The Spike or Victoria College Review 1937
Radio, Commerce, and Evolution
Radio, Commerce, and Evolution
Commercial broadcasting has hit us. It has hit us harder than anything since the talkies, and like the talkies it has pulled our little world to pieces. Critics are indignant but powerless among the wreckage. An early decline of the new Monstrosity is confidently predicted, but never arrives. Meanwhile, ninety-nine radios in every hundred pour forth hour upon hour of carefully arranged amusement and education—in what to buy and where to go for it. And the barbarians are tickled to death while they sit on the ruins of Rome and twiddle their dials.
Here is a new world of art. where merit is measured by salesmanship and artistry means "sales-punch." Where new ideas and experimental forms are dutifully avoided by business men anxious to give the public "what it wants."
Naturally, for new forms are dangerous and no advertiser with his perception dulled by the grime of commerce can be expected to share the author's faith in his experiment. They forget, too. that the Public never knows "what it wants" till it gets it.
Meanwhile the author of broadcast works has no direct avenue of contact with his listeners; they must take him, secondhand, at the dictation of one whose interest is neither art nor its public, but the sales return for patent medicines.
Small wonder that our betters are indignant. Superior people sneer. In commercial broadcasting are perpetuated the worst evils of Capitalism, they cry. Radio has come back to the people, interjects a lowbrow.
Somebody murmurs something about sordid commercialism, and goes on talking through the dinner music. Superior people continue sneering.
Unfortunately this leads nowhere. We are tilting at a windmill which we cannot even see properly because it is essentially a part of us. The irritating fact is that notwithstanding our much-vaunted consciousness of self we still don't know what we look like. If we examine the age critically, our judgments are on those aspects of the regime against which we are in revolt—not on ourselves. Whether we like it or not, commercial broadcasting is a part of social evolution under the existing system; and criticism is a waste of time. It is inevitable, as progress comes often by a series of shocks, that many will be shocked into violent protest at the idea of Bach's divine harmonies being linked with the name of somebody's insect powder. Not that they ever cared for Bach themselves, or had any use for insect powder. Still, classics and insect-powder don't mix.
Perhaps fortunately for such people. New Zealand has made no attempt to make them mix; as yet there is little on the sponsored programmes which could possibly be defiled by association with honest merchandise. But the United States, many years our senior in this avenue of experience, is making them mix very well.
We feel that shocks are unjustified. If the public listens and feels no incongruity, the triumph is their's—and Bach's; and the insect-powder remains, for its sponsors have found that Art is alive and more interesting to John Citizen than insect-powder. Otherwise there would be no advertising value in Art.
It may be that Broadcasting has been given the chance of its lifetime. Like literature and the stage in all ages, Radio must now talk to the public instead of to itself. It must please its public and stand as much on its own merits as a play or a novel. Great plays and great novels have thrived in all ages. Artistically, the talkies have grown up fast. The necessity for public approval may have hampered some aspects of their development, but it has toughened them, too.
So may the art of Radio produce its master-pieces when the struggle for life in a commercial setting has hardened its genius into a robust plant, stout in all weathers and as lofty as human genius must eventually push all its members. Thus in the long run does farce become glory, the ridiculous sublime.
But what of us who live in the short run? The days of adjustment are painful. Commercial broadcasting has hit us—hard. So let us accept the fact with a broad generosity and patience as the will of Progress. Then tune our sets to 2Ya.