Portrait of the American; The burdens of plenty
Dick began to feel better with the onion soup in the third cocktail. He began to tell them how he envied them being kids and getting married. He promised he'd be best man when they ask him why he didn't get married. He confusedly had some more drinks and said his life was a shambles. He made fifteen thousand a year but he never had any money. He knew a dozen beautiful women but he never had a girl when he needed it and all the time he was talking he was plenty in the back of his head. I release on the need for freedom of self medication. He couldn't stop thinking about that damned being on account. A scene from the life of a public relations man Richard Ellsworth savage as he appears in John Dos Passos epic novel USA. For a comparison of fiction to fact we turn now to Alan Harrington in the world of public relations. Science can be shaped with no damage to anyone's conscience. In this way public relations serves as the mouthpiece of our absurdity our split
seriousness and the world of us. Conscientious public relations man may well be the most absurd fellow in the United States of America. This is not going to be a reflection on him personally. It's just the position he's in. Not some but many of my best friends of PR men. I've been one myself for quite a few years. When you see the PR man and one of our portraits of the Americans very much so. I had public relations man saves us and the truth sometimes among the burdens of affluence. Count this as one the psychic burden of the man who lives in the world of as if of split seriousness. One half of whose mind dwelt among the normal people who fall in love get married have children while the other half is always thinking about some damned being I'm a count I am betting me and this is a portrait of the American portrait of the American brothers for the National Education already or network under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation program number
six. The burdens of plenty. The producer moderator Dr Bedi author scholar and teacher of American studies last time I was discussing the affluent American and the effects of affluence upon American life this time I'd like to take up of the burdens of plenty. We know the burdens of poverty but plenty imposes its burdens also including the burdens associated with what David Potter has called the institution of affluence. The advertising industry in particular I'm interested in the public relations end of it that is in a scarcity economy you don't really need advertising to tell you what you need because there you obviously don't have enough goods to go around in the first place. But to keep an affluent society going once people have the basic necessities of life you've got to create want. Particularly you've got to create want for the goods that are being produced that are available. And this is where our billion dollar advertising and public relations businesses come in. It's the job of the advertiser that's
crucial here because he must get people to consume the affluence to use it up to predispose consumers to like a particular product and the people who produce them. So let's begin with the portrait of this man who lives in the world of advertising or an end of public relations. What is his relation to truth. How does he see himself. What are the psychic effects of affluence upon him. Take a fictional case of Richard Ellsworth savage the public relations man and John Dos Passos USA whom we left a few minutes ago sitting in a restaurant talking to friends while he simultaneously mulled over a release on self-medication a few scenes later Dick has finished his release and he has landed the Bingham account after which there occurs a classic scene. I suppose it's an American thing. The confrontation with the big boss the boss name in this case is J Ward Morehouse and he too has been suffering from a strain in trying to land the Bingham account he has just had a mild heart
attack when this thing occurred. He had employee Nick Savage confront him with the question by the way J.W. we wouldn't want Mr. Bingham to discover that a mere fifteen thousand a year man was handling a sacred probe cryotherapy medicines. Now what way. Morehouse agreed to the race and that same evening Dick goes on to the restaurant to join his closest friends the brevity of time of the time span is striking here. He orders dinner and a bourbon. Gosh Dick it's nice to have you back. Among the drinking glass a vic is there anything in the room or little doll face toppled over. Well yes Mr. Morehouse had a little attack of a cute Indian gesture but he was better when I left. Not drinking gets him in the end after all. Jay Ward says and you can't feel sorry when you get sick. Well wait a minute. He's one of the 60 most important men in
the country. After all Reggie or taking his money the man on the ticket seemed to be getting my Harley down there in Washington. You know I like the kid as well as anybody. But when a man like J.W. was pretty perhaps done more than anyone living man whether you like or not what he's done to form the public mind in this country is taken ill. I think sophomore wise cracks are in damn bad taste. I didn't know you was missed. I thought you was just a low down like the rest of us pickaninny. You like it or not the molding of the public mind is one of the most important things that goes on in this country. If it wasn't for that American business would be in a pretty pickle right now. We may like the way American business does things or we may not like but it's a historical fact like the Himalaya Mountains and no amount of killing is going to change. It's only true public relations work that business is protected from wild eyed
cranks and demagogues who are always ready to throw a monkey wrench into the industrial machine. Yeah well you'll be the first one to holler when they cut the income from your old man's first mortgage Barnwell sen me to congratulate you my soul and body send me to congratulate you on your valuable service to this great commonwealth that riches from the great does lead to this post. Shut up crazy let it eat a steak in peace. Well you certainly make an Eagles green Dick. Seriously I guess you're right. We've got to be real and I believe that he's come across with that raise. Yeah I guess he did. No no no Reggie this is my party. I've got plenty of cash on me. Now this scene seems to me to be a classic for several reasons. Dick is obviously a changed man and the change which has taken place in this very short time affects his relation both to his friends and to his boss for whom he has
until lately shown the same contempt that Reggie here expresses. But who has now become J.W. for whose health he is so solicitous. I like the way Dos Passos has Dick defend the ways of American business as facts historical facts as solid as the Himalaya Mountains. And this appeal to realism to the facts of life which often accompanies acceptance of or if you prefer or acquiescence in the business ethic in America. The crowning touch though with the final gesture the offer to pick up the tab for the meal. It reminds me of something Henry James once wrote about Christopher Newman in his novel The American quote. He liked doing things that involve paying for people the vulgar truth is he enjoyed treating them with a private satisfaction get the full flavor of it quite delicately to himself. That is to see people occupied and amused as at his big Kuni expense and by his profuse into position and quote. I expressed my admiration for the scene from bathos novel when I interviewed John Dos Passos at the
Peabody library in Baltimore. I want to ask you about the effect of money on American character on the character of an individual. Defect on his psyche I was always impressed by the story of Richard Alvarez that he and how he you know suddenly turn when he gets a raise to defending J Ward Morehouse there and he had to then kind of assume that I think of his group or the characteristic attitude of his group. Well that's not unusual today but yes I think you can find that I mean the sociologist would put it that the way put it would be that the having been in the outgroup you you were suddenly head of the group but it's a perfectly standard piece of human behavior with money and we don't feel it is a symbol of of success
being that if you have a good. So youre in the you know group which is considerable more power than you had before. I noted that Savage had often been labeled by his critics an American opportunist and yet I thought Dos Passos had intended to mean that he was entirely sincere that Dick couldn't help himself he had no particular feeling of having sold out at least does Bassos reply to my comment. Seems to me itself a classic. Well sincerity is not much of a US point to argue about because people was insecure it's good but they you know it's just how they behave I want to I don't want to preface I think that's being evil or good it was just a you know I just happen to have a common way of behaving I think and that of course is my concern here whether this has become in America a common way of behaving a way justified by what
Alan Carrington has called my bile truth that is the capacity to believe quite sincerely that the ideals and product of the company one works for are the best and that one's own relation to the whole operation is a significant one. And then after moving to another company or another position believe that the new ideal or the new products are also the best. And again Sincerely Harrington's own experience of the public relations man led him to some rather strong conclusions about the effect. American institutions upon truth far from seeing a realistic world full of facts as staunch and unassailable as the Himalayan mountain Herrington see the world full of absolute A-T and illusion. When I talk to him in New York I asked if he would read portions of his statement on public relations from his book Life in the Crystal Palace. There are a million definitions of public relations. From my own experience in the dozens I found to be the craft of arranging the truth so that people like you.
Public relations specialist make Florencia into the facts. Placing them so the world in less attractive titles are hidden by sturdy blooms. This could severely because of the art science skill dodge or trade of lying. But I just want to be unfair. Reputable PR practitioners never deliberately lies. Rather he sees before in a world of mobile and knowledgeable truth. A ball of wax is a ball of wax. You can apply heat to it and freeze it twisted into peculiar shapes but it still waxes and. It is the same material started out with. Shape today. In the world of public relations facts can be shaped. But no damage to anyone's conscience. In this way. Publication serves as the mouthpiece of our absurdity our split seriousness and the world of. Conscientious public relations man may well be the most absurd fellow in the United States of America. This is not going to be a reflection on him personally. It's just the position he's in.
Not some but many of my best friends and. I've been one myself for quite a few years. For quitting. To be absurd. It's not necessary to be ridiculous I hope. Just the same we have a lot to answer for. Public relations is a mention of what he finally called Images of. The intruders that never existed until he protected them from a distorted mirror. And that he believes these Jews have a life of their own. Quite apart from his murder. And when you wrote that you yourself had have been a public relations man. So I was just quoting. You were just about to quit. Oh yes to to come. To my novel. But I have missed her working in an office at that time as a matter of fact reaction was. Rather. Surprisingly I was denounced in a four page. Article on the Public Relations Society Journal. It's a. Phone call to my. Place of business just not be fired. And.
It's quite loud. There is the reason for the violence that I think. And I said at the end of the article it public relations was not a profession. This is a course. That the. Public most people are trying to become. Consumers of but the question I said you cannot have a profession which is an altering of the truth rather profession pursues the truth but the reason for public relations is to change it. Change what you see. To make it the way people like it so how can you have a professional. In fact Allan Harrington have been so intrigued by the role of the public relations manager in America that is dependent on falsehood and illusion where people are asked to it just to absurdity with the aid of their mental health advisers that he has given the PR philosopher a crucial role in his new novel. And he was just completing this novel at the time I spoke to him. Situation in my new book is that.
Time which I would say are. About three four years from now. Some sort of. Spiritual plague is going to strike America. And it's going to look people in the day. Start telling the truth as they see it. At all times for no reason. Whatever comes into their heads just comes out of their mouths they're backed up and spiritually desperate. Not to diss the people. Who catch this. Disease by talking with others who have a. Go Round. Sort of effortlessly I'm emotionally just speaking their thoughts and this creates a terrible crisis. In that marriage is and. Does relationships and so forth and not to mention diplomacy you know outsourcing. Our thank you because truth is undeniable. To save the situation eventually. Public relations philosophers
called him. And he. Does manage to restore. The necessary allusions. But here we surely have an incredible spectacle spectacle of a society of affluent Americans whose standard of living is the wonder of the rest of the world suffering from alienation from absurdity. Having to save itself from itself by illusion by the deliberate pursuit of mental disorder on a less abstract plane I should also cite here the effects of Madison Avenue upon our entire communication system on our mass media commercial radio and television magazines newspapers influence on lawmaking body by way of lobbied and so on where the influence operates to avoid controversy to enforce the status quo and also to impose censorship not only on what hurts a product or an image but on whatever questions the virtues of consumption. In short to insist upon the portrait of the American as a contented consumer.
One of the really important areas for studying the defect is in the American suburb. This is where most Americans now live and where their consumption is most conspicuous. And again we must ask whether for Americans at home as at work the material well-being has produced a spiritual crisis. Marshall Fishwick thinks that it has Fishwick who is director of Women's Foundation an American studies scholar has been one of his books titled The chapters in the suburbs. He writes of the growing spiritual desperation in America that he feels stems from a disbelief and in faith and in the whole idea of evil and the American suburbs seem to be the last place one might think to look for Satan I asked Professor Fish we quote he man I truly believe that there is something satanic about the DAW insipid and phony life of the modern world especially as it is lived in the split level trap of suburbia. And I truly believe that that the God who runs the heaven
despair as as the Satan who is not just souls roams around and looks into the two carpet garages for the next victim. Rather that most Americans don't attribute their problems and their woes. To say then are two and if anything in the nature of man they attribute them to the political part of that they don't like. To the radical right or to the radical left. They believe that their troubles are manmade. If only the mayor would take better care to sweep the streets if only the boss were a little more kind if only people would recognize our talents and give us all the Saar do you see would be all right. We depend on manmade answers and this is why I think we never get any real solid out of our answers. What evidence do you find that all of that is that there is a lack of solace that there is desperation underneath. Well there are various things I think one of the things is the alarming crime rate especially in the suburbs. I think you have the simple expedient of looking at their
faces. With women spending a billion dollars in this country each year to K-Cup themselves and so are the grief and the tears it doesn't show. I think you have the obvious and and that terrifying boredom. In the suburban station on the train in the supermarket the trite and I think sometimes inane pablum diet we get on our television and so forth. All these things point to people who are not very deeply motivated and whereas I think the spiritual crisis is our lack of understanding that we have a crisis. If you put all your all your blue chips on material progress and what we were able to do with the machine then you can truly be optimistic about the future because the machine is an wonderful thing. If you have other criteria of spiritual growth or if you feel that the hard inner fiber of American life has not improved and became with the affluence and the opulence. Of the syrupy sweetness of our life then you can only despair. However I personally
feel that we are very discontented with all our good things and that our children. Know although we may not understand this actually or no we are not happy with the money we've made our children realize it for the extra fees for the lectures or the second car. The extra rake off we got. We do have the extra washing machine or the second television. We have been to Europe and so forth. But one thinks of the terrifying lines in Ecclesiasticus Vanity of vanities all is vanity and and chasing after when you're only in a life one feels that a few more gadgets out of the Christmas tree will help very much. Here we come to another crucial issue or burden the burden imposed upon young people growing up in an affluent society. And this is an issue I feel very strongly about. We speak of the poor and the culturally deprived but I sometimes wonder if the middle and upper income class children aren't really the culturally deprived. When I talked with DOS PASSOS I asked what he thought our wealth had done to us what its effect had been
asked of the people especially on our foreign policy. And he expressed his fear of some dire consequences. Well I think we see me that there's never been a country so ill served. It provides the people in charge of four of its foreign policies the United States has been in the periods it's what two we started with the end of the war and is going on and it seems to be getting worse rather than better. So the result it's like is very likely to be a tragic specialism But you know what you know when you think the minute you are coming to money are I want to I think of the added to the general well-being of. It resulted in the fact that people as a whole have complained about this. I completely apathetic that the apathy on foreign policy in the last election is like that casting. Well this is a we hope a temporary stage which we've
only been in for. Perhaps 50 years in that area with a real. Moment for us. Something to me. You know why I respond to Europeans that rather will put the drive that you and me American today. I tail end of the American dream and how our people go through various stages you know it's that's the I think that we might very well snap out of it from all sorts of reasons. I hope we will take a great national catastrophe to do with my career which would be much worse than Korea. Another man who worries about a coming catastrophe an economic catastrophe a bust in the business cycle of William H White the man who gave a portrait of the modern American as an organization man in his book of that name. White also portrays the apathy of
Americans but it's an apathy based on their belief that good will cooperation and organization can solve all our problems. You've got a problem you send it to the right Committee this is the thinking that he has been concerned with that these attitudes might also in large part be a result of our affluence became apparent when I asked right whether he found this apathy as strong among young people entering corporate life today as when he wrote his book. When I was writing that this was during the middle that part of the most stupendously prosperous period we've ever had with competition. In comparison with a rougher time seemed to be muffled it was always there I think you take the GED electrical conspiracy. I showed you the beast in the jungle it was there you know like it wasn't but when let's say taking a young man on campus Where'd you have this expanding business with more and more jobs opening up with less necessity to
fight then I think and I think would talk about cooperation in group work and so forth and really sort of solve the problems. Competition is very congenial and such period. Now I may be wrong on this hypothesis but I can't believe that cycles are out of hand and I don't know if there are a number of signs that perhaps we've been shoving economically many things under the rug. I just put forth a hypothesis we may be in for a one devil of a but I think you're right it's probably didn't happen sometime in the next two or three years not this is the case I think this will tend to exaggerate or to reveal some of the fallacies in the rather easy. Rather with the Goodwill sort of we're all in this together. We solve some of these interactions problem you know all that sort of thing it was very easy to take and for a young man to be quite complacent that there really was no conflict at I think that's going to come in for some rather bracing
assault. It has come in for some breaking assault from among others the writers for the magazine called dissent whose editor Irving Howe aimed his criticism at American intellectuals for failing to see the truth for failing to see what was happening in America during the prosperous 50 for example live in the early 1950s. Most American election was was speaking of this country as if the social problems were basically solved as if we had and to Nevada. This involved a great insensitivity to the fact that millions of people remain poor and there were only a few of us who kept stressing this. For example the kind of magazine that I edit in dissent and people like Michael Harrington who is our close intellectual colleague of mine he had to write that book on poverty and then it became suddenly everyone recognized Ha ha look there's poor people but they were always there. And there's I think it's a horrifying thing. That
that's such that such neglect should should occur in a period of relative prosperity as we had in the 1950s. That's one thing you have to look at the facts you have to look beneath the surface in America we've built up bases starting with the surface looks very pretty and very lovely. Nobody stops nobody dies even if you look at the surface of American society. But a great many terrible things happen beneath the surface and it's the job of the radical intellectual at the center to go probing keep his eyes open. Move around a little bit. Add to our list of burdens than the gap between the rich and the poor are always more obvious to the poor than to the well-to-do and that only the poor in this country who the exclusion from the benefits of American abundance have inspired the current and poverty program but also the gap between rich and poor nations. How can we in America reconcile the thought that day in and day out we too much we have too much we pile up our excess to store it away or throw it away or
holiday from city to city when we move or that we dump and burn and destroy our surplus goods day in and day out. We can cajole our children to cook consume more food more education when at the same time most of the people in the rest of the world go to bed hungry day in and day out. And when they face the burdens of starvation and malnutrition and ignorance and disease surely this is one of the staggering questions of our time. One more question. How much do American tenets of faith our belief in democracy in freedom and progress and opportunity for all in everything we mean when we speak of the promise of America. How much do these really owe to our abundance our incredible good fortune. David Potter had some thoughts on these including a compelling argument that to keep the American promise alive the lion have to deliver on it to enough people over the years so that each generation would do better as we say than the one before. And this has
happened the land did little but where did we expand to now. If we continue to believe that we must produce more and consume more and that our children should succeed more and have more than we. An expectation that most American parents still entertain. How in the face of the population explosion in other words will we deliver on the promise of enough jobs for all enough and better education for all a better home for all and so on. Another way to put this might be where did these belief in success and progress and the American promise come from and how do they continue to shape our lives. And it's this theme the theme of the American success myth that I want to take up next time for thread of the American program number six. The burdens of plenty. The producer moderator Dr Bedi may author scholar and teacher of American studies. This program was produced by Wayne State University in Detroit for farmers where John Greiner. Well you know McDonald's retrogression Phil Davidson Norma has looked and they have money go. The program
- Portrait of the American
- The burdens of plenty
- Producing Organization
- Wayne State University
- WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Affluence continued; critique of, guilt about, use and misuse of. Money as the root of "evil" opposed to innocence.
- 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.
- Broadcast Date
- Asset type
- Media type
Host: Ch'maj, Betty E. M.
Interviewee: Howe, Irving
Interviewee: Fishwick, Marshall W. (Marshall William), 1923-2006
Interviewee: Harrington, Alan, 1919-
Interviewee: Whyte, William Hollingsworth
Interviewee: Dos Passos, John, 1896-1970
Producer: Gouds, Moyra
Producing Organization: Wayne State University
Producing Organization: WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-3-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Portrait of the American; The burdens of plenty,” 1966-01-17, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-h41jnc63.
- MLA: “Portrait of the American; The burdens of plenty.” 1966-01-17. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-h41jnc63>.
- APA: Portrait of the American; The burdens of plenty. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-h41jnc63