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Then I had a vision. I was looking at a city above the buildings and towers floated a sphere like a halo representing the communities so the sphere was not perfect no was it constant. It kept varying slightly boating here and hollowing there but it was roughly a sphere. I deserve people walking in the city and most of them had the same kind of spiritual halos floating over their heads. At times a wave of popular opinion would alter the shape of these little satirical selves. Then the large fall in the floated above the city would be similarly altered. Basically though among the more normal and therefore happier people general spirit city prevailed. But there were those who souls were triangular. They walked the streets in wretchedness. They were snubbed and humiliated and kept in a state of chronic unemployment because their souls did not fit in with those of the regular people. The more triangular wood they were the more they suffered. Some were capable of bending
slightly and their misery was relieved from time to time. But those who were rigidly and psychopathically triangular burst into tears or shot themselves. I was filled with a vast understanding and pity for them. Now I thought now I can save you all. Thus spake Dr. Modesto in a satirical fable by Allan Harrington. I'll be talking today with Mr. Harrington and considering the kind of American who has achieved general sphericity in his life. The well-rounded well-adjusted relaxed happily anonymous company man I am and this is part of the American portrait of the American brothers for the National Education already own network underground from the National Home Library Foundation. Program Number nine the happy company men. The producer moderator Dr Betty Smith author scholar and teacher of American studies.
On the last two programs I've been attempting to trace the portrait of the American as he appears in works of fiction dealing with the American success myth. We saw the rugged individualists portrayed as an heroic type and as a villain by the 1040s as a deviation from the norm. We saw him displaced by the conformist American first and Babbitt and later in the more sophisticated Charles Grey the protagonist in Mark Juan's point of no return. We left our hero last time acquiescing in his fate. His success and more or less miserable when he achieves it after bucking for a vice presidency throughout the course of the novel he finally discovers once he has the job that it's not at all the sort of victory he had dreamed of. Yeah Gray is a man whose soul is triangular and we end up feeling so sorry for him. His inner misery is due largely to a sense of betrayal. He's been taught one set of myths about America that perhaps had some meaning in the one thousandth century but he's learned from experience that twentieth century reality is something very different indeed. The issue was
neatly summarized at a moment when an older and wiser grade lies in a hotel room listening to the rain and imagining he hears the voice of the graduation speaker at his high school commencement. Don't let anyone tell you young friends that there is any such thing as luck. No the greatest country in the United States of America. I thank God for living in the frame of freedom. Life liberty and the few of happiness each of us can look the other in the eye and say I am as free as you are. I have the same chance as you. The voice was in the patter of the rain mingling with other voices and Charlie could hear his father's voice beside it. System child. You'll have to beat the system. It was true. The harder you pursued happiness the less liberty you had and perhaps if you pursued it hard
enough it might ruin you. His father had died pursuing it trying to beat the system. No one had told the school children that freedom of choice was limited. You could see himself hurrying always hurrying and he would be hurrying again to morrow back to Nancy and the children and back to taking care of other people's money. It was not what he had dreamed of there in Clyde on his graduation day but he had had to start over again he wouldn't have acted differently. He would have used the same judgment and he would have made the same mistake. This discovery that the pursuit of happiness i.e. the good life means the loss of liberty is not only the theme of the book. It becomes in a sense the theme of a large segment of the American post-war population both those who acquiesce to the system and those who rebel against it. But then write of their disillusionment in much of the literature of the time. But suppose our hero had never swallowed these allusions in the first place. Suppose that he went to work in one
of America's large modern corporations and then reported on the reality he found. And this is offered as fact not fiction and that his report might go something like this. We're a happy family and I say this without irony because it's the truth. We give every appearance of happiness. We're also in many respects pretty much alike at least on the surface. That's not of the company makes us behave in a certain way that that kind of thing is out of date. We conform by choice for most of our people tend to live in talk like they think along the same general lines for the simple reason that the company treats us all so well. Life is good and life is gentle and the corporations decent. You know most of our men have deep comfortable voices. Why shouldn't they be relaxed. Once you join the company's O'Barr the job is concerned you'll have to create your own AG's anxieties the company won't provide any for you.
That was the voice from the Crystal Palace. Allan Harrington's term for one of America's large glass walled corporation buildings on the edge of the city and the man Harrington describes in his volume life in the Crystal Palace will serve to represent here a fourth and the most recent stage in the development of the success myth in America. That is I think the by now conventional way of dividing the history of the American stereotype into two stages in or are two other directed from innocent to sophisticate from 19th century individualists to 20th Century conformist from the Protestant Ethic to the social ethic and so on. But all in all this needs to be amended in two important ways so that there would be four stages in all the first and earliest stage would be the 19th century stereotype the independent self-made man from frontiersman through industrialist the man who tries very hard and works very hard to get to the top. The second type would be more like Babbit or to a lesser extent Jay
Gatsby the man who does care what other people think who does conform. But still retains a belief in self-reliance and a certain obvious flamboyance. So obvious in fact that it seems to invite satire. The third type would be our man in their gray flannel and pinstripe suits the white collar men who conform more completely but are more sophisticated about it and also less less jolly. In fact as M. C. Wright Mills and Mark Owen portray them they are often frustrated in their slow climb to the top and also bewildered betrayed or suffering what sociologist would call an oh me or they feel they are they are compromising at the very time that they recognise that compromise is necessary. You might call this the stage of unhappy acquiescence. The fourth stage then might be called the stage of happy acceptance not acquiescence but acceptance in fact choice of conformity. Not only as a comfortable way but as the moral way the good way. The socially conscious
and highly civilised way an honest way a modern way that would make all other way seem nostalgic or hypocritical. One sees this happy acceptance not only in large corporations but in various happy family departments within organizations. I'm most familiar with certain departments of universities perhaps your experiences with other areas but few writers of fiction to date it seems to me have dealt with the portrait of the American as a happy company man. Perhaps because a happy man does not command their attention perhaps because writers are necessarily involved in pursuits that keep them from knowing what's going on in our large corporations today. One of the reasons that Alan Harrington interest me is that he has been he has written about this type in both fact and fiction. And let me turn first to some phases of his fictional portrait in his novel The revelations of Dr. Modesto. And then to his report from the Crystal Palace where he worked. And finally to Harrington himself perhaps the most interesting phase of this and the story of what happened to
him in the course of writing these works. In his novel in the revelations of Dr. Modesto Harrington gives us a familiar type the aspiring young man who wants very much to succeed who tries very hard who gets the conventional advice but who fails miserably. And he's spiritually desperate until he comes across a magazine ad signed by one Dr. Modesto and then but what Esther offers him a foolproof system to guarantee success and happiness or your money back. Well the young man decides to write for the advice and when it arrives it contains the confessions of Dr. Modesto. The vision that you heard at the outset of this program telling how he wanted to show triangular souls the way just fear a city and how he discovered his doctrine of centralism finally Modesta get down to the revelations and there are 30 of them. And among the instructions the tenets of his faith are the problem of this moment I have no self.
I have no mind of your own opinion. Habit No desire of preference no enthusiasm love or fear of your own be the composite of your neighbors. Once you reach this state it would be absolutely impossible for you to be unhappy. It's an unusual sensation. There will be a hush all around you hear the people all the faces have bright eyes their voices come through the uproarious silence and whisper into your ear. You will obtain an instantaneous fix on many loneliness is allowed to meditate for you. A cry of anxiety rings out of a hoarse laugh. This means that you cannot be alone too long. Well then it will have no one to be lived centrally even this. Live as close as possible to the geographical center of town where no harm can come to you. If they despise a certain race join moderately in the same pleasures of contempt
but then supposing a liberal element comes to town. Trim your opposition. You have to adjust like the wire walker carrying a long pole who keeps his eyes on the dips and lifts of the polar lens and takes warning from them in time to maintain its balance. When I took the centralist walk in the city of M I saw some folks teasing a waitress and I believe then the teasing helpless girls and I joined them rough men who would normally have frightened me and by making insulting remarks to the waitress I made them love me and they begged me to go bowling. You're beginning to see the conditions of your happiness and the power you will have. You'll think you're in the center and be ready to delight in trivialities. Guess which team wins. Spend hours comparing the kinds of gasoline that all come from the same pipeline. You'll also have to behave centrally. This means that for every man you
talk to the very air becomes a mirror and every woman sees in you the kind of man who rests her at that moment. That's your secret. You rest people often especially in a group without them being aware of you at any party. You're the fellow getting ice cubes. I tell you to work centrally. Despite your power to make anyone do your bidding you should not rise to the top. The extremes of worldly success and failure are equally dangerous because they throw you off center. Failure begets worry and the poor opinion about this success creates a problem and the envy of others both prevent your remaining central. Now this last bit of advice is tricky and I suspect this is close to the truth. That is if you succeed through the use of centralism you lose your central position and then you're in trouble. And this is what happens to the hero. He tries Modesto system and finds that it works. He assumes the personality of each person he meets he adopts all the attitudes and mirrors them
back and each one is glad to buy an insurance policy. So when he's selling policies faster and faster until he's hawking them on street corners and then handing them out without saying a word. All he has to do is look at the customers. Well there's more to the story but let me turn now to Harrington's factual report from the Crystal Palace and his description of the American corporation man who would seem to be a student of the doctrine of centralism. Here the aspiring young initiate is Harrington himself in a way because when he first arrives at the corporation he discovers he has entertained some incorrect myths about Corporation life. I went to the job to cooperation with them with a poor spirit Hey I was suspicious of large companies. I swore that nobody was going to turn me into a robot. When I arrived everyone turned and smiled. They all came over to say how glad they were that I was with them. The boss took my arm and had me in for a long talk and we want you to be happy here he said
earnestly. Is there anything we can do. Please let me know. From that moment on it begins to dawn on Harrington that nobody's out to get him to make him surrender his ideals or to force him to do things he doesn't want to do. On the contrary the omniscient beneficence impersonal company wants to protect him to shower him with fringe benefits preparing for retirement supply him with friends to worry about his leisure activities and so on. And Harrington sees all around him the kind of man that this kind of corporation life produces and labels him quite aptly I think as a new species of American. I think I new species may be distinguished from other American working people at least in one way but an absence of nervousness. We're not worried about our jobs about our future or about much of anything really. This is a curious sensation. How are you going to get ahead. The company will decide what the company will take care of that too. And furthermore your affairs will be
ordered fairly and squarely with with maximum sympathy for your well-being and Harrington goes on to describe the characteristics of this new species. One of the most telling I think is the one he calls the capacity to be extremely friendly without saying anything. And to illustrate Harrington records in its entirety this conversation he overheard one day at the corporation. Jim why did you come from. I haven't seen you in awe. I guess it's been a year and a half just above the bell a year and a half at least. What do you all do you for goodness sake. I've been in Washington and now I'm back overseas always on. Well I guess I just thought I'd come down and have a chat with you before leaving. Yeah it's great you did it. How's your family How's your assigned do the years go by they sure do. Well well well I guess I'd better be moving along. Oh it's been wonderful talking to you Jim. Look before you get on the plane why did you come down for another talk. I will Boy you can count on it.
But one must not assume that such men are passive atomic tons simply because they are relaxed and good natured. Since joining the company I haven't heard one person raise his voice to another in anger or rarely even an irritation. It be wrong to say that our employees are lively. They smoke and drink and love going camping trips go skiing they operate powerboats they read things they go to movies and ride motorcycles like anybody else. They lack perhaps the capacity to be mean and ornery when the eagle is threatened because at our company we don't threaten people's egos. Rather the ego begins to atrophy through disuse. What happens is that as the years go by the temptation to strike out on your own or take another job becomes less and less. And gradually you become accustomed to the utopian drift even of the younger man the hard muscle of ambition tends to go slack and you hesitate to take a chance in the jungle again.
Harrington himself did take that chance however and when I talked to him in New York a year ago I asked him about his experience. For some reason I'd always assumed that Modesto was based on his experience in the corporation. But as a matter of fact the satire had been written before he went to work at the Crystal Palace and before he discovered this new species of American whose chief characteristic was an absence of nervousness. I left the Crystal Palace. Four or five years ago. And I haven't kept and too close touch corporations sense and I understand their becoming a bit more. Rigorous in their. Demands be employed at that time. With practically nothing you can do to get fired from whatever you're doing. Unless you start something. Don't call a time. No matter how many of your performance you are probably kept. Well. That naturally led to an absence of. As where creative nervousness doesn't what. It did in the home I'm not sure. But again you buy you pay a
price for for the contentment the prices are in the crowd and you know you are going to stay there and you made it. Billy Graham says when you make a decision for Christ in this case you make a decision for anonymity just as binding as of. Which is a lot about how you talk about an image. Let me go back a little bit. When you wrote The revelation to Dr. Modesto and then you later went to work in a corporation and did you find some of the things you had said coming alive almost as though you had prophesied. No I found myself becoming done rather than what I had said Come Alive but what happened was that this was a rather desperate and savage satire don't metastasize. Nevertheless when I went into the company. Bringing my satirical spirit into it and remaining with this huge corporation for years I found that I myself.
Succumbed to the very things that I had to try to attack your comedy and. I think if I. Hadn't gotten out my. I would have turned into exactly the sort of person I was Catch me doesn't help even to know what's happening to you. It don't happen. To know you. You forget I mean a man. Has his day by day. Isn't terrorism needs and his family's needs and. Gradually you can I mean Art is not something you have. You all your beliefs on. Courage is not something you own you have only just temporary listen you have to keep renewing them and I simply lost my courage when you went to work in a corporation in a company you lost your trades. Well I began to. Involve myself in company affairs more than I had intended for example I would get terribly hurt. I was not allowed to write the company movie which actually was not. Really interested in but I got so professionally
hot that. I began to lose sight of the fact that. I was. Finally a. Writer of fiction who. Was temporarily sojourning in this atmosphere. But then the atmosphere included me. How that took me about four years to make a break. Happened by accident. Ollie prostrations I had thought of the EP the perfection of this great. Beautiful. Socially conscious aware decent company which was killing me. I put until an article. For the nation. But then. I showed it to a friend in the public confession department there and he said. That. This will. Cause not merely. Critic feelings but fury. You mustn't do it and sell. It. As an example of the temporary loss of courage I mentioned I backed out I didn't dare sign it.
And then. Kerry called me up and. Said I really shouldn't have. Finally I. I did and I. CAME OUT OF THE NATION. And I thought well nobody in this big. Company would ever be running the nation anyway but there's always somebody who does. And it caused a tremendous sensation I was sitting there with. My little. Byline and. Of course losing a job doesn't seem like so much compared to what people go through when they're really in trouble but still it can concern you. And. I think but they didn't fire me. Just terribly hurt mostly. It was a feeling that they had really done their best to create the finest conditions that the. American. White con man could want and here was some guy. Screwing it up out of sort of an irrational sorehead who or what did he want. And I saw himself and didn't know what he
wanted either except perhaps to get back to his guts and something like that. Did you get your courage back in the process. Well yes more or less the smart small act of self-assertion certainly was very much for us and not to get me out of that particular. Bag. I'm glad to be out of about 70. I never get that one again of course I get another one. Well now here is testimony especially when and when he says that they didn't fire him but were terribly hurt by his leaving his testimony to the very thing that well you know White was talking about in the organization man. That is the problem faced by the individual who must find a way to fight not against the tyranny of organization life but against its very beneficence. This is the area I think that is so important and which is not the more obvious easy way in France or the most so much of the fix on it is always a big bravura scene when the boss is told to go to hell I mean like that that's when the when the
boss is trying to help that level it is so easy to take the conventional view and the devil with an organization like I'm going to fight it with some sort of outward tracking which misses the whole point in a way. Is this struggle for the sense of personal independence. I'm assuming that all the way things are going that a very large and important slice of our citizenry is going to have to work in large organizations of one kind or even if they're in a small organization they're part of this thing. There's no intellectual problem when you're being pushed around. You might not like it but there's nothing to to bedevil you about a sense of uncertainty of what your destiny should be and so it's almost a question of tactics is most organization people will be glad to talk about for a long time. But it's when you feel your own destiny being Wentz by the beneficence organization and you're not sure they're right.
But the happy company man basking in the beneficence atmosphere may not see why he ought to fight at all or know how he would go about doing so. After all he works in clean well-lighted air conditioned rooms with Muzak coming out of the walls. Modern paintings do look at a congenial people to work with pneumatic tubes and telephones and so on his elbow and so it's easy for him to make his peace with life and to settle for sphericity to make his volley of anonymity. I think what we need in America is to. Bring over here from. Italy and. Other. Latin countries siesta. I think that. We have. One of the. Incidents of course cause so much. Marital discord in this country is simply this kind of tension. People are going so far. From work and getting so heavily engaged there and around where I live in New York and so forth. Drinking. Coming home not necessarily drunk but but
certainly the Lord and. Bruce. And the lady likewise lauded and derived from having. Coped with all the children and all the nonsensical things she has to do that. The loving time of day becomes a time to discard. Why not siesta plans for all our large institutions. Well but there's a basic assumption here about basic motivation that needs to be questioned and perhaps this is a good way for me to wind up what I've been saying about the success myth in America two programs ago. I consider the question Budd Schulberg asked of his anti-hero. What Makes Sammy Run. And I extend that to all of the characters we've considered so far and ask what makes the American run in Sammy's case SJOBERG himself answered referring to the St.. The poverty of the ghetto that nourished his ambition. Sammy himself might have said Power. The promise of power and wealth that Hollywood offered. And Sammy also recognized the law of the jungle the belief in survival of the fittest that the heroes of Horatio Alger and
particularly Theodore Dreiser acknowledged. They all ran because they had to for economic reasons largely and Rand's heroes certainly would say that they ran because they wanted to but they were motivated by a creative urge the joy of creation with the heroes of Sinclair Lewis and John P. Marquand. You have characters who run because they have to and also because they feel that this is what is expected of them. In some of the dynamism that you find in so many American lives it is probably a combination of positive and negative motives both joy and fear with poverty pushing from the bottom and a wealth and power and status pulling from the top. When we come to the company man however the whole issue was called into question. One of the characteristics of this man is that he doesn't want to run. That he's willing to rock or to use a better metaphor that he would like toward some form of modern transportation that takes him to his destination in ease and comfort.
In which case to walk questions are raised. How does he know he's a ride. How could he know he's made it. How do you measure success in a mass society. And also what about those who challenge this whole system. And these are the two issues that I want to take up next time. Portrait of the American program number non The happy company men. The producer moderator Dr Betty Schmidt author scholar and teacher of American studies. This program was produced by Wayne State University in Detroit performer's where William McDonald Dave Moneygall John Greiner and Phil Davidson. The program was directed by Dan Logan technical direction by Ed Ream and Greg Elliott. You were announcer Phil Jones a grant from the National Home Library Foundation has made possible the production of this program for national education already oh this is the national educational radio network.
Portrait of the American
The happy company men
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
The force of conformity in business, university, political, social life today. Patterns in suburbia; critique of togetherness.
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: Harrington, Alan, 1919-
Interviewee: Whyte, William Hollingsworth
Producer: Gouds, Moyra
Producing Organization: Wayne State University
Producing Organization: WDET (Radio station : Detroit, Mich.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-3-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:02
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Chicago: “Portrait of the American; The happy company men,” 1966-02-06, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 5, 2023,
MLA: “Portrait of the American; The happy company men.” 1966-02-06. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 5, 2023. <>.
APA: Portrait of the American; The happy company men. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from