis of the lifespan. I will be 70 in July 2014.
It has been 70 years since the media first became a part of my life in utero. The radio and the record player, newspapers and magazines were all part of my parents' media experience when I was in the womb, when I was in the cradle and, finally, when I was out into the wide-wide world in Canada and, then, Australia. The story of the relationship between the print and electronic media and my life over these years is a long and complex one, far too long to write in any detail in an introduction like this one to my media studies files.
This introduction is an introduction to my experience of media for readers who come here to this 4th edition of my website. I now have a resource base in these files for the study of this important part of my life and the life of my society, and for any of my writing that emerges from this study, this research, this reading. There is now, for me at least, a rich cross-fertilization, an interdisciplinary-study, of this subject. It is a mix with other aspects of my life and the life of my society, as well as the religion I have been associated with now for sixty years: 1953 to 2013.
As another Bahá’í Plan, 2011-2016, nears the end of its second year in April 2013, I update this introduction yet again and, as I do, I think to myself that this update will be followed by many an update in the years to come if I am granted a long life. But who knows when one's end will come!
21/10/'08 to 13/2/'13.
Some of my posts on the internet in relation to television and cinema are found below:
http://www.movieweb.com/forums/ (click on my name-in-red for several more pieces on TV)
TURNING OFF THE TV
“TV is a world that it always there, at least in unrealized form, even when the set is turned off.”
- Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television, 2000, p. 174.
There are many important dimensions of everyday experience, like watching TV, that are normally taken for granted, that produce habits of perception, activity, and experience. To explore this issue a take-home assignment was given to 150 sociology students who were instructed to perform a television “desocialization” exercise in which they were to watch the television without switching it on for thirty minutes and report their reactions. The results of these reports reveal six categories of experience: (1) Initial reactions: boredom and feeling foolish, (2) “New” sensations and the suspension of time, (3) Emergence of television habits, and the “great urge,” (4) The “haunted” television as a social object, (5) Phenomenological production of television “watching,” and (6) Loneliness. The results of this study point to various ways that television viewing has become a routinized and unexamined part of the everyday lives of many Americans.
There is little doubt that the television is an important component of the everyday lives of the members of modern societies. Recent studies suggest that the average American watches three to four hours of television each day (Nielsen, 2000). While this does not appear to be a particularly striking statistic, projecting this data through time reveals a more remarkable pattern. The average three-hour-per-day television viewer will spend almost 1100 hours watching television annually, or forty-five uninterrupted days each year (that is, one and one-half months with no sleep). Expanding this statistic still further, over the course of a seventy year life-span the average television viewer will have invested the equivalent of eight years in uninterrupted television viewing.
Eight years of a lifetime watching TV is a staggering statistic and is compounded still further by research that reveals that a television is switched-on for an average of seven hours each day in the American household (Putnam, 2000), suggesting that when at home even though an individual may not be watching the television they are likely to be in its presence. Television viewing is not only the dominant American leisure time activity, it is also the third most common patterned human activity next to work and sleep (Putnam, 2000).
Television is perhaps the most influential aspect of the mass media as so many people use it as their primary source of information and entertainment. In his analysis of modern mass society C. Wright Mills in his The Sociological Imagination(1959) argued that the media represents the dominant type of communication. According to this idea the role of the public is reduced to that of a media market, and individuals who are passively exposed to the mass media subsequently become subject to its influence through a process of what he calls “animated distraction” (ibid.: 315). Watching TV and being exposed to the ideas of the mass media, from this point of view, is “distracted” time and a passive experience of media engagement.
Many times people are not as aware, as they might otherwise be, of the passage of real time while watching television. Television time seems to be compressed or collapsed in comparison to real time. This point is reflected in Giddens’ (1990) description of what he calls “time and space distantiation,” a consequence of the modern experience resulting from the ability of information systems to change the subjective experience of time. This notion is expressed by the participants’ comments about the way time seemed to expand when they watched the blank screen. For more on this topic go to an article by David Boyns and Desiree Stephenson entitled “Understanding Television without Television: A Study of Suspended Television Viewing” in The Journal of Mundane Behaviour, Vol.4, No.1, May 2003 at:http://www.mundanebehavior.org/index2.htm
THE ACADEMIC STUDY OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA
The electronic online journal Nebula(5.1/5.2, June 2008) had what I found to be a useful overview of contemporary media. This overview was entitled: Mediating New Technology: the Realization of a Digital Intellect. This article was written by Paul Booth an Assistant Professor of New Media and Technology at DePaul University. Booth teaches in the Media and Cinema Studies program as well as the Communication Studies program. I will only quote from the introduction to Booth's article and leave it to readers who want to pursue the topic in more detail.
"One of the more difficult aspects to deal with in the academic study of contemporary media", begins Booth, "is that technology often becomes out-dated or obsolete within years, or even months, which limits the effectiveness of critical study. Technology changes at an exponential rate, & perhaps nothing changes faster than home entertainment." In recent years, as this 21st century has advanced incrementally, there has been an explosion in the availability of consumer-priced electronics to make even the most techno-phobic user a home video pioneer. From TiVo to HDTV, from Blu-Ray to Plasma screens, the sheer influx of new technology creates a disarmingly high volume of “technology” to write about. And as rapidly as technology changes, so too does the type of “thinking” – the intellect– of media consumers change. New media technology lies at the forefront of a rapidly changing mindset in consumers.
As Steven Johnson points out in Everything Bad is Good for You, new media has encouraged “more intellectually demanding” viewers – audience members whose intellects have been stimulated and advanced by the demands that new media places upon them. Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter is a non-fiction book written by Johnson. Published in 2005, it is based upon Johnson's theory that popular culture – in particular television programs and video games – has grown more complex and demanding over time and is improving the society within terms of intelligence and idea. The book's claims, especially related to the proposed benefits of television, drew media attention. It received mixed critical reviews. For more on this book go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everything_Bad_Is_Good_for_You
As part and parcel of new technology’s ability to enact new ways of thinking, contemporary technology claims to offer a way for users to get closer to the text than previous technology allowed. Audiences are becoming more and more familiar with this type of interactive technology: Atkinson writes about how her film Crossed Lines which “presents a malleable form of digital fiction” that allows audiences to control not only what they view, but how they view it (“Crossed,” 96). By introducing aspects of interactivity to a media product, and changing the nature of the encoding of media messages, media producers of new technology like the DVD declare that the “text” is becoming easier for the audience to grasp. For more, if readers are interested go to:http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Booth.pdf
TELEVISION BOOKS AND PUBLISHING
It is common knowledge that publishing in the West is in the doldrums, some say in a state of crisis. Some see it as a temporary state of affairs, but it is conceivable that something irreversible is taking place. Today’s new wisdom about publishing may become as enduring, familiar and dispiriting as the truism of the decline of cinema. That decline had much to do with television. Book publishing has seemed, hitherto, robust on this flank. The industry prospered in the 1960s, when television was completing its conquest of film in Britain, in Australia, and in the US, among other countries. Books and television do not compete for the same ground, it might be said. In particular, there is a difference in respect of cultural quality between their undertakings. Books can be learned, beautiful, experimental, mentally searching, subversive and fanciful to an extent that television very seldom permits itself to be.
Television is almost always banal; at least that is the view of serious TV critics. For some useful books, at least useful to some, on the subject of TV, books published more than a decade before the arrival of the internet, readers might like to have a look at: Thirty Seconds by Michael Arlen, Farrar, Straus/Faber, 200 pages, 1981; The Crystal Bucket by Clive James, Cape, 250 pages, 1981; and The Message of Television by Roger Silverstone, Heinemann, 250 pages, 1981.
The Crystal Bucket is the second selection of Clive James's television criticism for The Observer, for which the British Press Awards named him 'Critic of the Year' in 1981. "His contribution," readers were informed, 'to the art and enjoyment of TV criticism over the past ten years has been immense. His work is deeply perceptive, often outrageously funny and always compulsively readable." These pieces were written by James during my first decade of living Downunder, and James's second decade of living in the U.K.
My life at the time was inundated by: (i) 40 to 70 hours a week in my employment, depending what job I had during the years: 1971 to 1981; (ii) marital and family life with the arrival of a wife and two kids in 1974/5, (iii) work in the Baha'i community in teaching and consolidation, service and social activism, (iv) the inevitable social responsibilities associated with family and community, and (v) an average of, perhaps, one hour of TV per day. I did not have time back in the 1970s to read the best of TV criticism even though I taught media studies for several years in Australian colleges of advanced education, all of which became universities by, or after, the turn of the millennium.
First published the same year, this volume of TV criticism covers 1976-79; its title is taken from Walter Raleigh's The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage. It is dedicated to the poet Peter Porter, a close friend of Clive James. The compilation ends not with a review but with a tribute to another of James's friends, Joyce Grenfell, who had died at the end of November 1979. In 1979 I took on several PT jobs: from driving taxis to editing work in the external studies division of a college of advanced education, from PT journalism for the ABC to working with unemployed youth, from teaching organizational behaviour to students at what is now the University of Tasmania to being on the dole.
"Joyce Grenfell's death," wrote James, "gave pause for thought to all who knew her. Her faith was profound. So was her humour, which was so devoid of malice that some people called her sentimental. She wasn't. She was just greatly good." Writing in The Listener, Gavin Ewart expressed the view that James, "didn't get where he is today just by being funny. He is humane, liberal and compassionate. What he writes is always pertinent and always witty. We owe him a deep debt of gratitude."
THE ILLUSION OF INTIMACY
Television is a social activity that is circumscribed by a series of taken-for-granted habits and routines that are primarily unacknowledged. The ability of routinized television viewing to produce “strongly felt” patterns of expected behavior surrounding the television is no surprise. The TV is personified as a “social” being. Television as a source of companionship is used to attenuate loneliness. Television is not merely a source of companionship, but it is often treated parasocially as a companion and a source of feelings of intimate connection with “others.” Television not only provides individuals with an experience of social presence, but it also has the ability to shape cognitive experience. The famous media theorist of the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan, wrote that "the medium is the message.” This takes on more than a little significance half a century later.
While the contents of television programming are an important domain of inquiry, the formal aspects of television viewing, as McLuhan suggests, play a significant role in the construction of the experience of television. Those dimensions of everyday life that are commonly displaced by television viewing: the sounds and smells of one’s environment, the presence or absence of other people, the passage of time, reading and writing, studying and related intellectual activity---are important dimensions of the analysis of television. One of the consequences of television watching is the production of “ontological security.” Television viewing not only provides a sense of companionship, it serves to alleviate loneliness. It is also a significant source of habit and routine for the structuring of time and thought, behavior and the taken-for-granted processes of everyday life.
MAD MEN: SEVERAL ESSAYS
Mad Men was the first television series to be produced by American Movie Classics, a US cable station. Until the series launched in 2007 the network was known to viewers mostly for its re-runs of old films. The channel’s reputation for nostalgic programming made it the ideal home for a series that returned to 1960s America to explore the social effects of the advertising industry in the wake of the postwar consumer boom. Like other premium cable television shows such as The Wire and The Sopranos, Mad Men rapidly attracted a highly devoted following, but unlike the gritty realities of everyday American life offered by those shows, Mad Men offered a self-consciously stylised and stylish presentation of the past.
According to early reviews, this stylised and stylish presentation was understood as the primary purpose of the production. A reviewer at the Los Angeles Times, for instance, provided readers with the following two-line gloss on the show. That gloss read: "Set in a Madison Avenue ad agency in 1960, ‘Mad Men’ has the storied look of ‘The Apartment’, ‘Bewitched’, and a retro boutique all rolled into one. Men in slim suits and white shirts, women in pointy bras & sweater sets..."
The ideas of Jean Baudrillard(1929-2007) are used in some of this analysis. Baudrillard is a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, whose work is frequently associated with postmodernism and specifically post-structuralism. I encourage readers with the interest to read about these two 'isms' in order to become more familiar with much of the analysis that is part and parcel of trying to understand the modern media: the print and electronic media. These fields of analysis are not easy to grasp, and the interest of readers is critical, the sine qua non, of coming to grasp the complexities of media which now engage many hours of the time of the average person in the West.
Baudrillard argues that: "When the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a plethora of myths of origin & of signs of reality, a plethora of truth, of secondary objectivity, & authenticity. Escalation of the true, of lived experience, resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. Panic-stricken production of the real, and of the referential, parallel to and greater than the panic of material production: this is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us—a strategy of the real, of the neoreal and the hyperreal that everywhere is the double of a strategy of deterrence." These sorts of sentences are initially too obscure. They require unpacking and further reading. I leave it to readers with the interest to do the unpacking, to try to get below the surface of an activity that consumes many hours in the week of the average person in the West, if not in all parts of the globe with access to the delights of TV and cinema.
For more of Baudrillard, a complex theorist whose ideas I first came across while teaching sociological theory in the 1990s, a man whose ideas I find provocative, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Baudrillard. For more, for several essays analysing Mad Men, for historical, sociological, and historical insights into this TV series go to: http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/csrj/issue/view/135/showToc
SOME ANALYSIS OF TELEVISION AND THIS WEBSITE
The highly technological world of television inexorably manufactures a magical space. I became aware of this magical nature as far back as the early 1950s when my parents bought what was the second TV on our street in a small town in Ontario. The boundaries between reality and fantasy are constantly transgressed; fact and fiction fuse into various permutations to combine our primitive fears and our endless anxieties about the constructed world,a world which for the most part lies beyond our control. Television draws on frameworks of culture to tell its stories where programme formats take the form of rituals to enforce beliefs and values as well as make-believe. So much of television culture consists in the display of simple stories, easily recognizable, continually reiterated and remarkably similar in form and content not only to each other but to other stories in other cultures at other times.
"The seamless flow of TV," writes the culture critic Raymond Williams, "transience of imagery and an abundance of information build television as a medium that requires a disappearance of the ‘just-seen’ to make way for the ‘now-seeing’" (Houston 1984; cf. Kavka & West 2004: 137). The proliferation of spaces from reality television to blogs, to websites like this one, create public platforms for individuals to narrate private experiences enabling people to re-mediate their identities and experiences through technology and public consumption.
1972 to 1974: BIG YEARS
This weekend I watched some of the two part telemovie Paper Giants-The Birth of Cleo.(1) In early 1972, six months after I arrived in Australia as an international pioneer for the Canadian Baha’i community, Ita Buttrose and Kerry Packer got together to create a magazine that became the most dramatic sensation in Australian publishing history: Cleo. At the time I was too busy to really connect with Cleo. Teaching in secondary schools and a college of advanced education, escaping from the rigours of one marriage and running far-too-quickly into a second, and assisting the Australian Baha’i community to complete its goals for the Nine Year Plan: 1964 to 1973 and the then Five Year Plan: 1974 to 1978---kept my life on all-ahead-full. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)ABC1 17 and 18 April at 8:30-10:00 p.m.
The magazine was mainly for women:
helping them and Australians define
who and what they were while I was
continuing to define myself-a-life-long
exercise that had nothing to do with non-
frontal nude male centrefolds, Playmates
of the Month, but everything to do with the
changing roles of men and women and the
wreckage of long-cherished ideals and time
honoured institutions being swept-away and
relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and for-
gotten doctrines1-as the foundation of my own
life was being swept from under me & recreated.
1 The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan message, 1974.
Ron Price 19 April 2011
A TV PROGRAM I WATCHED LAST NIGHT
EMILE ZOLA: The Gift and the Work
In our burgeoning and mushrooming world with so many things going viral, with an intensification, an optimization, a multiplication, an easy availability of stuff from all over the humanities, from every inch of the creative and performing arts, the expanding and expansive physical, biological and applied sciences, information by the truckload, no one can keep-up with it all. One dips into the pot, the pot-pourri, and takes out what one knows about, what interests one, what comes one’s way by planning or serendipity. There are millions, indeed, billions, of downloads taking place in cyberspace across a digital divide that covers everything imaginable.
I was a teacher in the humanities and social sciences for 32 years and a student for 18. In that half century I read more books and essays, journal articles and poems than I could count. But there was, inevitably, much that escaped my notice or, if not my notice, than my capacity and circumstances to read: many novelists and many novels, many essayists and many essays, many poets and many poems.
Emile Zola(1840-1902) was one such writer and novelist. So it was in these years of the evening of my life, retired as I am from FT, PT and most casual-volunteer work, a retired teacher who has reinvented himself as a writer and poet, a person who now watches more TV than he has done since that wondrous piece of technology first came into my life 60 years ago, so it was that I took more than a little interest in the latest British costume drama series, The Paradise, one of the 34 film and TV adaptations of Emile Zola’s 20 novels with their 300+ characters.(1)
I won’t tell you about the television drama itself or Emile Zola’s novel. You can find that out for yourself, if the subject is of interest to you. My mother and father may have seen the first film adaptations of this novel back in the 1930s or 1940s, but my parents died some 40 years ago and so they are not available to be asked. There was a biopic of Zola that was released in 1937, in the years just before my parents met in Hamilton Ontario at the Otis Elevator Co. The year 1937 was also the start of the first Baha’i teaching Plan, the extensions of which I’ve been associated with for 60 years.
Zola once wrote that: “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work." For me, both the gift and the work sensibly and insensibly came into my life as the decades of my lifespan went from young, middle to late adulthood, and old age.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)The Paradise, ABC1 TV, 8:30-9:30 p.m., 30/1/’13.
Your imagination was aroused
by the city-life of Paris, jobs, &
all the details of your own life.
I, too, have an autobiographical
focus in my writing &, like you
meticulously describe my world.
I, too, believe in the scientific &
moral progress of humanity, and
this, inspite of appearances to the
contrary…It took more than four
months for Bill Gallagher & this
BBC production to come here to
Australia. Bill does a good job of
putting Zola’s words & ideas into
a visual-pleasure-piece for me in
these years of the evening of life.1
1 Bill Gallagher was the writer and creator of this in-house BBC drama production. This period drama is set in the impossibly glamorous world of the first ever department store in mid-to-late 19th century France. The series attracted a strong loyal audience in the UK with an average audience of 5.9 million, a 22.5% share.
“I'm very grateful,” said Gallagher, “that there's such a strong audience for The Paradise, and for the terrific support the BBC has given to the show to make that possible. It's such a great ensemble of actors and such a rich group of characters that it's an exciting prospect to have eight more episodes to make.”
POLITICS IN ITALY: 1963 to 2013
BERLESCONI AND FASCISM
In a review of the following two books: Berlusconi’s Shadow: Crime, Justice and the Pursuit of Power by David Lane, Allen Lane, 350 pages, 2004; and Silvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and Patrimony by Paul Ginsborg, Verso, 200 pages, 2004---I read the following by Federico Varese in the London Review of Books back in 2004. I have added some of my own words, done just a little editing to improve the flow of the English. Although I would argue for a much greater complexity to the Italian political scene in the last half century, a complexity that neither Lane nor Ginsborg, nor the reviewer of these two books are aware, I find their views stimulating. I leave it to readers with the interest to read more widely not only about politics in Italy, but about the shifting political landscape everywhere in our globalizing civilization, if they would like to further their understanding of developments in Italian politics since those turbulent sixties.
"A short film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1966," writes the reviewer, "and entitled La Terra Vista dalla Luna, opened with a caption printed over a fixed image. That caption read: ‘Seen from the moon, this movie . . . is nothing and has not been created by anybody . . . But since we are on planet earth, it might be better to let you know that it is a fable written by Pier Paolo Pasolini.’" Pasolini wanted to make a statement, as film directors often do. Pasolini's statement was what he called "a fable." The film presented viewers with a fable about the power of neo-capitalism and consumerism over the minds and actions of those in society. This short film was first released the year I graduated from university in Canada and began my teacher training in readiness to work on Baffin Island among the Inuit in 1967.
"The American way of life had just reached Italy", writes Lane referring to the 1960s, "and Pasolini, as film director, had witnessed first-hand the homogenising force of consumer capitalism as it was spreading throughout his country". He called this force 'the new Fascism’. It was, he said, ‘more insidious, elusive and destructive’ than the historical kind which had failed completely to unify the country’s various cultures back in the 1930s and 1940s. Consumer capitalism both ‘assimilates and homogenises’, and it has been doing its job all over the planet in insidious and elusive, destructive and insinuating ways to billions of people in the last half century.
"The book is also a celebration of justice and of all those magistrates who fought against criminality," wrote anna battista in a review of Lane's work at a website "erasing clouds." For more of her review go to:http://www.erasingclouds.com/0915lane.html Two foreign observers of Italy, David Lane, The Economist's business and finance correspondent in Rome, and Paul Ginsborg(1945-), a British historian who has, since 1992, been Professor of Contemporary European History at the University of Florence---are also arguing in these books that fascism has returned to Italy in ways very different from Mussolini's fascism between the wars, entre deux guerres, as the French say. For more on this idea go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n01/federico-varese/messages-from-the-mafia
The above post and its political comments should not be seen as either an endorsement of the views of the authors or a criticism of the legitimate elected institutions in Italy. Bahá’ís are expected to respect those who, out of a sincere desire to understand the politics of some country, out of a desire to serve others by increasing their understanding, choose to pursue political aspirations or to engage in political activity in various forms. I respect the authors of these books, and their literary and intellectual competencies. They gave me pleasure to read the results of their study.
The approach adopted by the Bahá’í community of non-involvement in partisan political activity is not intended as a statement expressing some fundamental objection to politics in its true sense; indeed, humanity organizes itself through its political affairs. Bahá’ís vote in civil elections, as long as they do not have to identify themselves with any party in order to do so. In this connection, they view government as a system for maintaining the welfare and orderly progress of a society, and they undertake, one and all, to observe the laws of the land in which they reside, without allowing their inner religious beliefs to be violated. If I lived in Italy, and not Australia, as a Baha'i this would be "my political position" vis-a-vis the elected government.
TV AND THE TEMPEST
During the decade of the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963) which Baha’is see as the ninth stage of history, television swept into the homes of hundreds of millions of people. This poem describes what was and is a wonderful invention, an invention that brought the possibilities and pleasures of culture, education and entertainment to people everywhere in the world where access to this technology was available. By the time the tenth and final stage of history began in 1963, people could watch the social breakdown of society, a breakdown which this poem describes by means of contrasting images of darkness and tempest.
These contrasting images of social upheaval that beset these same people during the ninth and tenth stages of history were graphically analysed by Shoghi Effendi, the appointed leader of the Baha'i Faith from 1921 to his passing in 1957. His analysis is especially outlined in his letters in the several years before he died.-Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, Wilmette, 1965.
A whole world opened
before the eyes of millions
in that ninth stage of history,
with the technology for it
set up during the eighth.
Becoming one psychologically
has been taking place slowly,
with His sweet-scented streams
of eternity giving humans so much
more pleasure, culture, passivity,
entertainment, infotainment than
they had ever tasted-drunk before;
with the fruits of the tree of His being
given them to taste; and with His other
hand, He sucked the spirit unobtrusively,
and not so unobtrusively, out of all those
traditional orthodoxies and their systems.
So seductive was the process that the world
moved into a dark heart, and the tempest, the
one that had been sweeping across the surface
of the earth perhaps for centuries, for more than
a hundred years, was gradually leaving humans
everywhere: bewildered, agonized and helpless,
as he said it was, as he said it would be, and as
we see it now, as we saw it then.
1 Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, p.1.
13 December 1999 and updated on 4 April 2011
MY EXPERIENCE OF TELEVISION
For three years, between 1983 and 1986, I wrote a column for the main newspaper in the town of Katherine in Australia's Northern Territory. Many of these columns were reviews of some program on television. I have never inhabited that strange, half-lit world in which nothing happened except by watching television. Since TV came into my life in about 1951 I have watched an incredible amount of its content; some of what I watched mattered: it was informative, stimulating, entertaining; it gave my mind and emotions much pleasure. A lot more of what I watched was not supposed to matter. It was purely: entertainment, escapist, occupying-time stuff because I was too tired to do anything else, did not want to engage in conversation and found TV helped me to go to sleep.
Watching TV is not like learning to play the piano, which at the start you can't, and then later you can. With television watching and writing criticism of its content you already can at the start, but if you are still going to be able to later on, you have to develop some sort of philosophy about what you are trying to do and what the content of the TV is trying to accomplish. My own impression, however, after years now of watching and criticizing TV in the years beginning in 1951 and ending today: 3/2/'13--is that I have emerged from the experience a wiser man. If this impression is correct, it has had a lot to do with the quality of British and American, Canadian and Australian, French and Italian television: not all of it, mind you, but little parts of it, now and then.
My mother had a low opinion of the TV after we had one in our home from 1951 to about 1955. Until the 2000s, after I had retired and came to watch at least an hour of TV every day my opinion was not high. On balance, though, I think the influence of television on the members of my family, and on the next generation has been good. As Clive James says: "this benign influence was true in my house, at any rate." Whatever was coming out of the tube wasn't hurting the young ones I knew. So what was coming out of the tube? Was television really the incitement to cultural suicide that the pundits said it was?
In the prefaces to Clive's three individual volumes, and especially in the preface to the last one, Glued to the Box, James tried to touch on these questions explicitly. The conclusions he came to are, he said, "too complex and subtle to be summarized in any shorter space than this fat book." If he had to sum up his Position in a sentence, said James, it would be this: "I began with the suspicion, and ended with the conviction, that popular entertainment is well worth doing." After centuries, indeed, millennia, of history where life, in many ways and for millions of people, was nasty, brutish and short, millions now are being entertained and not all of this is, in the words of that TV critic, Neil Postman, being "entertained to death."
James was engaged in his role on TV in trying to be entertaining, and he was successful. He was popular, well-liked. Working for television, which James did for many years, is of course, far more demanding of time and energy than just watching TV. Performing on TV has its own requirements which TV criticism can only guess at. Yet the two activities, performing on TV and criticizing it, are so closely linked as to be inseparable. James should know. The great age of television, when there was a national audience, say, until the 1990s and especially in the first decade of the 21st century, is on its way out, perhaps never to return----to be replaced by niche TV markets, I am a member now, as I have always been, a member of one of the niche markets. As of 2012, and on a new medication cocktail for my bipolar disorder, though, I only get in about 1 hour of TV viewing each day: the news, the sport and the weather report minus a few minutes to get at the washing of the dishes in that half-hour; a few minutes of a program called "The 7:30 Report" again interrupted by the dishes and, perhaps, half-an-hour of little bits of other stuff that I watch on my way from the kitchen to my study and back again.
The first sitcom I remember watching was in 1951 or, perhaps, 1952, in the first years my parents owned a TV. A situation comedy, often shortened to sitcom, is a genre of comedy that features characters sharing the same common environment, such as a home or workplace, accompanied with jokes as part of the dialogue. Such programs originated in radio, but today, sitcoms are found mostly on television as one of its dominant narrative forms. A situation comedy television programme may be recorded in front of a studio audience. The effect of a live studio audience can be imitated by the use of a laugh track.
Comedies from past civilizations, such as those of Aristophanes and Menander in ancient Greece, Terence and Plautus in ancient Rome, Śudraka in ancient India, and numerous examples including Shakespeare, Molière, the Commedia dell'arte and the Punch and Judy shows from post-Renaissance Europe, are the ancestors of the modern sitcom. Some of the characters, pratfalls, routines and situations as preserved in eyewitness accounts and in the texts of the plays themselves, are remarkably similar to those in earlier modern sitcoms such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners. The first television sitcom is said to be Pinwright's Progress, ten episodes being broadcast on the BBC between 1946–1947.
My first memory of anything was in 1947/8 when I was 3 or 4 years old, but my first memory of a sitcom was I Love Lucy. In the U.S., director and producer William Asher has been credited with being the "man who invented the sitcom," having directed over two dozen of the leading sitcoms, including I Love Lucy, during the 1950s through the 1970s. After those early 1950s with I Love Lucy I never got 'into' the sitcom again. When TV came back into my life in the late '70s, some 35 years ago, the sitcom did not enter my daily routine.
Sitcoms rarely ask us to believe that any particular couple is, as they say, meant to be. We know they are not "real." Like romantic comedies, sitcoms might nurture and draw out a sense of chemistry between two characters while also putting obstacles in their way, setting us up for a long-deferred union. But romantic comedies traditionally end at the moment the obstacles are overcome and love is declared. They leave us aglow with a sense of the couple’s felicity. In sitcoms, the story must go on well past the first round of obstacles. As often as not, couples break up and the characters have other affairs, and for good reason.
Happy couplings are notoriously difficult to pull off; script writers, used to working in a mode of farce, struggle to find the right tone for domestic satisfaction. Like any kind of comedy, a sitcom can have a marriage at its very end, but a marriage somewhere in the middle is narrative disaster. And since sitcoms are, effectively, comedies without end, it’s hard to write a marriage into the show in a way that encourages—rather than dashes—our illusions of its rightness. For a recent article on the sitcom, an article entitled Single Women and the Sitcom in The New York Review of Books go to:http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/jan/03/sitcoms-single-women/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=January+3+2013&utm_content=January+3+2013+CID_3abdf98d3ee7825a8a2ebd8ceb58bb72&utm_source=Email%20marketing%20software&utm_term=Single%20Women%20and%20the%20Sitcom
THE SOAP OPERA
A soap opera, sometimes called "soap" for short, is an ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on radio or as television programming. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers, such as Dial Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers, as sponsors and producers. These early radio series were broadcast in weekday daytime slots, usually five days a week, when most listeners would be housewives; thus the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience. Soap operas were a staple of daytime television in the United States and Canada in the early 1950s. The American soap opera Guiding Light started as a radio drama in January 1937 and subsequently transferred to television in June 1952. This was the first soap opera I remember watching but, by the mid-1950s, my parents had sold out TV because they thought it would interfere with my studies. They were also unimpressed with the content of TV.
And so it was that the soap opera and the sitcom have remained far out on the periphery of my visual field. In the last 35 years, in the years of my second marriage with my first child in my life from 1977, the soap opera has not filled half-hour slots of my time. Programs like The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives, and The Young and the Restless, American television soap operas one and all, became something like cricket and football, golf and quiz shows, background music, part of a sort of subliminal presence.
The Young and the Restless is set in a fictional Wisconsin town called Genoa City, which is unlike and unrelated to the real life village of the same name, Genoa City, Wisconsin. It was first broadcast on 26 March 1973 as half-hour episodes, five times a week. I was a high school teacher in Whyalla South Australia at the time and secretary of the local Baha'i community of some 30 people, mostly youth. My days were spent in wall-to-wall people; I did not own a TV and knew nothing of this new soap opera that had just come into the homes of millions. This soap expanded to one hour episodes on 4 February 1980. In 1980 I was the media officer for the local Baha'i community; I had four different jobs that year and a family of a wife and three kids. I was also struggling with the rigors of bipolar disorder. A TV had been in my live for a second time by 1980, but I had little time to watch its offerings.
In 2006, the series began airing encore episodes weeknights on SOAPnet, a station I was not able to watch in Australia. The series was also syndicated internationally but, by 2006, I had reinvented myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist, and time did not permit throwing-away half an hour. Wikipedia informed me that: "The Young and the Restless, by 2006, had different core families than the original wealthy Brooks family and the working class Foster family. After a series of recasts and departures, in the early 1980s all the original characters except Jill Foster Abbott were written out. They were replaced, continued Wikipedia, with new core families, the Abbotts and the Williams.
Over the years, other families such as the Newmans, Winters and the Baldwin-Fishers were introduced. Despite these changes, one storyline that has endured through almost the show's entire run is the feud between Jill Foster Abbott and Katherine Chancellor, the longest rivalries on any American soap opera." By 2006, too, I had lived in a family of birth for 23 years as well as in two families by marriage for nearly 40 years. I had seen enough real rivalries and routines, experienced enough real tensions and tests, real difficulties and disasters, and felt no need to have them solved for me vicariously in a soap opera. Pretended or prefabricated, imitated or simulated, impersonated or contrived, the soap opera and the sitcom remained far out in the universe of TV watching, near some black hole or collapsing galaxy.
THE MANUFACTURE OF WANTING
The Baha'i Faith in North America expanded and consolidated in an advertising age. By the 1890s when the first Baha'is taught in Illinois, advertising had been part of the American way of life for thirty years, since at least the Civil War: 1861-1864. The approach of Christian evangelists, with their emphasis on redemption and the experience of grace, was transferred subtly and not-so-subtlety to the advertising world and its method of sale of patent medicines in the 1870s and 1880s. In the first three decades that the Baha'i Faith expanded in the USA, 1894 to 1924, the population of the USA expanded by twenty-five percent each year. This population was exposed to the magical promises and the philosophy of modern advertising.
By the time the first teaching Plan began in 1937 the golden age of radio had arrived and advertising found a new home in this medium. The same was true of TV where, after WW2, television brought advertising's pictures right into people's homes. In the late 1950s and 1960s advertising moved away from a conformist,sclerotic, mode, some would say military style and tone, to a reliance on the techniques of surprise, cleverness and creativity. The year I became a Baha'i, for example, in 1959, the Volkswagon Company developed an advertising campaign based around 'The Bug.' -Ron Price with thanks to ABC Radio National, "A History of Advertising," 1:00-2:00 pm, 2 August 2001.
Was He trying to block the air-waves,
trying to fog-up their oral/visual worlds,
trying to make it as difficult as possible
for them to get at all near, even close to,
this Most Great Ocean? It seemed so?!*
An increasingly dark incoherence spoke
across that vast American landscape,
advertising's endless jingle-jangle told
them again and again the source of their
current disturbances could be found in
the lack of an equal distribution of wealth,
or of indoor plumbing, or another comfort.
Was He simply giving them ways of learning
about this Great River of Life: some millions
of papers, sounds floating through the air,
pictures right in their noses? Just stuffed!
Yes, yes, but what a jungle of sensation
and triviality, evanescence and idiocy:
the manufacture of wanting everything
but the Voice of Him Who is the most
manifest of the manifest and the most(1)
hidden of the hidden.....I often wonder
just what was and is His game Plan!!!!
1 Baha'u'llah, Baha'i Prayers, USA, 1985, p.143.
2 August 2001 to 6 June 2011.
BARRY HUMPHRIES and Me
After watching The Man Inside Dame Edna(1) last night, a documentary about Australian comedian, satirist and actor Barry Humphries---which originally went to air in Australia more than four years ago---I could not resist writing a short think-piece. I often call such a piece of writing a prose-poem. In this case it is about this international icon who has been part of my life since moving to Australia in the early 1970s.
“Entertaining people gave me a great feeling of release;” Humphries said, “making people laugh was a very good way of befriending them.”2 I also found this to be the case in my teaching career in Australia, a career which ended after three decades in the classroom in 2003. Biographer Anne Pender described Barry Humphries in 2010 as not only the most significant theatrical figure of our time, but the most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin.3 -Ron Price with thanks to 1 ABC1, 11:30-12:30 a.m., 1 & 2 April 2012, 2 Wikipedia, and 3 "Absurd moments: in the frocks of the dame,” by Steve Meacham, Brisbane Times, 15 September 2010.
I’ll have to read your award-winning
autobiography, More Please (1992),
when time permits, Barry, published
the year I got going with my poetry
with my eye on an early retirement.
You moved to London from Australia in
1959, the year I joined the Baha’i Faith.
I never heard of you until in ’71 I moved
Downunder. You nearly died in 1962, the
year I started my travelling and pioneering
for the Canadian Baha’i Community. When(1)
I arrived in Australia in ’71-2 you teamed-up
with Phillip Adams and writer-director Bruce
Beresford to create a film version of the Barry
McKenzie cartoons. I could go on-&-on.........
....drawing parallels between my life and yours,
Barry, but I am not in your league.....I may have
become, though, like you, addicted to applause,
due to all those years in classrooms where I was
a big-hit, where I had that entertaining role, a role
which saved my skin and my psyche, as tutor and
teacher which took off at the same time as yours,
Barry, in the ‘70s. What a role it has been and now
I do it in the world of writing; I’ll never be famous or
rich like you, Barry….Perhaps, though, I have some
of your insouciance. I like to think so, Barry, yes I do.
(1) Humphries fell off a cliff breaking many bones.
2/4/'12 TO 4/1/'13.
LOVE AND LUST AND AMELIA FOX
Not so epically egregious…..
I wish you well, Amelia Fox(1974- ), in the remaining two years of your young adulthood(1994-2014), your middle age(2014-2034) and late adulthood(2034-54)---as well as old-age(2054- ), if you last that long. There is, of course, no reason you should not last barring those slings and arrows which you must avoid if they fall into the category of severely outrageous fortune.
After a student-working life of half a century myself, 1949-1999, during which I had my share of the fantasy-erotic, you came into my life as your career unfolded in the final years of my own career(1996-2004) and the first years of my retirement: 2005 to 2012. I was able to continue that romantic fantasy with the erotic thanks to you and to many others who fill the electronic media these days. I'm sure you have served this role for millions of men. Good luck to you, Amelia, as you continue your own checkered romantic-erotic life. I wrote the above after watching Amelia Fox: (i) in Consuming Passion, a 2008 British drama which celebrated the centenary of the publishing house Mills and Boon,1 and (ii) in many episodes of Silent Witness.-Ron Price with thanks to 1ABC2TV, 12:30-2:00 a.m., 27/3/’12.
Love and lust, fascination
with the erotic--hormones:
testosterone, & dopamine,
the basis of attachment with
oxitosin running meaning’s
show, one’s cosmology, partly,
along with a new world religion1
as was the case with me, while….
all-along the line I’ve had to deal
with my natural inclinations and an
immense industry of pornography,
to be free from enslavement, have
self-control & refinement as well as
handle what you might call: the trip--
the exquisitely idiosyncratic trip that is
my life, with no manual or cookbook to
deal with all the many problems, those
slings and arrows that come one’s way!
1 Even with the guidelines of this new religion, the Baha’i Faith, dealing with life’s treasures and exercising an appropriate self-control over my impulsiveness has not been easy. I learned over the decades that there is much more to religious life than piety, prayer and meetings. I’ve learned, too, that “one’s imperfections are not so epically egregious as to embarrass the seraphim ruefully yawning at their mention.”(Roger White, “Lines from a Battlefield,” Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, p.111.
27 March 2012
THE CONSPICUOUS AND INCONSPICUOUS
Nine days after I began my travelling-pioneering life in Dundas Ontario the then President of the United States, JFK, made a speech at Rice University. On that day, 12 September 1962, as I was settling into my matriculation studies, he said: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade….not because it is easy, but because it is hard." Kennedy cited accelerating scientific progress as evidence that the exploration of space was inevitable and he argued that the United States should lead the space effort in order to retain a position of leadership on earth. I was also part of another inevitability associated with the great drama in the world's spiritual history, an inevitability given voice by the Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith and Their successors--little did I know or believe it at the time.
In order to get some perspective on where I and others stood on that September day in 1962, Kennedy said: "No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man's recorded history." Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40,000 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover themselves. Then about 10,000 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves and his hunting and gathering communities to construct other kinds of shelter associated with agriculture. Only 5000 years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began 2000 years ago. The printing press 600 years ago and, then, the steam engine provided a new source of power. Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available just the other day. A Bahá’í might have added that "just the other day the greatest Being to have drawn breath on this planet came and went; and last week the nucleus and pattern for a new world Order, the administrative structure of the Bahá’í Faith, was given its first shaping. Its divine teaching Plan finally began to be implemented when my father and mother met in the 1930s. My pioneering life began whilst the machinery of the national and local institutions of a nascent Order was in the first four decades of its erection and perfection, erecting and perfecting.
For the speech itself go to the following link: http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/jfk-space.htm
The speech was a news item on TV. The TV news was sandwiched between the homework I had been working on that afternoon after getting home from school and the homework I would work on that evening. It is quite possible I did not even watch the news that night since it was some fifty years ago. Perhaps my mother and father were getting ready for a meeting of the locally elected Baha'i spiritual assembly, the first one in that town of Dundas in the Golden Horseshoe of southern Ontario; perhaps my mother went to bed early on the evening of 12 September 1962 since she was in the last months of her last job, a very demanding one. She retired in the first months of 1963 from a working life which began in the 1920s. Her husband, my father, was retired and he had less than three more years to live. He was 72 in 1962.
Just last week, so to speak, to continue the pattern in Kennedy's speech, penicillin, television and nuclear power were developed. America was now about to reach the stars just before midnight tonight. The Baha'is were about to achieve a unique victory in the world's first global democratic election in 1963 and in subsequent elections, also before midnight tonight, so to speak on the historical horizon. The pace was indeed breathtaking and such a pace could not help but create new ills as it dispelled old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space and the new global undertaking by the Bahá’í community promised high costs and hardships as well as high rewards. It is not surprising that some would have us stay where we were on earth and not go to outer space and, in the case of the Baha'is, some would prefer that the Baha'is not attempt their utopian experiment for the unification of the peoples of the world and the fulfillment of a long-range and breath-taking vision of a golden age.
Kennedy went on to mention a William Bradfordand what Bradford said in 1630 about the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony. Bradford had said, Kennedy pointed out, "that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage." Kennedy also said in this brief survey, this brief capsule, of the history of humankind, "if our progress teaches us anything it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time……Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it-we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond." There is little doubt that the co-heirs of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, the North American Baha'is, would lead the global undertaking for the spiritual conquest of the planet and the fullfillment of the extension of this new world Faith to every corner of the planet. I had just joined in this process as a pioneer and I had very little comprehension of what I was getting involved in back in September 1962.
In the 24 hours before his speech at Rice University, Kennedy pointed out that he had just seen facilities then being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man's history. He said that he felt the ground shake and the air shatter due to the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket, many times as powerful as the Atlas which launched John Glenn and generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles with their accelerators on the floor. He said he had just seen the site where five F-1 rocket engines, each one as powerful as all eight engines of the Saturn combined which would be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile, assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48-story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of a football field. Beginning in 1961 at least 45 satellites had come to circle the earth. Some 40 of them were "made in the United States of America." And I was getting ready to be launched on a journey of travelling-pioneering the following year for the Canadian Baha'i community. It was a journey that, in 1961, was completely unknown to me as I finished grade 11 and started grade 12 at high school, and as I played ice-hockey and baseball as if my world was never going to change. But change it did sensibly and insensibly, incrementally and decade by decade until, as I write these words half a century later, I am in the evening of my life and not the teenager I was on the day Kennedy gave that speech.
The Mariner spacecraft then on its way to Venus was the most intricate instrument in the history of space science. The accuracy of that shot was comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in the football stadium at Rice University between the 40-yard lines. Transit satellites were helping American ships at sea to steer a safer course. Satellites were giving Americans unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and would do the same for forest fires and icebergs. The city of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, would become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years, 1962 to 1967, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expected to double the number of scientists and engineers, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion in the City of Houston. The rise of the World Administrative Centre of this new Faith within the precincts and under the shadow of its World Spiritual Centre in Haifa Israel had begun in the last 24 hours, indeed, in the last two or three minutes outlined in a letter written by Shoghi Effendi in 1951. The apex of that Baha'i administration, the nucleus and pattern of a New World Order, was about to be elected in the first democratic and international election less than eight months later.
Many years ago, Kennedy concluded his speech, the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he wanted to climb it. He said, "Because it is there." "Well, space is there," said Kennedy, "and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." For the Baha'is, too, there were and are hazards and dangers in this the greatest drama in the world's spiritual history. They, too, have been asking for God's blessing on their work. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Five Epochs, 6 June 2011.
Little did I know, then, of
those plans and programs
for the conquest of space
as I got started in another
year of high school and of
football and my final year
in that town by the lake
where I had grown up,
been a child-adolescent
who had discovered this
new religion with its high
hopes for knowledge and
peace, unity and order!*#
Little did I know, then, of
the tenth and final stage
of history that was just
about to begin and the
institutionalization of a
charismatic Force, one
unique victory...... that
would take us to galaxies
beyond our wildest dreams
and imaginations and lead
us to a struggle of decades
and a window on the cyclical
nature of our history.......our
experiment & its conspicuous,
quite inconspicuous beginnings.
22 November 2006 to 6 June 2011
COMING ACROSS WELL ON TV: MODERN POLITICS
Twenty-five years ago, in 1988, Michael Cockerell published his 250 page work: Live from Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television. One reviewer opened his discussion of the book as follows: "Some years ago, during an American Presidential election, rumours began to circulate that Senator Edward Kennedy was again thinking of running for the Democratic nomination. A young reporter had the idea of asking ex-President Nixon for his views on this development. ‘If Teddy Kennedy is serious,’ Nixon is alleged to have replied, ‘then the first thing he should do is lose thirty pounds.’ In a country where Presidential politics have been turned into an adjunct of show-business, it is unlikely that any overweight person will ever again be elected to the White House. A necessary, if not sufficient, condition for electoral success nowadays is that one should ‘come over well’ on television. And fat people, by and large and on the average, do not."
This same reviewer continued: "Mr Cockerell’s absorbing book might, at first, be seen as a detailed account of how British politics have marched inexorably towards the same grim destination, with only a time-lag separating us from their transatlantic cousins. Just as generals are always fighting the last war, British political parties are always fighting the current election with the media tools of the last American Presidential contest. This import-import business started in 1952 when a certain John Profumo – then the Tories’ media man – visited the US during the Presidential election and came back dazzled by what he had seen. It was, he wrote to the Party Chairman on his return, ‘absolutely essential to get all our people on all the programmes we can: my view is that television is the real thing.’ Thus began a process which has taken us to the ‘Chariots of Kinnock’ broadcast of the last election, in which Neil and Glenys walked hand in hand on sunlit clifftops against a soundtrack of doctored Brahms. The fact that it was Labour and not their opponents which had contrived this little masterpiece merely served to underline the extent to which television values have penetrated British politics."
The increasing sophistication of politicians and party machines in using television for propaganda purposes needs to be kept in mind. The there is a problematic relationship between broadcasters and the state. The most intriguing feature of Live from Number 10 is its historical sweep. It is astonishing to be reminded that television’s current dominance over electoral politics is a comparatively recently phenomenon. Although Chamberlain’s return from Munich was televised live, with commentary by Richard Dimbleby, in 1939, the general consensus in the early days was that television and politics didn’t mix. Thus Sir William Haley, Director-General of the BBC in the late 1940s, believed that television was totally unsuited to political discussion.
The ‘Fourteen Day Rule’, under which no subject likely to be debated in the Commons within the next fortnight could be discussed on television, was eventually swept away in the maelstrom of Suez in 1955. Party Conferences were not covered by television until 1955. There was no television coverage of general or local election campaigns until Granada ran the risk of prosecution by giving airtime to candidates in the 1957 Rochdale by-election. Up to then, ‘political television’ had consisted of panel shows rendered anodyne by the Fourteen Day Rule, stupefying party political broadcasts, begun in 1951, and the odd ministerial broadcast of the kind pioneered by Anthony Eden.
In some ways the above analysis is somewhat tiresome, for people like myself, non-partisans, who have spent more than half a century faced with the inanities of 'media politics.' The first federal elections in Canada, which are now in my television memory-bank, come from the early 1960s. I will return to this theme from time to time in this part of my website.
RONALD REAGAN AND ME
Ronald Reagan(1911-2004) was a busy fellow from the beginning of the Baha’i teaching Plan in 1937. He moved to Los Angeles that year and had a screen test with Warner Bros, a test which led to his first, his seven year contract lasting to the end of that Plan. His first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love is on the Air released five months after the start of that Seven Year Plan. In the first two years of that Plan, 1937 to 1939, Reagan appeared in 19 films. I won’t outline Reagan’s entire life until his death in 2004 at the age of 93, but I will highlight some of the events using a type of synchronicity with which those who read my prose-poetry are familiar. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Wikipedia and (2 )SBS1 TV, 27 March 2011, 9:30-11:30 p.m.
You switched political allegiances
in ’62 the same year that I began(1)
my travelling-pioneering for the
Canadian Baha’i community, and
you became Governor of California
the year I went to Baffin Island: ’67.
By the time you tried for the Presidency
that second time in ’76 I was in Ballarat
at the University in a teaching career far
beyond my adolescent-young adult hopes.
You finally arrived in that Presidency in ’80—
the same year that my bipolar disorder was
stabilized and there you stayed until my job
at the Swan College of Technical & Further
Education began in ’89: with the Berlin Wall
about to crumble unbeknownst to all those
Kremlinologists: or so I have been informed.(2)
Your last 10 years, Ron, dealing as they did
with Alzheimer’s, as I was heading for a sea-
change in ’99, and the end of my career in
teaching by 2004 when you died were sad
ones hardly recognizing anyone in the end.
It all came and went so fast, eh?....Me, too,
Ron; it has all been so fast……You became
President at 69. Perhaps my achievements
are ahead of me, too, Ron, since I am just
69 and could have at least another thirty
years, or even forty, the way that modern
medicine is going, eh, Ron? I wish you well
in that land of lights, that mysterious place,
the daybreak of one’s hopes where we all
make our final political switches to that
True Party of the People: as objects of
some mysterious and endless grace?(3)
(1) Reagan changed at the age of 51 from Democrat to Republican, the position which he remained in for the rest of his life.
(2) I have been given to understand, although I cannot recall the source, the reference, that no expert in the study of modern Russia, Kremlinologists, predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall.
(3) Abdul-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, Baha’i Pub. Trust, 1975(1928), p.172.
28/3/'11 to 2/12/'13.
INTRODUCTION TO MY NOTES ON and EXPERIENCES OF DRAMA
VOLUMES 1, 1., AND 2
This is a 1300 word introduction to my experiences in the world of drama and the evolution of the notes I have gathered since 1989, nearly 25 years. Any notes I had before 1989 when I was 45 as far back as the early 1960s when I was in my late teens, are now long gone, lost to history and to my files. I am now nearly 70 and I have begun to both seriously watch and write about drama.
Volume 1.1 of my notes is devoted to the study of Shakespeare, a study I began to take seriously in the last quarter century. The contents of Volume 1.1 grew out of Volume 1 which came into being in the years I last taught Shakespeare to matriculation students from 1989 to 1994 at a college in Perth Western Australia.
It has now been 18 years(1995-2013) since I last taught Shakespeare, or any drama to students at any level of the educational system. In these last 18 years I have accumulated additional notes on some 30 dramatists, and many aspects of the field. Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word, and when I taught ancient history, in the early 1990s, I also studied the Greek and Roman dramatists.
These three volumes of drama content, 1, 1.1, and 2 will serve as a base, a base I began to build in the plays I studied in primary school as far back as I can recall, about 1954, and at high school from 1957/8 until 1962/63, the year I graduated from secondary school. This base was also built on the drama I taught in my years of primary and secondary teaching, 1967 to 1973. Drama was part of the curriculum during those years.
During the more than 60 years I have been exposed to dramatic productions in one form or another, 1950 to 2013, I have rarely attended live theatre. The plays I recall seeing during those years are as follows: (i) Waiting for Godot in 1974 at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education where I worked as a tutor in education studies, (ii) two or three plays put on by Baha’i theatre groups in Perth WA in the 1990s, (iii) the inevitable short dramatic sketches put on at innumerable Baha’i conferences and summer schools, in my own classroom, and at schools where I taught or attended, of course, should also be added to this list; and (iv) several plays put on in George Town, a little town by the sea to which I retired at the age of 55. These plays were put on by the Tasmanian Regional Arts. Such were some of the elements of this more than half a century of influences from the world of drama.
The first Shakespeare I recall studying was in grade 11 at the age of 16. From grade 11 to grade 13 one of Shakespeare’s plays were studied each year. After 1962/3 I never studied a Shakespearean play again, except as a teacher from 1989 to 1994. Television and radio, especially TV of course, has provided a fertile ground for dramatic productions of Shakespeare. I have seen or heard dramatic productions on the electronic media as early as 1950 right up to 2013, with some 20 years off for the period when I had no TV, and listened to no theatre that I can recall on the radio(1956-1976).
Drama has never had a significant impact on my emotional and intellectual life, I must confess, and a confession it is, for there has been an expectation, at least in some of the circles I have moved in for at least half a century, that I should get something out of drama. And I am inclined to think they are at least partly right. I have, of course, done some studying of major dramatists, but much remains to be done as I have indicated above.
I now often write a prose-poem about my experience of a particular drama. I have always found TV productions of the Bard difficult to follow. After my retirement from FT, PT and volunteer-work in the years 2006 to 2013, I have come to study drama more extensively in the TV programs that have become part of my life. I now watch an average of one to two hours a day of TV and have done so since 1999. Before that, before 1999, I had too many demands on my time from employment, the Baha’i community, and family activities as well as various social demands. Of course, this was not the case back in the 1950s when my parents and I had a TV. They got rid of it because they felt that 2 hours of TV a day had a negative effect on my studies. In the last dozen or so years, 1999 to 2013, I have begun to make up for my lack of exposure to drama; the lack of my study of this important part of contemporary culture has begun to turn a corner to both exposure and study of this art form.
Dramatic programming, or television drama and television drama series is television program content that is scripted and usually fictional along the lines of a traditional drama. This excludes, for example, sports television, television news, reality show and game shows, stand-up comedy and variety shows. Also, by convention, the term is not generally used for situation comedy or soap opera. Most dramatic television programming falls within other standard categories such as miniseries, made-for-TV movies or certain rather circumscribed dramatic genres. One major category of dramatic programing is Crime Drama.
In the years that lie ahead I’m sure I will continue to remedy my lifelong, my somewhat unfortunate, deficiency in this area of the arts and culture. I must admit, as I pointed out above, to a curious disinclination, for several reasons, to be part of live dramatic productions as audience or as student. Perhaps this has been due to my many other intellectual interests, a lack of funds, and the simple demands of life. I feel an enthusiasm for only some things and ideas, some fields and subjects. I can see a potential for my personal study of drama in the years ahead, especially due to my exposure to drama on TV in these years of my retirement from the world of jobs: 1999 to 2013.
My interests in drama have expanded in the last dozen years, as I say, due to that stimulus of TV. My son and his wife, my two step-daughters and their families, as well as my wife are all avid TV watchers. In the last dozen years the TV has enriched my life. There is much more I could say here in this introduction about drama, drama produced by the various nations of the world. There are now dozens of countries with a history of dramatic productions, and dozens of popular television productions and series. In my poetry I have written much in the last 15 years on these productions. I also wrote many newspaper columns about TV programs from 1983 to 1985 when I lived in the town of Katherine in Australia’s Northern Territory.
I look forward to a future enriched by dramatic productions and the works of dramatists during my late adulthood, 70 to 80, and old age, 80+, if I last that long.
15/7/’10 to 3/3/’13.