[Santayana, Walter Lippman, and broadcasting]

Sunday, November 27, 1955

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Seldes discusses a letter wherein George Santayana said to Van Wyke Brooks that it is art museums that make America impotent. "The good things are football, kindness and jazz bands." That was before broadcasting. Preferred European culture to American culture. Most extraordinary is the jazz bands. Seldes wonders what did Santayana know about jazz bands, since he left the U.S. around 1912 or 1913. It was not possible to sell religion - commercial approach was not useful. Not only can you sell commodities, you can sell ideas. From an address by Walter Lippman, "The inner principle of a free and democratic society is that the decisions of government are made with the consent of the governed, and that this consent is not to be manufactured; it is to be reached by continuing, rational debate." Seldes says that consent is constantly being manufactured. Consent that we have to live at a certain level. To the idea that a product is better than another. To the idea that one political party is better than another. When you have manufactured consent to one side completely, you get the tyrannical state. Talks about book by Edward Bernays called "The Engineering of Consent." Basic principle: can and must get the consent of people by scientific methods. Public relations and art of persuasion. Advertising and billboards. The minute anyone discusses advertising, he ceases to be the one whom the advertising was directed. They become skeptical and beyond the reach of the simplest kind of advertising. When we don't like an idea, we call it propaganda; when we do like it, we call it a logical presentation of the truth. Radio Free Europe. Where are the exact limits of complete freedom of speech? Are you going to permit the manipulation of the public? Are we going to allow the consent of the governed to be manufactured? We don't know. Popularity of giveaway programs in Great Britain like Take Your Pick and Double Your Money. BBC is forbidden from discussing any pending subject of legislation. Similar practice in Canada. The consent which we think we give as a result of using our minds is more often the result of a skillful manipulation of our emotions.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 70375
Municipal archives id: LT6570

Hosted by:

Gilbert Seldes


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About Lively Arts, The

Legendary critic and author of The Seven Lively Arts Gilbert Seldes discusses big-thinking issues in art and life from his characteristically populist perspective.

Simultaneously a timely and visionary program, Gilbert Seldes's The Lively Arts (1953-1956) examines contemporary issues of 1950s television, radio, and theater, as well as current events and the intellectual arts. Seldes, who was the first Director for Television at CBS News and the founding Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, was also a renowned critic, author, playwright, and editor. As a major social critic and observer, Seldes viewed theater, television, and radio with a prescient eye to the future based on a well-informed understanding of the past. 

These programs feature commentary and discussion on a wide range of topics — from sex and censorship in the movies to progressive education to juvenile delinquency to political campaigning on television — many of which are still hotly debated today. Serving as a precursor to Seldes's television programs and providing an audio context for his seminal books, this show is key to understanding today's cultural commentary.


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