yet another blog…but mine!

‘Play It Again, Sam’: Re-selling and Re-watching Hollywood’s Classics, 1946-49.

For most of the studio era in Hollywood, movies were defined by a particular sense of impermanence. Produced in a matter of weeks and circulated only until they failed to earn more than the potential of the new film on deck, the life of most motion pictures in the thirties and forties was decidedly short-lived. In 1931, one moviegoer’s magazine put it simply: “like life itself, the nature of the film play is essentially ephemeral. The vivid spectacle that enchants the world today is tomorrow but a memory.”[1] Significant, then, is how so many films from the 1930s and 1940s overcame their fundamentally fleeting natures to endure as “classics.”

Prior to the proliferation of film on television in the mid-1950s, and perhaps more consequently, the advent of home media in the late-1970s, for most moviegoers, the only opportunity to reflect on Hollywood’s older movies was when studios chose to “reissue” films from years’ past back to theatres. Before the 1940s, this practice remained consistently inconsistent in its employ from the mid-1910s, where perhaps a small handful of old pictures might have made their returns to general cinemas each year. However, by the late-1940s, film reissues inundated American cinemas. Facing unprecedented economic turmoil­—caused by dropping attendance figures and rising production costs—Hollywood studios returned to their archives, pouring hundreds of hits (and flops) from the prior decades back into theatres from late-1946 to 1949. In selling these films the second or third time around, Hollywood often took the opportunity to reframe their past pictures in effort to ascribe a certain significance, warranted or not, for attracting audiences then able to re-watch and re-evaluate movies from the prior two decades; a process, which in turn, allowed for certain films to gain actual enduring significance. Keep Reading

William Faulkner: “On Privacy”

In the mid-19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson helped define a uniquely American brand of individualism and personal liberty when he wrote “Self-Reliance”, an ode—in essay form—to the man who “in the midst of the crowd” was able to maintain his unique sense of self. Just over a century later, William Faulkner, in his 1955 essay entitled “On Privacy,” would all but declare that man swallowed whole by the masses around him. His essay, part elegy, part indictment, is a full rendering of the rapidly decaying state of privacy in mid-twentieth century America, and it is through this that Faulkner traces and attributes the decline of the “individual” and her ability to embrace the freedoms once laid at the bedrock of the “American dream.”

That Faulkner’s essay so closely interweaves notions of privacy and freedom, as Alan Westin does in his book entitled just that, is not surprising. Astutely, he recognizes privacy not only as its own freedom, but as a prerequisite for all others. If privacy did not make the man, for Faulkner, it certainly creates the sacred individual, allowing opportunity for a person to grow distinct from the rest of society in a way of their own choosing. It is this self-definition that Faulkner holds in such high esteem and he places it at the center of a quintessentially American possibility: in a country rid of “old arbitrary hierarchies,” self-invention was and remains an integral component of the American dream.[1] He goes on to describe an inviolable “individuality” in every man whose existence is both contingent on individual privacy (“lacking which [man] cannot be an individual”) and necessary for any life worth living in the first place.[2] Most simply, for Faulkner then, privacy comprises the conditions necessary for man to reach and maintain his fullest potential. Yet, as he argues in his essay, those conditions were scarcely apparent in mid-century America.

Faulkner’s first argument to this effect cites a years-long personal anecdote in which he is politely hounded to grant permission for the writing of a magazine profile on himself. Steadfastly resistant to divulging any part of his private life for public consumption, Faulkner here mirrors Westin’s info-centric view that defined privacy as the “claim of individuals […] to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.”[3]  Not only does he declare it his right to decline but the duty of the public respect his wishes—“since one man’s liberty must stop at exactly the point where the next one’s begins.”[4] This attitude calls to mind Daniel Solove’s discussion of the view of privacy as a “constitutive element of a civil society,” an argument Faulkner undoubtedly would have agreed with.[5] For when the next magazine finally refused to obey his wishes, Faulkner does not consider himself alone the victim, but also the publisher and writer, all suffering from the same “mores of the hour” that had seen “bad taste […] converted into a marketable and therefore taxable and therefore lobbyable commodity.”[6] Harshly critical of a Freedom of the Press gone amok, Faulkner identifies an internecine industry struggle that satisfied both reader and publisher temporarily but eroded at the core elements of humanity in both.
Through this lens then, it is far more difficult to minimize Faulkner’s concerns over a seemingly insignificant magazine profile—from a friendly acquaintance no less—given the fact that he was already a renowned literary figure known the world over. He recognized, just as Solove does, that disclosure fundamentally undermines “democratic self-governance,” and its normalization in modern society left all parties victim to its consequences.[7] For an American society that so prized the individual—or at least claimed to—Faulkner highlights the vital function of the self-ownership necessary for making such claims anything more than mere platitudes.

Faulkner, of course, does not limit his examination of privacy to his own experiences, and in expanding his to view to consider the plight of a grieving Charles Lindbergh or a beleaguered J. Robert Oppenheimer, he exhibits a cannier understanding of the topic than merely one concerned with the transfer of information. On the former, Faulkner is especially piercing, describing a nation more eager to violate a man’s privacy than protect it, one “which assumed an inalienable right to abrogate to itself the glory of his renown yet which had neither the power to protect his children nor the responsibility to shield his grief.”[8] Here, he recognizes what Solove defines as exposure in the form of the needless amplification of a man’s personal anguish. Lindbergh was denied not only the dignity to grieve in private but the ability to properly do so at all. Westin describes the “protective function” of the “emotional release” afforded by privacy in such trying times, a benefit conspicuously stripped from Lindbergh until he fled to Europe.[9]

Faulkner’s consideration of Oppenheimer and the Anti-Communist hunt during the 1950s speaks to other privacy problems, including: surveillance, interrogation, and identification. But it also, perhaps more significantly, speaks to the general attitudes of the American populace at the time and the blanket immunity granted to any action “provided merely that the act be performed beneath the aegis of the empty mouth-sound of freedom.”[10] The irony, of course, as Faulkner points out, is that the very privacy stripped of Oppenheimer—“by the means of such catch-phrases as ‘Freedom’ and ‘Salvation’ and ‘Security’ and ‘Democracy’”—is the same privacy, the untampered space to think and explore and examine, that enabled his and all other scientific and artistic contributions in the first place.[11]

Faulkner’s criticisms and arguments are ultimately all the more compelling because they are rooted in a distinctly American brand of individualism that understands the essential link between freedom and privacy, and the existential risks of separating the two. While he reiterates many of the same concepts discussed by Solove and Westin, Faulkner’s main concern is ultimately the continued existence of the individual…the man who could exist within the crowd without being reduced to an “identityless integer in that identityless anonymous unprivacied mass” he feared the nation was hurdling towards.[12] Regardless of whether our nation has worsened in this regard since the essay’s publication, Faulkner’s worries remain equally troubling in what remains an individualistic society that continues to face many of the same privacy problems today.

[1] William Faulkner, “On Privacy: the American dream / what happened to it?,” Harper’s Magazine, July 1955, 33.

[2] Faulkner, 36.

[3] Alan Westin, Privacy and Freedom (New York: Atheneum, 1967), 7.

[4] Faulkner, 34.­

[5] Daniel Solove, “A Taxonomy of Privacy,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 154 (2006): 488.

[6] Faulkner, 35-6.

[7] Solove, 530.

[8] Faulkner, 36.

[9] Solove, 36.

[10] Faulkner, 36.

[11] Faulkner, 37.

[12] Faulkner, 36.

Ladies’ Home Journal & The End of World War II

“War,” began Dorothy Thompson in her August 1943 column in Ladies’ Home Journal, “has a curious way of speeding up all historical processes and pushing people and their societies much more rapidly into the future.” Few might have debated her point having witnessed the United States’ technological advancements and the economic boom of its massive manufacturing efforts. Yet, what most interested Thompson was not the future of the nation’s technology or economy, but of its women. Her article, appropriately entitled then “Women and the Coming World,” sought to anticipate what a postwar America might look like for the magazine’s readers, many of whom entered the workforce and society in areas previously unknown for their sex. In her piece, Thompson boldly imagined a society where men and women would work side by side in what would “cease to be a ‘man’s world’.” A world where “father won’t come home at night dead-tired to find mother all dressed up.” A world that centered around the family but did so for once with complete understanding between husband and wife.[1] For Thompson and others, the war offered the nation the chance to revisit and revise much of what had become expected in prior years.

That the egalitarian society she envisioned failed to materialize in the immediate postwar period is hardly surprising for several reasons, not least the public’s “general desire for the ‘normalcy’ denied by depression and war.”[2] Nevertheless, such writing provides particularly interesting, easily overlooked, insight into a hope declared but not quite realized. Thompson, of course, was not alone in attempting to predict what the war’s end meant for the state of the American woman and family. Across the Journal’s issues from the period, one is apt to find the discussion and debate over what peacetime might mean for its readers. The magazine, however, never offered a single, coherent vision to its audience. Instead, as the war waned and concluded, the Journal presented competing, often contradictory, ideas for the future. Though a woman’s duty to the home was rarely questioned, for instance, the possibilities for her outside of it became increasingly acknowledged.

The aim of this paper then is to explore how the Ladies’ Home Journal’s coverage of the final stages of World War II in 1944 and ‘45—particularly its depictions of womanhood, work, and home—informed its anticipations of the postwar period. The intent behind this is not necessarily to grapple with the history of a publication but rather to understand how popular media presented the changes underway in American life, and how many responded to them.

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Christopher Browning’s “Ordinary Men” & The Dynamics of Mass Murder

When one considers the full effects of the Nazis’ Final Solution, it is easy to assume a uniformly efficient and orderly method to their ideologically driven madness. Yet, in Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, we instead see a side of the Holocaust marked by fits of doubt, tears, vomit, and drunken stupor. That this perspective lacks the utterly depersonalized and mechanized nature of murder seen elsewhere in Nazi bureaucracy is not to suggest its outcome was any different, only that the perpetrator was often not afforded any distance between his actions and their consequences. Accordingly, Browning’s book, which focuses on the Reserve Police Battalion 101, offers a thorough examination of the dynamics of genocide on an individual, actively participatory level. Further, it seeks to explore how ordinary men not only assented to participation in such travesties but could transform so radically into murderers capable of killing innocent men, women and children alike.

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Advertisements from 5/14/1917 (New York Tribune)

Here’s a selection of four ads pulled from the New York Tribune exactly 100 years ago today. They’re a fairly NYC-centric bunch. I’m especially partial to the pitch to invest in Bronx real estate on account of the expanding 6 train line. Though I must say I’m not sure how I feel about its shameless use of the ongoing war as a marketing trick.

The other ads include one for a introduced ferry service up the Hudson River from NYC to Albany; a tourism invitation from the Canada Pacific Railway; and a sell on the suburban life from the LIRR. All these and more can be found here at the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project (my favorite offering of theirs).

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Listerine Ad, 1944

Below’s an advertisement for Listerine that was printed in the September 1944 issue of Ladies Home Journal. Not unlike many other ads from the era, it required a bit of reading in order to figure out what exactly was being sold. In the course of doing other research with the Journal, I thought this worth snapping a photo of and saving for posterity sake.

"Whew! Sis won't be an old maid after all!"

Book Review: “To Save the Children of Korea”

When activists of the late-1960s began to brandish the phrase “the personal is political” it is unlikely any thought was given to the thousands of Korean children that had traversed the Pacific in the prior decade and a half. Yet, as Arissa Oh demonstrates in To Save the Children of Korea: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption, the blurring of the private and the political took many forms including that of the emerging international adoption complex she assiduously explores in her book. Focusing on the birth and evolution of a practice that saw thousands of American families adopt “orphaned” Korean children, Oh charts the infusion of global implications into a once intensely private endeavor. Her book, in turn, examines issues as varied and significant as race, identity, class, gender, colonialism, victimhood, and privilege, all of which are invariably suffused with Cold War ideology from the period in focus. Keep Reading

U.S. IS IN IT AT LAST! – Front Pages from the Day America Entered WWI

One hundred years ago today the United States formally entered World War I. To mark the occasion, I’ve grabbed the front pages of more than 150 newspapers from the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project and compiled them into a more easily browse-able photo album. The LoC’s project is one of the neatest things they’ve done (of the many) and I encourage all to take a look!

The Fastest Baseball Game in MLB History

Today, general consensus considers the 51-minute, September 28, 1919 contest between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Giants to be the quickest in major league history, with the Giants winning 6-1. Just how impressive is that figure? The game averaged an out every minute and each at bat (69 total) averaged less than 45 seconds apiece, including the time it took to swap places in between innings. By any measure, the game flew. And perhaps most surprisingly, it wasn’t entirely devoid of offense either, making it all the more extraordinary a feat.

In a New York Times recap the next day, a sportswriter remarked on the game’s fever pace but acknowledged little effort actually went into speeding things along:

There was no unusual effort yesterday to make a speed record until the Phils’ half of the ninth. At that time it became apparent to the players that they could do something unusual, and for a half inning they hustled. Even with two out in this closing inning Luderus poked a hit to centre field, and he did not attempt to walk into any putout. Dave Bancroft did. He took a swing at a ball, which rolled to Doyle, and the game was over. Bancroft’s effort with two down in the ninth was the only part of the game in which real effort was lacking.

[Here’s the full New York Times article.]

When compared to the frequently 3 hour plus affairs of modern day, 51 minutes seems near impossible. A look at the game’s box score (below) helps us to make better sense of how it happened. Perhaps most notable: only 3 strikeouts and 3 walks combined between the two teams. In 2016, MLB teams averaged 3.1 BBs and 8.1 Ks per game; multiply that by two to get an idea of how many at bats fail to put the ball in play. In this 1919 game, only 6 of 69 batters failed to do so.

Note: I realize labeling anything the definitive this or that only invites debate; on this matter, however, I would happily be proven wrong if presented with evidence to the contrary!

Length of 2016 MLB Games by Home Plate Umpire

This is the first in what will be a series of posts on the topic of Major League Baseball’s ‘pace of play’ initiative. The data used to generate these posts comes from publicly accessible Gameday data files at MLB.com. Keep an eye out for posts to come!

I recently came across this 2006 ESPN article that chronicles a week in the life of a major league umpire. To my surprise, the piece mentions MLB’s efforts to police the pace of the game even back in 2006 by gauging umpires and their ability to move the game along (or not). Here’s a relevant extract that discusses an umpire’s “POG stat”:

The POG [pace of game] stat is derived from a formula that includes length of game, number of pitches, pitching changes, runs and innings. “Pace of game is harder to control,” Marsh says. “But if your POG average is consistently high in relation to the other crews, they let you know it.” He asks if any of the other guys saw the previous night’s Yankee game. “Posada went to the mound three times in an inning,” he says. Everyone shakes his head. Not good for that crew’s POG.

“You pull for the other crews to have short games,” Hernandez says. “Not just for their POG stats, but because you know how tired they are. When you’re watching a game and it goes into extra innings, you say a little umpire prayer for it to be done soon.”

Admittedly, I don’t know the POG formula referenced, though that won’t stop me from trying to create one of my own. In the interim, here’s a listing of the umps with the best and worst average game times when they’re behind the plate from 2016. For the purposes of making things somewhat reasonable, I have restricted the table to only those regular season games that ended after 9 innings. I realize this is rather rudimentary and doesn’t take into account a whole host of other factors, but I thought it might be interesting to see any noticeable differences amongst the umpires. In coming weeks, I’ll update with more detail and hopefully provide breakdowns for individual crews. Keep Reading

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