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Do you follow the soap operas. Do you enjoy Hamlet despite our differing tastes. We may be engaged in the pursuit of misery. Does this make us people or puppets. This Syria his people or puppet is produced by the Union Theological Seminary of New York City in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the educational television and radio center on today's program entitled Are you wouldn gauged in the pursuit of misery. You will hear the views and voices of a psychoanalyst early LUMAS junior anthropologist Solon Kimball philosopher Kenneth Burke and theologian RAO history. These are the men who will analyze some of the concepts created by our modern mass media and compare them with our traditional moral religious values.
Here is the commentator for people or puppets. The president of the Union Theological Seminary Dr. Henry Pitney been doing in a nation dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. It may be unfair to point out that a great deal of the output of our mass media and ours is devoted to the pursuit of misery. Never. When you. Think you. Must come. Shattering in fidelity and unrequited love.
Intensely lonely hours. Badly broken hearts and broken homes. Death sickness suffering despondency and despair. Not only are a basic part of our popular and folk songs but also the sole subject matter for what adds up to thousands of daily radio and television dramas. But even the soap serial is mild in its unrelenting pursuit of measuring compared to our modern American stage drama. This development was summed up entertainingly by a columnist in is Rob in a poem published in The New York World Telegram and sun on November 27 1956. Miss Rob's poem was entitled The cry of the American playwright backward in time and I might make it again for tonight. Home and let me remember it.
Give me my home page give me my home where the beds were on me. There's my wrappers sniff cocaine and my brother's standing out in the rain. Their sister a nympho in anyone's book and cards Go Daddy the wrong all I mean is a hog always starving those kids and kickin the dog. There's grandpa rather Brinkman and granny takes off her clothes in the street and there's and Grace Kelly dresses poor little me. Life in America is horrid and rear end everyone smells who is near and dear but whoever I make so much money because the whole pack is so terribly wrong. There's no like to when home is compounded of arsenic and.
Lay bare the family misery and strife. The rest of your life. That was the cry of the American playwright by columnist in Iraq before we intellectuals condemn this pursuit of misery and popular songs soap serials and successful plays as the hypochondriasis of the masses. Let me call your attention to a few other items. I never knew how great the loss could be even if sadness was the sort of joy and sorrow and take any speaking in South Africa's play Oedipus at Colonus. What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis. Whose praise of sorrow conjures the wandering stars and makes them stand like Wonder Woman dude. Here it is. This is our Hamlet the Dane.
Probably no character in fiction pursues misery more relentlessly enjoyably than Shakespeare's Hamlet. But the phenomenon goes back farther. Can you identify this. Read numerous witnesses against me and increase in indignation upon me changes and wars are against me. Where for that has now brought me forth out of the womb or that I had given up the ghost. And no I had seen me. I should have been as though I had not been. I should have been carried from the womb to the grave. The lament of Joe shows as another dimension in our topic today a dimension that reached a kind of peak indeed words by St. John of the
cross. A Spanish mystic of the 16th century that your soul therefore turned all was not to what tastes best but to what is most distasteful not to what most pleases but to what disgusts not to matter of consolation but to matter for desolation not to aspire to what is highest and most precious but what is lowest and most contemptible not to seek the best in everything but to seek the worst. How does our modern pursuit of misery our popular statements of sorrow have any relationship to the words of Joel and Saint John of the cross. Is there any difference let us say between the suffering of the saints and the suffering of a despondent individual of today. Or are all these seeming pursuits of misery
self-indulgence cowardice or evasion. Can there really be any meaning in misery or any purpose to pain. Our producer Philip Gallo asked our guest authorities to answer these questions and to comment on our miserable examples. Dr. Earle a luminous mulier. It was like. I don't know if the Division of Child Psychiatry at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City. I'm professor and director of the program of psychiatry and religion at the Union Theological Seminary. Do you follow any of the soap operas on radio or television Dr. Lowman No I don't. Well do you enjoy Hamlet. Yes. Don't you feel that there's a bit of the same appeal and both of these. Oh yes. Do you think then that people are actually engaged in a pursuit of misery. I think that people from time to time. I have
the problem of working through it from numbness to clarity their feelings. I think there's probably nothing more miserable than numbness. And that as clarity is approach sometimes there is a sense of satisfaction even in the presence of pain. The housewife who is forever hunting dust may actually get some satisfaction out of finding the imperfection in her cleaning. I suppose what I am as gay is what differences there are between a hamlet a work of art let us say that he's for discussion that depicts somebody's suffering and the popular media presentations. I think this gets to a very difficult question because you've raised the question as to what is art and art for whom. Well let's rephrase that question to one the more specifically attuned
to a psych I have dressed. Is there any difference between the suffering of the Saints had a say in the suffering of a despondent individual to Dale is undergoing psychoanalysis. Well some of them may be saints for all we know. Of the saints like the classical music live a long time ago. And I suppose what I'm really asking is are difference and what the suffering may mean to the person. Yes I think I think that this question would apply even between Saint and saint. It seems to me that some of the things that have been valued in connection with suffering from time to time have been the extent to which the suffering has been accepted and the extent to which there has been rebellion against it. The extent to which it has been needless and the extent to which it has been never to people I think our best canons of sanctity would reject suffering is something to be sought for its own sake
would exist reject suffering is something to be enjoyed in its own right. Where that's present we begin to think of suffering as being neurotic sick perverted masochistic erotic or neurotic when both air era era time is suffering and becomes masochism and definition. But where suffering is accepted is the price of something greater than it is desired and valued where suffering is accepted is sacrificed for the benefit of another person. It then may be somehow lifted up into a higher meaning and I think this is what we mean by my sanctified use of suffering. Kenneth Burke is a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the behavioral sciences at Stanford. I do teacher at Bennington College among kind of irks many books are the grammar of motives the rhetoric of motives and the philosophy of
literary form. I'd like to offer here some notions I have been considering connection with work I have been doing on a Syrian tragedy basically. Basically it seems to me we get pleasure in the imitation of suffering because if the imitation is properly organized we get the equivalent of a lot of love is the most expansive emotion and therefore the most pleasurable. But love naturally commination intimacy to bodily contact which are modes of conduct greatly restrict property structure and build up a guys bonding set of proprieties or social norms involving among other things strict ideals of personal privacy and why laws and standards greatly stimulate erotic interest. They also greatly proscribe its expression accordingly by the dime people have been squeezed into the emotional shape which their particular society deems fitting the opportunity to experience the emotion of love considerably circumscribed. Tragic pleasure pleasure in the imitation of suffering solves a problem. Nice
the combination of pity and fear can be made pleasurable because insofar as Betty is on the slope of weeping it's not just the second guy was love for unlike a lot of it going to gentlemanly attain his natural bodily expression that is of their restrictions even on our tendencies to wait. These are much less imperious and there's directions on the bottle an expression of love and it's a fright we do wait when out it would total bodily expression had been arrived at. Yet pity is very close to love in very Wagnerian opera for instance and drastic development of the plot is from the conditions when the wounded warrior is being nursed by the heroine to the conditions when the wire and Ireland become lovers already on the way around are the many traditional tales of the damsel in distress rescued by the hero who was affected by her plight or act they become lovers by this route. So all told pretty is the best available substitute for a lot of big can drive by the granules and such subliminal as in great tragedy and by the tear jerking of soap opera. I have never been able even for documentary arrangements to bring myself to follow in a soap opera
so I can't refer to any specific specimens of this popular artistic species. My hunch would be I was a great tragedy and soap opera diverged not so much as regards the fundamental operations of the two forms as in the disparities in the scope and depth of treatment that would carry sensitiveness of the lines and so on. However I tend to suspect that there might be a surprise of this so proper and great tragedy might often be groped to get it in contrast with our better contemporary plays of suffering. But even better contemporary plays might be found rely more heavily upon said to stick in masochistic impulses and its questionable whether as a human can produce the true tragic pleasure they make for interesting serious drama dodgy to be sure but they require a special sophisticated sophisticated appetite for it kind of situation that either hired Nizar make us wince or they produce the facts that are indeterminate mixture of the hardening in the wincing. Dr. Fenton Campbell is a photo anthropologist. Dr. Campbell is
now a professor of education at the Teachers College of Columbia University. One has to realize that there are certain kinds of fashions associated with the display of deep emotion. Or with the sense of tragedy. In an earlier day in this country for example the open and audible weeping which occurred in a church at the time of a funeral was commonplace. Those who did not give expression to this emotion were considered to be abnormal. Today the reverse holds. The fashions in the in behavior in emotional situations however. Has little relationship to the depth of the emotion which people may have. Would you say Dr. Kimball that the songs some of the songs that we've heard tomorrow may never come for all we know your heartaches begin. They're writing songs of love the not for
me the poem about our theater today in which misery is capitalized on that these are now the fashionable ways. Showing misery or tragedy and reading as you just stated possibly no indication of the kinds of emotions that I really felt. I don't know the songs to which you refer. Are deep in the cultural stream. Of America. In particular they find expression in the kind of thing we call the Celtic lament. And it is quite interesting that a good many if not most of the songs which are usually considered to be hillbilly music or country music are songs in which the. Lyrics. Give expression to the personal pain. These
are not new songs in America. They are very old and as such should be viewed both as part of our cultural tradition and partly as an expression of perhaps the emptiness and loneliness of contemporary life. Dr. Ro be here Philip is an ordained Congregational minister professor of ecumenical I'm director of the program of advanced religious studies at the Union Theological Seminary. Dr. Hislop Can there really be any purpose to these various presentations of pain. I mean can there be any meaning to the misery in terms of our future experiences. I'm not an analyst. I'm not attempting to analyze other people's experience but to speak personally. For instance in the great battles with depression which Martin Luther had I recognize my
own. Great uncertainty and doubt in regard to my own faith. And when I was just beginning as a teacher of theology it was very meaningful to me to realize that it was in the same essential experience. There went through these struggles to have a faith that he could honestly impart to others. Now I don't say that I'm a Martin Luther Obviously I'm not. But on the other hand I don't think it's unfair to say that we share the same basic experience. Do you feel that Luther's depression led to a possible friend to come to some of his answers. I think that in that particular case he became aware of the fact that the great affirmations of faith are all is poised against
the background of great doubt. And certainly this made his whole theology much more meaningful to the ordinary person who might even be ashamed of the fact that he seemed to lose his faith but who could be helped to understand that this was an essential part of the human experience of great faith. You know I think in the same sense we need to be helped to understand that our misery and pain. It is not something to be ashamed. I think there's a tendency in modern life even with the advance of knowledge of psychotherapy to feel it it's wrong to be unhappy everybody ought to be happy in our
society and there's at least adjusted. And I think that the experience of being unhappy unadjusted it's it's terrible and it's really terrifying and nobody wants to invite this. But to realize that it is an experience of growth that out of it one develops a an understanding of others and a compassion for them that he may actually be more helpful to others as a result of this that all of this is something that we need to see on the positive side in these experiences. And by the way it just occurred to me as I was thinking of the relationship of this to the early example of the of the soap opera the continuous presentation of miseries. In these radio serials I think one reason that
people are interested in them is because it enables them to accept this after all it must be acceptable since hundreds of thousands of people follow these and this may indicate that we don't often enough give people help in realizing that it is acceptable to have business fortune and even to have darkened and gloomy thoughts at times. One of the reasons that they have to listen to the soap operas is because there there is a kind of acceptance attached to these experiences. Then you're saying that they're modern The mass media expressions of misery and pain including the popular song might be realizing some of the age old meanings and purposes such as compassion and ability to live with oneself to grow with this. That they are necessarily in
another world simply because they're in the mass media. I think that's right I think that they have to be continually watched so that they don't just become sort of orgies or really sentimental In other words I would feel that they ought to lead someplace there ought to be some. Movement toward a resolution of the problems and not just continual repetition of them because I can't imagine anything worse than just sort of remaining in this situation of misery pain and all the rest. And I suspect that the lure of these things is in part the wisdom of the writers who do provide the solution of some problems and then the emergence of new ones. This is pretty much the
way life is and people realize that you don't move on into a sort of a paradise just because you move through certain problems. So on the whole I think that they are. As you say realizing some of the old meanings and purposes in the great representation of tragedy. But I'm struck by the superficial knowledge of some of this and the fact that almost anybody listening to one of these things if he could be the subject of a great writer could be found to have even more meaningful experiences than these which are set forth. We haven't mentioned the fact that the pursuit of misery can be self-indulgence. Cowardice or evasion particularly I think this is apparent in many of the Broadway off-Broadway plays in which they are so disclaiming everything that
obviously is this person and the people seeing the show have no responsibilities whatsoever. What about this possibility. Yes I think it's a very real possibility. This is what I was trying to get at and I'm not too clear about it I think in my own mind in suggesting that there has to be some movement in this portrayal of misery and pain movement toward a resolution. This may not necessarily be a resolution in the sense of happiness being the result but at least a building of character or of wisdom or knowledge or compassion as a result of this. And I think that it's quite destructive when you just have a presentation without any discrimination any movement any seeming
resolution of the conflicts just the presentation of the mess. Friend of mine speaks of this as the tendency of many modern writers to glorify the mess we are in. I think perhaps he's a little unfair but there is this tendency I know for a commentary on today's program. Here is the Roosevelt professor of systematic theology and the president of Union Theological Seminary Dr. Henry Pitney even. A number of the discussions in our series on people or puppets have posed the same dilemma. What are we to make of the fact that some of the cheapest and most objectionable expressions of the mass media appeal to the same interests and play upon the same emotions as do much of the world's noblest literature and drama. For example a fondness for adventure mystery and crime. This discussion poses
that dilemma in especially sharp outline. We begin with the soap operas which seem to exploit a human love of misery which we are disposed to label on healthy neurotic and almost desperate couple. Then we discover what appears to be the same underlying motif in some of the greatest tragic literature and take ANY how much Joe St. John of the cross where these likewise unhealthy neurotic. That's because what are we to make of these parallels. Two things at least. First the fact that an attitude or emotion appears in great literature does not ipso facto establish it as healthy sound and admirable. We need to recognize that the greatest characters of the race one thinks of Saint Paul or Augustine or Martin Luther. However very close to neuroticism sometimes even insanity and the
literature by or about them is often infected by the same excesses and abnormalities which are the stock in trade of the soap operas. On the other hand most of the aspects of mass media which are most objectionable exploitation of misery in this instance play in excessively and indefensibly exaggerated fashion upon interest and emotions which are the stuff of authentic human experience. Surely that is some part of their wider appeal and this fact makes the discrimination between what is legitimate and what is objectionable in them all the more difficult and all the more important. That was Dr. Henry Pitney of India's I'm the president of the Union Theological Seminary and the commentator for this series people or puppets. Next week at this same time people or puppets will bring you an authoritative
analysis non-dramatic presentation on humor and humiliation. So what's so funny. The guest authorities discussing this topic will be critiqued Martin Dworken television executive Edward Stanley but also for Kenneth Burke. Theologians Robert McAfee Brown and Paul Scherrer and Dr. veneers people or puppets is written moderated and directed by Philip Gale but by the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. An executive producer for the seminary professor John W. Bachman. Music by Albert Brooks. Your announcer Dean Lyman. This series is made possible by a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center for distribution by the National Association of educational broadcasters. Join us again next week for an exciting analysis of humor and humiliation. So what's so funny. People or puppets.
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People or puppets?
Are you engaged in the pursuit of misery?
Producing Organization
Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Are you engaged in the pursuit of misery? The popularity of pain and suffering.
Series Description
Discussions of values and ethics, modern versus traditional. Faculty from Union Theological Seminary, authors Kenneth Burke and Geoffrey Wagner, critics Edmund Fuller and Martin Dworkin, Dr. Solon Kimball and broadcaster Edward Stanley are featured.
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Composer: Brooks, Alfred
Guest: Burke, Kenneth, 1897-1993
Guest: Loomis, Earl A., Jr.
Guest: Kimball, Solon Toothaker
Host: Van Dusen, Henry P. (Henry Pitney), 1897-1975
Moderator: Geesy, Ray
Producing Organization: Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)
Writer: Gelb, Philip
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-7-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:11
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Chicago: “People or puppets?; Are you engaged in the pursuit of misery?,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 22, 2024,
MLA: “People or puppets?; Are you engaged in the pursuit of misery?.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 22, 2024. <>.
APA: People or puppets?; Are you engaged in the pursuit of misery?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from