Three hours of webinar training today. What an awful word, webinar. What an awful thing, a webinar. How the Youth of America did it daily for hours on end is something I can’t imagine. At least in class you’re bored together. In a webinar you are bored alone.
It was useful, though. We’re switching from the old content-management system to something new, something a bit easier. The old one looked like Windows 97. A ribbon on top of the page with two-score tiny buttons with pixellated icons. Endless drop-down menus. It was, as they say, robust, inasmuch as it could do a lot, but the average newspaper writer does not need to do a lot. We need a button that says “START WRITING” and a button that says “DONE” and that is all we need for 99% of our time.
Oh, there’s other things, like creating a budget - don’t ask - and naming the story according to your conventions, formatting it, sending it to the proper people, attaching pictures, and so on. But we don’t need a program that offers to do that up front. We need to START WRITING, and then when we have finished writing, we click DONE. After which the options present themselves.
But modern systems are designed by system designers, to state the tautologically obvious. Bloat Happens. This new system is cleaner and simpler than the last - it would have been impossible to design anything more fidgety and cluttered - but it still suffers from something that seems endemic these days: once you move beyond the simplest expression of what needs to be done, you start adding things, and once you start adding things, the dike cracks.
It doesn’t always happen. For example: Traders Joe is an efficient, interesting shopping experience because they don’t sell batteries. Everyone knows that; no one goes there for batteries; no one expects them to have batteries. The fact that you do not sell batteries says a lot about what you can expect from the place, and lets them focus on what they do, which is selling house brands elevated about all others with whimsy and inconsistent typography. In fact you might go there because they don’t have batteries, and you don’t want to wander off into a place that also has socks and glossy printer paper.
Anyway. No matter how much you learn from a webinar, you end up feeling empty. We’d do it in the office but of course no one’s in the office anymore.
Including me! My security badge stopped working. That always brings you up short, right there. Huh: we’ll, let’s quick check our email on the phone, see if I can log in . . . okay whew. Anything about being outboard, as the loathsome term has it? Okay whew no. Must be the badge. It’s old. My face on the card has been worn away by 20 years of being removed and returned to my wallet. My face no longer works.
Something occured to me the other day - and the day before. And about a thousand others that preceeded it. Everything I’ve made a hobby of studying seems to be passing into irrelevance. I suppose this is a normal reaction for anyone who fastens on to the recent past and lingers on the subject, unaware that new forces and fashions and modes are swirling past. But this is different, for two reasons.
1. Culture has been treading water for 10, 15 years. Perhaps with the passage of time scholars will note a keen difference between 2021 and 2011, but I don’t think so. And I’m not sure how they’d prove it one way or the other: the most useful form of displaying all the cultural norms of an era in their kaleidoscopic manifestations has been the single-page magazine ad, and that’s a dead art form. Along with Sears catalogs. Anyone printing out pdfs of Target's website for future study? No?
Perhaps memes have taken their place, but they exhibit a particular sensibility, and they’re parasitical, repurposing other media to make their point.
The 40s: 345,203 different magazine ads
The 2010s: Amused Willy Wonka meme
2. The study of the past, if allowed, must now be conducted by interrogation and criticism, held to standards of the moment. What poisonous system does this bathroom ad endorse? What deplorable social arrangement is implied by this train ad? What ash-heap-of-history conception of family definition is given privilege in this ice cream ad? It is regarded as a dereliction of intellectual duty to look at an ad about Elsie the Bordon Cow without inspecting its implicit enshrinement of cisnormative narratives.
I mean, we can do that for fun, and always have, but unless you do it seriously you are causing harm to everyone who suffered under the yoke of the common culture. It’s probably an overreaction, but I suspect that if you dropped a copy of Saturday Evening Post from 1943 into the lap of a contemporary intellectual, they would have a complaint for every page. If the microphones were on. Privately, they might find the cultural cohesion of the issue interesting, and since this was the culture that Beat Fascism, well, it had to have something good going for it. But no one gets tenure arguing that the promotion of the nuclear family - no, the assumption that it was the norm had a salutary effect overall. Every housewife in the post-war ads wasn’t a commercial archetype taken at face value for the purposes of selling irons - no, this was the iron fist of the patriarchy, and all these women in the ads would be reading Betty Friedan by flashlight in a few years.
Even if the truth is in-between, as is usually the case, there’s no appetite for studying these things unless you can fit them into the Play-Doh Fun Factory of the academic left, and extrude the proper shape.
The people who have a connection to these things through their parents are fading away. Again, it’s normal. The people who inhabited this era, who were 30something and vital and interested in the new cars of the year, noted the new colors, rolled with the new designs in ads because hey, it’s a new era - they are old, and seen through the sentimental lens we snap on the camera when we look at Seniors. Their children, of whom I am one, are also aging out into cultural irrelevance. It is impossible to convince a subsequent generation of the importance you attach to the things of your childhood, because they lack the emotional connection. Again, totally normal.
But the 20th century is an amazing place. (Was.) And I feel it’s all being shoveled into a closet. AGAIN, NORMAL, right? I think there's an idiotic immediacy about the times today; Mencken thought the same. But at least there was bedrock in his time. Today, sandstone. So it seems I'm tending a library, that will seem irrelevant at best, or harmfully revanchist at worst.
Well, I'm not going anywhere. Until it's my turn, that is.
Another gorgeous LA Times from 1936. The streamlined paper!
Fascists on the march to Madrid, a taste of the continent’s fun to come. Plains rain Red soldiers. In other news, Irwin's finally realizing he should have brushed now and then:
He’s thought of as “conservative” today, but it just shows how useless those terms could be. He supported nationalization of industry, for one thing.
His chief topics were political and economic rather than religious, using the slogan "Social Justice". After the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939, the Roosevelt administration finally forced the cancellation of his radio program and forbade distribution by mail of his newspaper, Social Justice. Coughlin largedly disappeared from the public arena, working as a parish pastor until retiring in 1966. He died in 1979.
He makes a good point! Good thing we’ve settled that issue.
“C’mon, sister, give with the waterworks, we ain’t got all day.”
Later they put out an APB a car salesman named “Tex” Combs, who had fled to - well, you guess. First name Chester. He was arrested in June of the next year, found guilty, and sentenced to “one to 50 years” at Q.
John Barleycorn puts the great lover on the skids:
Word about Barrymore's problems on and off the set spread around the industry, and he did not work on another film for over a year until he had a supporting role in the musical film Maytime. His divorce from Costello was finalized in October 1936, and he married Barrie in November the same year. The couple had a heated argument in public shortly afterward, and he again spent time in Kelley's Rest Home and hospital, which cost him an average of $800 daily, draining his finances.
When he came out, he collapsed on the Maytime set. On January 15, 1937, he was served with divorce papers, and a month later he filed for bankruptcy protection, with debts of $160,000. The divorce was granted in April, but the couple reconciled before it was finalized.
The archetype for the hammy washed-up Great Actah character in radio and TV for decades. But he rallied, cleaned up a bit, and continued on until collapsing in ’42.
The government had forbidden people to talk about “Hidden Taxes.”
Hearst was big on this one. The way taxes boosted the price of things. The Republicans made it a national issue as well, hoping to expose the cost of FDR programs and usher in Alf Langdon, who would help the “Forgotten men and women,” itself a throwback to the post WW1 vet crisis.
I can think of better spokesmen:
Then again, maybe not! His homeliness was part of the routine.
From the YouTube notes:
Rube Wolf is the brother of famous brother and sister production team Fanchon and Marco. Who are best known for live stage shows prior to movies, called "Prologs". The movie Footlight Parade with James Cagney is based largely on Fanchon and Marco.
The Wolf family was very involved in all aspects of the development of early Hollywood. Not only running large scale productions, but also owning the Metropolitan Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. the El Capitan on Hollywood Blvd., as well as many other Fox West Coast Theaters. The Hollywood dance and talent school who's students would go on to become some of Hollywoods biggest stars. See some of the family history and pictures at Fanchonandmarco.com. Fanchon was our grandmother, and Rube and Marco our great uncles.
And now you know about that. Aren't you glad? Every day, somethng to learn.
There you go. Lots of 50s clothing ads today; if I'm going to finish uploading this site by the end of 2022, I'll have to dole them out at twice the usual rate.