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May 21, 1961 - Image 15

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1961-05-21
Note:
This is a tabloid page

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MOEN&

- w - - - - - - - - w r -

'BUT WILL IT SELL FLOUR?'
Artists Do Their Bit for Adve

--A Drawing by Ed Fisher
"Okay -- Heads we go Hard Cover, Tails we go Paperback."
The Intellectual Best-Sellers
The American Desire To Appear Literate Leads to More Sophisticated Taste
By JEAN SPENCER

IUBLISHERS KNOW and read-
ers sometimes suspect that fad,
fame and fancy dictate the liter-
ary tastes that sell books.
A single successful effort deal-
ing with upper-middle marital ex-
ploits can send hundreds of writ-
ers and thousands of readers
through suburbia with gun and
camera.
Established novelists in the
shadow zone between high-brow
and low-brow appeal can produce
book after book for an uncritically
receptive audience.
Flash best-sellers like "Winnie
ille Pu" or "The Rise and Fall of
the Third Reich" can't even be
predicted in adva: by publishers.
THESE IRRATIONAL though
often forseeable appetites on
the part of the reading public
render trend analysis difficult and
often fruitless. However, best-
sellers currently contrast distinctly
with those of five years ago, or
ten.
It's refreshing to observe the
present decline in popularity of

war novels as a genre, or books
whose fascination derives from a
Hollywood version, or stunning
Biblical pageants.
Substantive, challenging material
from comparatively sophisticated
novelists and political and social
commentators is more widely read
than formerly-and perhaps the
increased readership will encour-
age more such literature to be
written.
WHETHER the impetus comes
from more time on their
hands, the urge to identify with
the intellectual image of the Ken-
nedy Democrat and the Gold-
water Republican, or genuine
growth of awareness and diversity
of interest, American readers are
choosing books which make de-
mands on the intellect and imagi-
nation.
Whether this trend indicates
greater sophistication among
Americans in the Sixties _is an-
other question.
Quite obviously, in this context,
sophistication is a relative term.

The American reading public con-
sists of a small minority roughly
defined along economic and edu-
cational lines. It is safe to say
that the reading public living in
university towns does not entirely
share the tastes represented on
best-seller lists.
Nor is it shared by the numbers
whose reading experience is limit-
ed by choice to the westerns and
mysteries filling the racks in rail-
road stations.
BESIDES the differences in per-
sonal taste which dictate what
people read, one must consider
the extent to which popular liter-
ature is a publisher's market.
Readers have only the alter-
natives of selection permitted them
by publishing houses, and the pro-
cess of adjustment to popular
taste is shared by readers and
publishers with the authors caught
in the middle. Lines limiting selec-'
tion are also drawn for many read-
ers by book clubs. While the in-
stitution of the condensed ver-
sion is still prevalent, new book

clubs are forming which may serve
to educate and broaden the read-
ers' taste, rather than arrest their
development at the teen-age level.
For those who either are not
exposed to a good book store's
wide selection of new and old liter-
ature, or for those who prefer to
delegate their choice of reading
material, "intellectual" book clubs
present a fruitful opportunity to
expand their reading experience.
HY DO people buy new books,
or books which appear on
best-seller lists? Individual pref-
erence for a kind of book adver-
tised may account for many read-
ers, but equally many (probable
considerably more) are simply
curious to find out what other are
reading.
They may be motivated by de-
sire to keep up with current lit-
erary and political thought, they
may be anxious to keep up with
the reading done by their friends
and neighbors, but chances are
they will not only read but dis-
cuss what they have read.

W hy DO people read popular
literature? If one takes for
granted that they read partly for
the sake of the material itself--
that they do not merely wish to ex-
pand their topics of conversation--
there can be several reasons. As
an end in itself, popular books
offer enjoyment, escape, wisdom.
The individual who reads for re-
laxation seeks entertainment on
whatever level diverts him.
The sophistication of current
best-selling literature lies, per-
haps, in its appeal to a more "edu-
cated" person. The topical wit of
Jean Kerr, the . florid quasi-
theoretical drama of Ayn Rand,
Durrell's kaleidoscopic, night-
blooming world and the Latin
flair of "Winnie Ille Pu" appeal to
the reader who knows the socio-
psychological jargon, appreciates
heavy style, recognizes uses of
symbol in novels and is interested
in the problems of pluralism in
modern life.
WHETHER a college education
is actually requisite to ap-
preciating many new books is a
moot question. At this point, popu-
lar literature is probably not highly
serious in a creative sense-best-
selling authors are not engaged
in an exhaustive effort to in-
novate and exploit their medium.
They are serious rather in an
attempt to communicate ideas and
to absorb their readers, a depar-
ture from former caterers to pop-
ular tastes. The appeal to the
"educated" may be well met by a
reader with rather diverse read-
ing experience, by a person who
reads quantitatively rather than
qualitatively.
PERHAPS the hypothetical read-
er is currently blessed with
qualities which engender and re-
flect profounder understanding of
himself and the world; perhaps he
is merely using his education to
manipulate the facile images of
himself and society as a sort of
game. The point is that the game
occupies more of the mind and
the fancy than "light" reading us-
ually does.
One of the indications that
American readers are turning their
education to uses more related to
entertainment than to the skills
which earn their daily bread is
the sharp upturn in popularity of
political biography, philosophy and
sociology which has characterized
last year's Presidential election.
Lippmann, Buckley, Lerner, Gold-
water, Stevenson and Kennedy

Even this would be all right if
those Sublimators really helped.
But unfortunately they don't. The
poor Healthy American must take
his frustrations to the office -
where they get worse - but he
can't take his coonskin cap with
him.
A COROLLARY danger in ap-
pealing to people's sex and
power hungers is that if by a
stroke of luck you convinced them
that they are kings, then they
won't listen to you afterwards.
Obviously, when I'm told that I
need Icky Sticky shave lotion be-
cause I'm an outdoor pioneer, I
might just start thinking myself
so important that I can afford to
stink.
But since no job lets us think
of ourselves as Kingly Progenitors
(or at least few socially approved
jobs do) it follows that nobody is
better off because of the ads. The
inadequacies of people are 'rubbed
in,' and not palliated, by the con-
stant harpings of admen.
Under such circumstances, our
anomie can only lead to wan-
hope. The conflict between appeal
to' buy and demand to perform
takes the 'fun' out of spare time.
NOW, this kind of boredom
might perhaps be relieved by
a greater emphasis on unsublimat-
ed sex, but so far this kind of pa-
jama game is too inexpensive to
make it practicable. So it seems
that a problem develops:
The ads promise us great pow-
ers, but the products don't supply
the need. Moreover, the constant
emphasis on Power in ads makes
our appetite for it stronger than
before. The result is that people
become restless and bored.
Restless because they are con-
stantly told of their needs, but no-
body fills these needs. Bored, be-
cause they have found through
bitter experience that the past-
times offered them are more
"work" (consumer work) than
they are play. The rules of this
non-play are set by society, and
leisure is a socially necessary
thing.
INCE most people don't waste
J time thinking about causes,
they will continue to be 'sold' on
more and more extreme appeals to
their hunger for power and in-
dividuality. At the same time,
though not knowing why, they will
grow more and more restless, and
fads like the hula hoop will be-
come prominent more often.
All this is terrible-not because
it's wrong to prey on perversions
in order to make a profit-but
because doing so makes it very dif-
ficult for consumers to stay phys-
ically and mentally healthy
enough to consume. What is need-
ed if bureaucracy is to work is a
people willing to forsake personal
identity.
Instead of encouraging any
trend in this direction, advertis-
ing hurts it. The same is true of
the pasttimes themselves, because
their meaning is tied to the ad
claims by the consumer as well as
the producer.
LEAVING the public with its own
problems, we can now take a
look at the people who prepare the
ads (and the programs, stories,
etc. that go between them). These
people are the artists.
Perhaps the first thing to say
about the Artist as Adman is that
just because talent is prostituted
into selling Jello doesn't mean the
talent ceases to exist. It may be a
trifle wry to think that most of
the creative people in the coun-
try (excluding professors) are in
the employ of television and the
magazines. But this is true.
These people are more influen-
tial today than they have been
before, because they are more use-

ful to society at large. In the .old
days when the media were poorly
developed, they required much less
staffing, and artists, devoid of
this function, kept themselves

F busy with private tasks. Their
present usefulness is, as Camus
has urged, an engagement in the
total community, and certainly
not something to be laughed at.
BUT their special status, which
is almost a disease, gives art-
ists peculiar problems. Being "dif-
ferent," and being observers, they
need a vantage point somewhere
outside the mass itself; they need
a special viewpoint. In the 1930's,
for example, we could have ex-
pected a budding artist to cling
to the poor, and interest himself
in their problems.
But today, although there are a
great many poor people, they
can't serve too well as a source of
inspiration, or as something to
identify with. Somehow, we have
come to think of them as a ves-
tige, something left over from pre-
automated days that will even-
tually become extinct. Naturally,
a dying cause is not going to at-
tract prophets.
It just isn't fair to ask the art-
ist to identify with the poor. But
the rich won't do either; they've
lost their tragic glimmerings and
become defensive.-From high-level
gangsters they are changing into
responsible state governors and
conservative ambassadors. No, the
rich won't do either.
(SINCE THE ARTIST can't iden-
tify with the mass if he wants
to examine that mass, the artists
themselves are the only group left.
And this has been done. "Art for
art's sake" is a call to arms, but
it means, more correctly, "art cre-
ated to be read (seen, heard) by
other artists."
While this doesn't automatical-
ly lead- to a specific sort of writ-
ing, in our time at least it has
lead to a concern with experiment,
and an emphasis on the purely
formal elements of art. (This
doesn't mean that artists must be
strict formalists; some of them
will throw off all form.)
But the point is that the 'mes-
sage'-didactic, or lyric, or what-
ever-will not evolve. It can't; the
message is something derived
from sources other than the world
of art per se. Among the more
serious artists the emphasis on
form is greatest. And with these
changes in form without corres-
ponding changes in message comes
the end-of-the-world theme.
IT IS A little amusing to think
that the artist decides the
world is coming to an end only,
when he can't extract from it a
theme for his own private work-
ings,
The more serious artists are re-
pelled by a mass following if, as
is now the case, they have no
kinship with or respect for the
mass. So once a new form is ac-
cepted, the artists have an added
impetus to run away from it in
the hope of avoiding public taste.
IT IS THE public which wins this
race, because as soon as a

trend develops it is netted and at-
tached to a small but devoted fol-
lowing. Now, this following is
hardly typical of the General Con-
sumer, but it is the spokesman
for him.
Its members have the education
to appreciate the artist's crafts-
manship, and, being automatically
different because of their educa-
tion, they share something of the
artist's need to distinguish himself
from the mass.
But, although it is their educa-
tion which, above other factors,
makes them feel a special need to
assert individuality, the cult of
the esoteric is least of all an in-
tellectual operation, since it isnthe
novelty, and not the content of
the esoteric which is sought.
ALL this has a discouraging ef-
fect on the artists, who would
probably be more cheerful if left
totally alone. The following that a
serious artist picks up convinces
him thatrhe was right about the
world coming to an end. On the
other hand, the followers aren't
made any happier by being told,
this.
Once upon a time aristocrats
told artists what good taste was.1
But now the eagerness to latch on
to new trends leaves judgment up
to the people who invent the
trends-the artists. Artists are get-
ting control of their audience (of
intellectuals) and, being defeatist
by nature, are subverting it.
This is why the Zeitgeist prob-
lems of artists are important inj
discussing popular entertainment:j
mass media artists and other in-
tellectuals form the audience forI
today's art. And these people are,t
unfortunately, the ones who de-t
cide what the rest of the country
is exposed to.r
SO WHILE talk of artistic ex-x
periment and depression con-t
cerns very few people directly, thea
creators of cartoon commercialsr

The American Consumer--relaxed or jus

and run - of - the - mill television TN
copy transmit a cruder version of 1i
this artistic propaganda down to pub
the general public. peal
Competition, which does so in
much to auto prices and the dura- busy
bility of appliances, also has its ness
effect on the media artists. An- for
xious to find a new twist, the hack or
writers (or animators, or photog- Hea
raphers) will pick up what they have
can from "above," and adapt it to hobl
the poorly-educated audience it gtt
must play to. In this way conceptsgtt
which would simply be unintelligi- ion
ble to the general public become H
a real influence on it, time
mea
TELEVISION'S sponsors are But
pretty effective in keeping any and
obvious staff discontent out of the esum
shows. But the strange little t.v.
gnomes who sell gas or carpets orAL
whatever are ridiculous not only AL
so that the audience can laugh at
them; they are also a portrait of get]
the audience itself. When the au- worr
dience watches Stanley Simp, the valum
bloated thing who sells used tires, sum
it is seeing a caricature of itself the
that can hardly boost its self emp
confidence. male
Serious art can become mass In
subversion indirectly, as illus- orou
trated by "Suddenly Last Sum- their
mer," a movie about Elizabeth son
Taylor and homosexuality. In it, costs
Williams' ideas on America's fail- ougli
ure to create anything of value are othe:
made cruder and clearer by the form
rewrite job done in Hollywood. its g
Movies have to sell the same as
water skis. And in this movie as A
in many others, the sure-draw ele- a
ments are played up, and the more just
or less seditious views of the origi- year;
nal author are given a plainer and othe
more obvious emphasis by the Pop- to ta
ularizers-the hacks. The need to an a
sell mass entertainment promotes the r
movies as well as hobbies and In
sporting goods. And the views ex- the i
pressed in the movies are offered vert:
up to the public even though they thoug
attack the values that the society mayb
runs on. thing

k-aperoacks, with covers and contents ranging from the lurid to intense abstraction, make it easy for the sophisticate, or the aspiring
sophisticate, to buy the esoteria without a major investment.

Baseball, the great American game, is losing its fans to the more esote

Page Ten

THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAGAZINE SUNDAY, MAY 21, 1961

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