YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 9, 2016

Is the Nature-Nurture debate over?

stress_general_shutterstock-ollyy_0This blog is about an alarming turn toward the legitimation of “race” and “ethnicity” as the prime influences on “personality.”

Are you fascinated with genealogy, particularly the ethnicity of your ancestors? (See the popularity of Ancestry.com commercials, where “ancestry” seems to 1. Have replaced American melting-pot identity; and 2. reinforced the notion of “ethnicity” or “race” as the primary components of “personality”; and 3. ignored the sociopolitical and economic sources of “stress” and depression, as if political polarization was not operating on individuals apart from diet, exercise, and positive thinking. (See https://clarespark.com/2015/12/16/the-depression-grand-challenge-ucla-style/)

It was not always the case that variants of “multiculturalism” dominated our own self-images. It was assumed by such as E. O. Wilson (a Harvard professor) that the Nature-Nurture controversy was controversial, and our term paper assignments included taking the side of either those who believed in the inheritance of “innate” characteristics or those who believed that “acquired characteristics” were determinative of behavior. I should have smelled a rat, for I had been under the [outdated] impression that it was impossible to separate the “innate” from the “acquired.” I still believe that, despite the relatively recent field of “epigenetics” that subtly may favor “social engineering” while appearing to resolve the Nature-Nurture controversy. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics; http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/180963-lamarcks-revenge-the-epigenetics-revolution-may-redeem-one-of-darwins-oldest-rivals.)

This is no small academic point, for some sociobiologists have quietly been reinforcing the notion of biological determinism, once discredited as invented by 19th century racists. (This is the subject of hot controversy, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociobiology.)

Can a recrudescence of Social Darwinism, with its appeal to Nature over Nurture, be far behind? Ask any populist. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Darwinism.)



July 7, 2011

“Network” and its offspring

Ned Beatty as "Arthur Jensen"

On July 4, 2011, comedian Conan O’Brian picked the movie Network (1976) as the feature film for Turner Classic Movies.  It has been lauded as a prefiguration of “reality television” (and, I gather, a major cause  of the dumbing down of American and world culture). This was probably the third time I had seen the movie, but the first time that it bothered me as a counter-culture and antimodern script, following a strong tendency in post-WW2 America to blame the rise of Nazism on mass culture and its susceptibility to technological advances—advances that only enhanced the power of demagogues such as Hitler and Mussolini—themselves the stooges of hidebound big industry/ finance capital.

Paddy Chayefsky was the script-writer of Network. In one interview, he said that his friend Budd Schulberg’s previous movie, A Face in the Crowd, made it possible to write Network. (Chayefsky also wrote the teleplay for Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run.) We may now add the names of Chayefsky, Schulberg, the Frankfurt School of critical theorists, and Friedrich Meinecke to the network of those intellectuals attributing the rise of Hitler to mass media (particularly to radio); i.e., to “the revolt of the masses.” I have written about such claims here (https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/;* and here: https://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/).   (I have not written about such counter-culture authors as Gerry Mander or Jacques Ellul or Ivan Illich, or Theodore Roszak, whose stars have dimmed.)

I was particularly interested in the naming of the movie’s arch-villain “Arthur Jensen” for that is the name of a geneticist who, it is said, is a downright white supremacist, along with a cohort that includes Richard Herrnstein, J. Philippe Rushton, Charles Murray, and others who aroused the ire of the Left and New Left. Since Jensen’s work was already known and controverted in the 1960s and 1970s by such left or liberal luminaries as Harvard professors Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lowentin , I gather that the name selected for the head of the mega-corporation that controlled the fictional network in the movie, was no accident. Moreover, “Arthur Jensen” invites “Howard Beale” into a conference room that Jensen describes as “Valhalla.” The connection between Nazism and globalization could not have been made more clear.

Although Network was released decades ago, its analysis of the decline of our political culture, particularly the destruction of the individual as a human being, may remain timely. One aspiring academic (a Ph.D. Candidate  in American Studies and  Film Studies has called for papers at an upcoming conference titled “On Television.” Here is the call for papers as issued by  Claudia Calhoun at Yale U. It was posted on the Humanities Net for American Studies.

From: Claudia Calhoun <claudia.calhoun@yale.edu>

Date: Sat, Jul 2, 2011 at 6:03 PM

On Television

Yale University

February 3-4, 2012

We all watch television. But in this moment of dispersed and fragmented viewership, we all engage with television differently: as an entertainment medium, a home appliance, a range of program content, a
description of viewing behavior, a set of technologies, a media industry, and a means for collective social experiences. Both technological platform and cultural form, television sits at the intersection of a number of humanities and social science disciplines. As observers of — and participants in — this contemporary moment, we are compelled to ask: What makes television television?

This conference will address contemporary trends in the field of television studies and reconsider the historical currents that inform our understandings of the present and prospective future of the medium.
Proposed topics include:

– the changing contexts of production and issues of labor

– the politics of television

– aesthetic and formal responses to the changing
landscape of programming

– television as a national and transnational space

– theorizing contemporary television

– the place of “television studies” in a new
media context. [end, excerpt from CFP]

It would not be surprising if the same generational angst that produced Network, will be visible in some of the papers accepted for the Yale conference. If so, we can expect the same dim view that Schulberg and Chayefsky took of the new dehumanizing techniques that (racist) global corporations had inflicted upon an unwary public mind, defeating true artists such as themselves–always looking out for the little guy.

* What follows is the material on Schulberg that possibly inspired Chayefsky, included in a prior blog:

“As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, both anathematized for “naming names”  are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven them into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left. In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan  professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians.

Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People):  “You made me, Marcia.  You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.”  Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e.,quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:]  “It was the sound man.  I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].”  [Marcia:] “It was me.”  The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”)  [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in.  But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.”  Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and the muckraker depart:  “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.” That Marcia destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg (2001), where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase).” [end, excerpt from my blog “Perceptions of the Enemy….”]

For a New York Public Library short biography of Chayefsky, see http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/archivalcollections/pdf/thechaye.pdf.

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