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How do you know when you've arrived when your office has a picture window instead of just pictures. How do you know when you've arrived when everybody laughs at your jokes even if they've heard you tell them before. How do you know when you've arrived when the elevator girl says up as soon as you step on. How do you know where you arrived by the number of buttons on your office phone by the position of your car in the parking lot by the rank of your house on the street plus the rank of your street in the suburb Plus the rank of your suburb in relation to the central city. If you belong to the American lower class you live in a house. Use the toilet and sit on the porch. If you belong to the American middle class you reside in a home. Use the lavatory and sit on the veranda. If you belong to the American upper class you live in a house use the toilet and sit on the porch. When do lower class couples travel by car each husband sits protectively by his own wife. When two middle class couples travel by car the husbands sit together in the front seat. The wives in back Only in the upper
classes does one find that one may sit with the other man's wife without causing discomfort all the way around. A footnote here for the preceding information on the How to know you've made it in America today. I am indebted to the Hart Schaffner and Marx adds to Vance Packard's the status seekers and Louis Kronenberger his company manners. The underlying suggestion seems to me devastatingly clear. You make it in a mass society today by adjusting to certain subtle unpleasant but sometimes coercive patterns of conformity. I am Betty and this is Portrait of the American portrait of the American British for the National Education already or not work under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation program number 10. How do I know you've made it. The producer moderator Dr Bedi author scholar and teacher of American studies. We've heard so much in recent years about patterns of conformity in America.
About status seeking taste making waste making one upmanship mass cult and mid cult. How to rate suburbs how to rate people by class from upper upper to lower lower. How does it see it in Business Without Really Trying and that it becomes very difficult to discuss this issue. How does one measure success in a mass society without running into cliches. The whole the whole subject seems to have a half comic air about it. It may be our saving sense of humor I'm not sure but at the same time the issue of what is happening to Americans today suggests some awesome implications of what is happening to us. For a portrait of the American as a mass man half drugged by his affluence and conformity living with a quote prosperous Malachias and despairing contentment we might turn to an essay by Irving high social and literary critic in his volume a world more attractive which ends with this prophecy. We are moving toward a
quiet desert of moderation in which the human creature no longer a Quixote or a fall most will become a docile attendant to an automated civilization. I asked how about this interpretation and whether he saw any change in America especially among young people since the time he first proposed it. The essay from which you quote something called mass Asari in postmodern fiction was written during the 1950s and to some extent shows the influence of the age of Eisenhower slumber when the country was in a kind of prolonged intellectual and social talk are. Unwilling to face either external realities or internal problems. To some extent that's changing the mass society theory is one in which part of the notion that in America as in most advanced Western industrial countries the traditional publics the traditional class the vision is the traditional the social I grew
gates are tending to become disintegrated and in their place we are developing a society of passive and more or less brainwashed consumers who who do what they are told and who prosper for doing it. Now this is to some extent a cartoon it isn't a description of an actual reality but it's a cartoon which points to the possibilities which points to the tendencies in our society. On the one hand there is the strong feeling that we have built up here in America a kind of ideal world except for 40 or 50 million people who are not eating enough. But that apart a feeling that we've built up so to say the ideal middle class world and at the same time there are constant pressures on the country from Latin America Asia Africa and Europe which threaten the very existence of the very future you might say ah the society these precious together with the explosion of certain kinds of
internal problems like the Negro problem. Force the more intelligent on the more conscious. Of our younger people to recognize that the idea of a middle class Nirvana is not a worthy ideal to recognize that it's not something which is worth living. Fighting dying sacrificing and so they seek for other models other modes of conduct and that explains the fact that young people going down for example to participate in the campaigns in Mississippi to explain some of the things that have happened Berkeley and other such matters but these are essentially minority tendencies. I think the major drift is in the direction of a kind of prosperous slumber. Let me use house distinction between the majority's drift toward the ideal of the mythical middle class Nirvana and the minorities dissent against that ideal as an organizing principle here to represent the majority in this cartoon of the mass society. And let me introduce Harvey and Sheila. Comedian Alan
Sherman's version of this ideal middle class couple making their way up through this society with such predictable regularity that each stage of the climb can be measured by mere initials. Here then Harvey and Sheila and Sheila and she was shown the way. And she and she married in the spring she shopped at a PC he bought used energy. They sat and watched the fun. There are see a file from HSC. Walk son. 18. To. A lecture day work for JFK. A very vague way char just played from RH may see bottom layer begin lacing
build a twin baby girls phone with. Dimples. Both with. Her. White Teeth whitening cut. Soon de jure the D.A.. Will be hot and she's on her feet and she loves us tell a me she loves me she didn't think she was through GW a lot. Our house one day financed by FHA had a swimming pool to train their used energy for a new X case switch to the GOP. That's the way things should. Be. He was really smart to use these New Zealanders like French food. Why do you. Worry about. Harvey's rich. They say let me be I beat this good beat.
Alan Sherman's Harvey and Sheila and I suppose there is as much commentary in the unvarying lilt of that innocuous melody as there is in the lyric itself. But let Harvey and Sheila then stand for the portrait of the American in this social cartoon of our own time and we can measure the mythic versions of their domestic economic political and intellectual life against the actual facts. The first thing we notice is that the portrait has become plural. That's what one thinks of when one hears the word American today is not so much a single figure but a couple usually a young couple and in fact one of the important trends revealed by the 1960 census is that Americans are marrying younger and oftener than ever before that they are moving at a younger age to their own
house in the suburbs. They're having larger families and beginning their families earlier. In fact two thirds of the 23 million increase in population between nine hundred fifty one thousand sixty is due to new babies born in the suburbs. They're doing more things together much as they joke about togetherness. And by and large they are living on credit in the economic sector the census also reveals that more and more Americans are working for other other people in larger and larger concerns. Let us suppose that Harvey sometime during his alphabetical career goes to work for a chewing gum company. How does he adjust to the pressures there. How does he conform to the demands of the organization. Allen Harrington who worked for many years in a large corporation and reported on his experiences in a book he called Life in the Crystal Palace feels that Harvey's striving then becomes a new way to achieve immortality.
But that has to be sustained by martinis and self-delusions ones from people who are genuinely religious have a sense. Everlasting identity and I think when that sort of gradually faded from the possibilities for us you know you desperately try to establish some sort of a private little immortality on Earth and this is always been is about status amounts to establishing temporary immortality and year to year. Deep down I think everyone knows that. Area that whatever many things he's doing don't really amount to very much in the scheme of things and secondly even if he's involved in something. Enormous such as for example the exploration of space he himself being a member of a team. As not noticed and thus that you are caught with the striving to be noticed and also striving to believe it at the same time. You are
not noticed and there is an absurdity in the chair involved in trivial matters and this produces. Five martinis. Now of course conformity the subject of this business of conformity seems to me as. Seeking after. You know we're sort of striving to be more of the same amount of these temper. The next comment I'd like you to hear has to do with Harvey and she was political life specifically their voting habits as they moved up in status and out to the suburbs. And remember the theory is that when they reach a certain level of well-being they shift to the GOP the authority on this subject is Victoria shock. Political scientist at Mount Holyoke who served on President Kennedy's commission on voting and who is an activist in the Democratic Party. We discover that individuals who are in the high socio economic brackets who have the best education
who are the professionals are apt to be high participants in voting whereas the individual at the end of the scale low income. Comically at the low end right and educational educational Yes. But he this individual is to participate less frequent and less frequently. And of course then there is the lady who doesn't participate as widely as her husband I think we mentioned the percentage a moment ago being about 10 percent less. There are some people who have made studies about the movement of voters from the cities to the suburban communities and when they get to this tree shaded street off of the cement of the cities it is thought that they shift parties. There was some evidence of this in the Eisenhower administration when Democrats
moving to the suburbs voted for an hour but we soon discovered that if you scratched the suburbanite who had moved from the cities that you really found a Democrat and that this notion that the individual ship's parties probably doesn't hold very much water there has been a recent study that one of the Connecticut towns and this study entitled The second tuesday or first Tuesday after gotten the exact title. Shows that the individual doesn't really share already that he maintains his political attitudes and especially those when that which he adopted when we say he was politically socialized politically speaking then the facts suggest that Harvey and she'll are as likely to have made it if they vote consistently than if they shift parties. What of their domestic life. What do these quote passive and brainwashed
consumers as Irving hall calls them talk about and worry about in the confines of their home. For one answer we turn now to the savage portrait of our ideal American couple. In Edward Al bs drama of the American dream who's leading characters. Mommy and Daddy might represent Harvey and Sheila at middle age. Let's listen to a typical conversation. I would buy a new hat yesterday. I said I went to buy a new half yesterday. Yes yes. Pay attention. I am paying attention mommy. Well be sure you do all I ask. All right dad. Now listen I'm listening. You are sure. Yes. Yes I'm sure I'm all yeah. Oh right. That night I went to buy a new hat yesterday and I said I'd like a new hat please. And so they showed me a few hads green ones and blue ones and I didn't like any of them not one bit.
A quarter of an hour later we hear the same inane conversation still going on. That's the way things are today. You can't get satisfaction. You just try. Well I got satisfaction. That's right. You did get satisfaction didn't you. I've been trying for two weeks to have the leak in the Johnny fixed. You can't get satisfaction just try. I can get satisfaction but you can't. I've been trying for two weeks and it isn't so much for my sake. I can always go to the club. Well it isn't so much for my sake either. I can always go shopping. It's really for grandmas say of course it's for grandma's sake. Grandma cries every time she goes to the Johnnies it is. But now that it doesn't work it's even worse. Makes Grandma think she's getting feeble had a good day. Grandma is feeble headed. Grandma is getting feeble headed but not about her Johnny. That's true. I must have it fixed eventually. Mrs. Barker arrives and she is plural. She is called vei and
presumably represents whatever outside agencies or committees we set up to solve our problems to give us satisfaction. And as the talk goes on the characters seem unable to understand what their own trite phrases mean or what their motives are. Al B's intention begins to dawn on us. Mrs. Barker speaks. My what an unattractive a prop meant you have oh yes but you don't know what a trouble it is. Let me tell you I want to saying to mummy. Yes I know I was listening outside about the ice box and the door bell end and the jump. Yes we're very efficient. We have to know everything in our work. Now Mrs. Bagot Suppose you tell us why you're here. The habit of receiving boxes a very good question. Well that would depend on the reason we are here. I've got my thing as in so many little pie you know. Now I can think of one of my little
activities in which we are in the habit of receiving baskets. But more in a literary sense than a relay. We received boxes though under very special circumstances. I'm afraid that's the best answer I can give you. It's a very interesting answer I thought so but does it help. I wonder if it might help a zennie if I said I feel misgivings that I have definite qualms. Well mostly right here right around where the stitches were. Daddy had an operation you know. Oh you poor daddy. I didn't know but then how could I what was wrong that day. Do you know how it is. The doctors took out something that was there and put in something that wasn't an operation. Oh you're very fortunate Isard. Oh he is he is. All his life that he has wanted to be a United States senator. But now why now he's changed his mind and for the rest of his life he's going to want to be governor. It would be near the apartment you know.
You are fortunate that yes indeed except that I get these qualms now and then a definite one where it's just a matter of things secular You know like an old house so I daddy thank Mrs. Baka Thank you. Ambition that's the ticket. I have a brother who's very much like you daddy. Ambitious because he's a great deal younger than you. He's even younger than I am. If such a thing is possible he runs a little newspaper but he runs it. He's chief cook and bottle washer of that little newspaper which he calls the village idiot. Yeah such a sense of humor. He's so self-deprecating so just and he'd never admit it to himself but he is the village it is in D.C. Isn't that love. Oh I think so. By now it's apparent that every time the characters keep asserting how lovely Everything is we realize it isn't lovely at all. Matter of fact it's pretty horrible in fact.
Albi states in the preface to the play that it was his aim to protest the fiction that quote Everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy keen. Well but with Albi himself who began as an off-Broadway playwright but has since become very popular we come to the second half of this discussion. The views of the minority of dissenters against this ideal of a euphoric middle class Nirvana in which our mommies and daddies are custodians of what they think is the American dream. And the question we have to ask here is where you draw that line between the majority and the minority. Marshall Fishwick of Weems Foundation whose essay diagnosing the American dream calls attention to a great debate in America between those he calls the traditionalists and those he calls the existentialist had some thoughts on where this line might be drawn. That might even be class tight. I don't know it may be that the
intellectual and the and the so-called Egghead is the cynic and the perhaps of the lower class optimist I would say. On the other hand of the existentialist the whole American dream a complete phony and a fake. And it is to him one of the worst reaches of American life namely that we have deceived ourselves into living in this euphoria of phony ambitions. I would say that to the to a man like Albi for example who has written a play called The American dream the American dream is simply a straw man to be destroyed if even a cancer to be cut out. At least whatever else we can do. We came grow up and stop being children and living by fairy tales. Do you think the mass of Americans live by the fairy tale and the intellectuals are the existentialist criticized. Yes except I think I personally here again think without knowing how to measure that. More and more of the so-called little guys and the boys who are getting disillusioned with
American life. So I would say that that for public consumption and for the pages of our slate magazines all is going pretty well. We've never had it so good but it inside our hearts and behind the scenes we have become ourselves rather disillusioned with our own civilization. And I find that most Americans have definitely lost what used to be called the Gone Holy Spirit a do or die spirit for my generation. But if martial Fishwick is impressed with the growing cynicism and disillusionment particularly but not only among intellectuals both John Dos Passos and Irving Howe have been concerned though in very different ways with the growth of apathy and the disappearance of radical dissent from American life. But it's been what you how you've described radical because they the type of radical dissent of the 20 years has now become the standard success for Washington the under secretaries. They're all radicals
they're all dissenters from something that you think it's the establishment is created out of that so that the phrase doesn't have very much meaning anymore. I take it you think something's gone out of their radical. I know we're just success. Well I think I've come here to address the every successful establishment is build out of the radicalism is of the of the previous generation. It's a standard procedure. I asked Irving How about a searing attack on American intellectuals he had written a decade ago which also appears in his volume a world more attractive and about the comment he felt compelled to add some years later. The essay was written and the early 1950s called The Age of conformity was an attack upon a great many perhaps the dominant group of American intellectuals who as it seemed to me at the time had given up the stance
of radical dissent which had been a dominant one among literary and political intellectuals in America for several decades before hand. I felt that they had become involved with the Cold War outlook with the in quotes the American celebration that they had given up the job of the intellectual which is to criticize are used to point to weaknesses to hold forward ideals of superior possibilities of transcendent possibilities. And they had been in a sense become clerks of the establishment. But I wanted to know whether as between the majority of conformists and the minority of dissenters you could say the latter was really closer to the traditional our major line of American writers and intellectuals. Oh sure you could in fact have been a great many. My my my kick my. My gripe my gripe my growl over the last few years has been that a number of them has sharply decreased. There is a very strong and my opinion marvelous
tradition of American radical dissenters and it goes right into the 19th century and it reaches its peak roughly at about the time of the First World War and then it continues into the 30s with the organization of the CIO. We've seen a record doesn't solve it in a modern and a limited form during the recent civil rights events. But Dar in the intellectual world. My own view of it is that there's been an excessive inclination toward acquiescence and kindness. Finally we hear from a man who is right at the heart of the most significant dissenting movement of our time the civil rights movement. And from this perspective Curiously enough the possibility of change does seem much more hopeful. James Farmer national director of the Congress of Racial Equality sees the change symbolized in the attitudes toward going to jail. Among those involved in the civil rights movement since 1968 when the student Syrians in the South began a large number of persons about.
So I've been to jail. Our estimate is that there have been more than 200000 arrests and that four and a half year period almost a five year period. As a matter of fact I mean you can extend it even further and say that there's a new status symbol coming about as a result of the civil rights revolution participation in this revolution is a status symbol having been in jail having been in a march. Having been found out during one of the hot season and Birmingham also I wonder if that is what the Negro really was that made you question whether the negro was someone who was given as the as the negro does not want to make it in white America. He wants to remake America. The point being that the ideal behind the civil rights revolution are our very American ideals really that these are people simply in terms want to make a reality of the
American documents the Declaration of Independence the Constitution. So what is the sense that they are the real super patriot. And I'm in complete agreement with that I think that someday America will pay its tribute to the civil rights revolution and to the role that the Negro has played in remaking America but in remaking America. These dissenters negroes writers intellectuals face the danger and the irony cited by Irving Howe when he noted that his cry against conformity itself. Became part of the conformist response. Edward al these attacks upon the American middle and upper classes made him popular with the same audiences. Allan Harrington's discovery of the large corporations was that the real problem was not that the boss was unfriendly but that he was always on your side. And how do you fight city hall if the mayor chooses to march by your side in your protest demonstration. How do you keep alive a national movement with a theme song We Shall Overcome. When the president of the United States elected and presumably representing the majority of citizens uses your very words
as President Johnson did in a major address to the nation. Who is to be overcome the problem facing dissenters then it would seem is not. How do you know they've made it within the establishment. But how to find a way to keep out of it to keep from being swallowed up by it. Meanwhile these dissenters if they succeed in their aim of remaking America. May well radically change the portrait of the American portrait of the American program number 10. How to know you've made it. Producer moderator Dr Bedi may author scholar and teacher of American studies this program was produced by Wayne State University in Detroit performer's where Phil Davidson and John Greiner Norma has looked. William McDonnell and Gertrude Griffin the program was directed by Dan Logan technical direction by Ed Ream and Greg Elliott. Your announcer Phil Jones a grant from the National Home Library Foundation has made possible the production of this program for national educational radio. This is the National Education already own network.
Portrait of the American
How to know you've made it
Producing Organization
Wayne State University
WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
What success means today and how it is measured. Status-seeking, oneupmanship. Stages in the slow climb; signals to which the American responds; signals he ignores.
Series Description
Series that examines assessments of the American using the themes of innocence, affluence, success and the American self. Features analysis by Dr. Betty Ch'maj, interviews, dramatic readings. Series features interviews with John Dos Passos, James Farmer, Marshall Fishwick, Alan Harrington, Ihab Hassan, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, R.W.B. Lewis, and William H. Whyte, Jr.
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Host: Ch'maj, Betty E. M.
Interviewee: Farmer, James, 1920-1999
Interviewee: Howe, Irving
Interviewee: Fishwick, Marshall W. (Marshall William), 1923-2006
Interviewee: Harrington, Alan, 1919-
Interviewee: Dos Passos, John, 1896-1970
Interviewee: Schuck, Victoria
Performer: Sherman, Allan, 1924-1973
Producer: Gouds, Moyra
Producing Organization: Wayne State University
Producing Organization: WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-3-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:07
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Chicago: “Portrait of the American; How to know you've made it,” 1966-02-15, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
MLA: “Portrait of the American; How to know you've made it.” 1966-02-15. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 16, 2024. <>.
APA: Portrait of the American; How to know you've made it. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from