The Great Pop Show
The Popular Arts. By Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel. (Hutchinson Educational, 45s.) THIS is another book in the tradition of Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams. It is long, well- produced, and illustrated. One author is a former editor of New Left Review now working in Hoggart's Birmingham University Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. The other is Education Officer at the British Film Institute. Both have taught in secondary modern schools. Together they have produce,d'an extended critical- cum-sociological causerie about films, television, advertising, the mass circulation dailies, toughie novels, and the- various kinds of popular music. The whole is rounded off with a Part on 'Educa- tion,' consisting in a chapter on The Curriculum and the Popular Arts' with seven specimen projects for teaching, and four appendices giving particulars of relevant books, records, films and organisations. There is an index, but the frequent quotations in the text are never furnished with page references.
The first thing to say is that the book is far too long for its contents. That these diffuse subjects can be treated tautly may be seen by comparing such earlier sources as Leavis and Thompson's Culture and Environment or the essays of George Orwell. Had the present authors been compelled, or had they disciplined themselves, to compress they could have produced something more force- ful as well as shorter. An account of the differ- ences between 'Minority Art, Folk Art, and Popular Art' could be both clearer and more persuasive for not being allowed to sprawl out into a twenty-one-page chapter.
The best passages are perhaps the exercises in criticism : such as the comparison between The Bridge on the River Kwai and some more coherently composed war films; or that between the novels of Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, and Raymond Chandler. The worst are the manifesta- tions of New Left ideology. This peeps out occasionally in the criticism : the authors endorse a view of Chaplin's little tramp as 'the victim of mechanisation and capitalism . . . an inhuman order of society'; and the rather comic snobbery of the James Bond cycle is apparently seen as a fault comparable with its calculated sadism. But, typically, it is most prominent in the chapter on advertising.
Advertising 'has become involved with the teaching of social and personal values' (Williams, quoted). 'Cultural attitudes have been mobilised by advertising through our systems of mass communication.' One charge is : 'Advertis- ing contributes to cultural stratification within our society.' This is urged for no better reason than that the advertising for the same product 'will be adapted in style, appeal and sophistication for the appropriate audience.' But it really will not do just to assume that this adaptation is the cause and not the consequence. Nor must it be taken as obvious that our ideal should be a single uniform audience.
Again, examples are given to 'show how journals which are generally considered to be media carrying news, features, opinion, informa- tion, or devoted to specialised hobbies, become transformed into means of selling products and penetrating markets.' Yet these examples are not examples of actual transformations of anything. Instead they consist in quotations from the trade press making claims about the sorts of public you can reach in this journal or in that. It is almost embarrassing to have to insist that the Angling Times does not suddenly cease to be devoted to the specialised hobby of angling, just because you as a manufacturer see it as your way to `Get your hooks into the angling market.' It would be quite hard to find in current newspaper advertising anything to match these two execrable arguments, both presented by professional educators. Don't look now, but surely someone's Clause Faur is showing!
The required reference to alienation also comes in this chapter: 'Implicit in advertising as a communication process ... is the alienation of. the sphere of work from the sphere of consump- tion . . . it cannot see us as users of a common stock of produced goods and services which we both help to create and, in our turn, need.' This ethereal charge surely has no connection with the more familiar, and more substantial, suggestion in the following paragraph; that competitive com- mercial advertising 'has the disadvantage of high- lighting the personal, as against the social, con- sumption of goods and services.' Even .1 the second less esoteric objection had anything to do with the factitious fault of alienation, neither could properly be counted among the 'cultural costs'; which are what we are supposed to be resenting. The present reviewer—obviously a philistine bounder—would like to confess that he himself gets a lot of fun out of competitive advertising; and that this is one of many much more important things the lack of which he de- plores in visiting countries of the 'socialist' bloc.