Friday, March 18, 2016

Show Notes for HMOTD 025: I Feel A Group Hug Building

REMINDER! Please send your questions for our Season 2 wrap-up episode before this weekend to!

4:45 Venus's age: I do feel like the scriptwriters tend to elide things a little bit for the sake of clarity, especially around the main characters' ages. We get Johnny's age of forty.... one back in "The Doctor's Daughter," but in the first season episode "Mama's Review," the Big Guy does indeed say, "I'm 40, where I go is my own business!" And our reaction then, as now with Venus, is that the underlying assumption is that each of them mean "at least" x years of age. Venus really does need to be at least 35 for him to be a scholar of 1950s pop culture as we've discussed elsewhere.

6:10 " know, like Caine in Kung Fu.": Totally self-indulgent callback to our pilot episode where we also sampled Pulp Fiction.

8:30 Venus's outfit, the WREQ set: See title image above, and I'll add this image with the bubble-neon typeface of 'REQ's logo.

SO '80s radio, am I right? Speaking of '80s radio promotional swag, this little exhibit of bumperstickers from KLOS in Los Angeles is pretty great (courtesy our friends at 2 Warps to Neptune, a fantastic blog of '70s and '80s nostalgia you should definitely check out). Also, KMET in Los Angeles, the station that the film FM was based on, had a logo very similar to 'REQ's. Of course you had to display it upside-down, like the billboard.

Also, the WREQ manager, Jason Realli? That's Bernie himself, Terry Kiser, from Weekend at Bernie's.

10:00 Minicomputers: Esteemed historian of technology Robert MacDougall nails it! The minicomputer of the mid-to-late '60s indeed followed up on the mainframe of the late-'50s/early-'60s.

10:23 Megalo Communications/Clear Channel: Apparently Clear Channel itself was a little touchy about its branding in the aftermath of gobbling up 850 local radio stations, so it is now known as iHeartMedia. I feel so loved, don't you?

12:15: No-DJ automated radio: I did hear a station driving through Connecticut, either in the late '90s or early '00s, where there was no banter, no DJs, and actually no commercials, apparently because they were just starting a format change. I think it was from classic rock to "alternative," which in this period meant a lot of nu-metal and tired mid-'90s MOR alterna-rock. But it was unnerving at that point in history to hear just... music coming out of the radio, with only the FCC-mandated identification to break it up.

13:15 WFNX in Boston: Gone but not forgotten. We've talked about what WBCN was to the Boston music scene in the early '70s; I'd argue WFNX, and its sister publication, the late and very much lamented Boston Phoenix, were that to young people in the early '90s. WFNX was the radio station broke Nevermind, for Christ's sake!

13:35 "The Long Tail": This is a term I wasn't familiar with prior to recording this episode. You can see how like many predictive economic or social theories, when the rubber meets the road, especially when it comes to sectors like media that are controlled by four or five huge companies, it often does not hold up.

14:36 Dumb Starbucks: I will admit, using Nathan For You's "Dumb Starbucks" ploy was pretty thin gruel for relating to Rob's Starbucks CD point-of-sale story, but regardless, it does make me giggle. Especially the "we are legally allowed to use the coveted Starbucks name and logo, because we've fulfilled the minimum requirements to be considered a parody under U.S. law" part. *coff coff*

17:35 "How little streaming pays the artists..." One of my favorite bands growing up in Boston in the early '90s was the Blake Babies. Their guitarist, John Strohm, is now an entertainment and music industry lawyer and has spoken up passionately about artists and both the crisis and opportunity offered by the new landscape that the "disruption" of streaming has produced. Check his Twitter for occasional ruminations on this topic.

18:40 et subseq. Affirmative action: A lot to unpack here. Kennedy's coining of the term "affirmative action" came in Executive Order 10925, penned in March 1961, a little over a month into his Presidency. You can actually watch LBJ's Howard University speech in 1965 on YouTube; here's the text. Here is Ta-Nehisi Coates's definitive take on the topic, "The Case For Reparations," which I hinted at in the podcast. I chose Nixon's 1960 campaign commercial on civil rights because its rhetorical positioning of "anti-racism = showing the world we're better than they say/getting one over on Communism" is really interesting. Also, Nixon, as you can imagine, didn't do a lot of press around the 1969 Philadelphia Order. But as Rob says, Mr. Nixon is a slippery, contradictory character. It was hard to admit, as much as we've lionized them, that unions were a part of the white supremacist power structure in the postwar period, but they definitely were.

We did spend a lot of time on this episode on this topic, I freely admit. But I think it's because it's something that this silly little podcast has finally allowed me to see, in some small way. I take this stuff pretty personally. This podcast has led me to take this stuff personally, because the milieu I grew up in and social group that I came out of, the suburban, aspirational, ethnic working-class Reagan Democrats, Nixon's Silent Majority, the hard-hats, whatever... they were responsible electorally and conventional wisdom-wise for so much of what we lost with respect to race relations in the years since 1981, for so much of the movement backwards, for so much of what's happening today with white racial grievance being given new, horrifying life. The dogwhistles have been put away now; Atwater's Southern Strategy rhetorical trajectory has somehow completely reversed itself. And frankly? It's pretty fucking scary.

Editorial mode off. Back (largely) to the sitcom talk.

28:11 Martin Luther King, individualistic vs. collective solutions: MLK in 1963 had that long-present urge to cash the "promissory note" that America's ideals represented; MLK by 1968 had begun looking for bigger, more systemic change and revolution. The rest, as they say, is history.

34:05 Herb's plot as apologia for affirmative action: Sure, I might be reading too much into an inconsequential '70s/'80s sitcom. I got into a conversation on Facebook about this topic and told folks I'd port this comment over to the Show Notes:
My thought about "Venus Rising" being "stealth marketing" for affirmative action and quotas was a touch tongue-in-cheek; I think I can be faulted sometimes for idealizing this period in American history a bit too much. I doubt very much any writer in the WKRP writers room was thinking consciously about doing a sitcom episode that would get working-class whites on board with affirmative action. And yet... sometimes, writers' subconsciouses leak through into what they're working on. Our point about affirmative action being at a level of conventional wisdom past debate in the period from Johnson through Carter stands, as do our thoughts about Herb and Venus being diametric opposites on every level (white/black, square/hip, married/bachelor, uptight/easygoing) and yet making a real connection, an alliance of mutual interest, let's say.
 Also, I can't wait for the Soul Suds episode.

41:00 That long peal of laughter: It was awfully self-indulgent not to edit this out, but I knew I wanted to include in the Show Notes what the studio audience is laughing at in this scene: Venus smirking dubiously at the Big Guy while Johnny has nodded off on the couch:

Check out Venus kicking the urban cowboy look there! It's him and Buck Swope. "It's coming back!"

42:45 Bottle episode: Do I need to define "bottle episode" for all you sitcom aficionados? I figured not, but just to be safe.

46:25 The WKRP family: Thanks again to Michael Kassel for his indispensible tome on WKRP for the Gordon Jump's lasagna anecdote as well as the information on the cast really bonding in their crappy studio at KTLA during Season 1. And thanks to Jaime Weinman for his Frank Bonner quote.

Leah, no pressure on the Gordon Jump lasagna recipe. ;)

48:28 Howard Hesseman a.k.a. Don Sturdy: Here's the TV Guide story I mentioned. I love TV Guide.

49:20 Group dynamics: The group dynamics Wikipedia page is long and discursive but does include nearly every psychologist and industrial designer who contributed to the field.

50:24 Venus suggests mindfulness: We had to cut the bit of the podcast episode where we talk about Venus trying to get everyone to meditate, use visualization, and do what Venus calls "mindfulness." Ahead of his time, that Gordon Sims.

51:03 Esalen: See our Show Notes on "I Want You to Be a Golf Pro" for discussions on Esalen.

51:25 Google ngram on "group hug": Here's the "group hug" ngram:

52:30 Consciousness-raising: Consciousness-raising as a tactic for solidarity is such a powerful idea; it makes me think that other groups in desperate need of a raised consciousness could stand to be part of it.

54:26 The Hawthorne Experiments: The study at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois took place in the 1920s. The Hawthorne study was rediscovered in 1958 and thus the Hawthorne Effect was born in the heat of the Mad Men-era of management. Also, a 99% Invisible podcast on the secret history of the suggestion box might be a good idea.

56:30 Mike's former career: No, I'm not going to name my former employer. But you should check out these articles on toxic employees from a certain Business Review. Apparently, the flavor-of-the-month trend espoused by the Review right now is that you shouldn't hire them in the first place. Okay, good to know, guys. I'd still like to know what you do with the toxic employees you've already hired.

58:35 Primal scream therapy: The Primal Scream is the book, and primal therapy is the method. Primal therapy also involved other early-life experiential forms of therapy like rebirthing.

1:01:30 A Scanner Darkly: New-Path in both the film and original Philip K. Dick book was based on the Synanon spinoff X-Kalay in Vancouver. The method of insulting and abuse that Synanon used to bend their members to the group's will was called "The Game." This long read on Synanon is harrowing and fascinating.

1:03:25 Free love cults in the 19th century: I was specifically thinking of the Oneida Community and their own mutual denunciation ritual called "mutual criticism." I can thank research for my Geist: the Sin-Eaters game set in New England for that little tidbit of knowledge.

1:03:36 Struggle Sessions: The desire to go along with the majority and ostracize the outsider, sometimes unto death, is not unique to religious cults; many of the cults of personality around Communist/totalitarian leaders in the 20th century (including the late Maoism of the Cultural Revolution) feature this tendency as well.

1:04:01: est: est, for my money, is the single most fascinating group to come out of this fertile cross-breeding of the Human Potential Movement, the business world, cults, and the American tendency towards plain old hucksters. Werner Erhard, a.k.a. John Rosenberg, struck sparks at a time and place that was ready to receive his message of self-realization through abnegation. est was also a very controversial group with a lot of practices that bordered on cult behaviors: denying seminar attendees access to restrooms, long periods of self-study and public confession, and the aforementioned public confrontations.

That didn't stop est from being one of the biggest self-help groups in America during the WKRP period; the list of Hollywood stars who pledged their names to the organization is immense. The 1991 60 Minutes report whose introduction I use in this section is now samizdat; banned by legal action on behalf of Erhard, it exists now only on Wikileaks. You can find it there if you wish to watch.

est in pop culture, well, The Americans is a big one, but there's also the 1977 movie Semi-Tough, which includes an organization called "B.E.A.T." Semi-Tough starred our old friend... Burt Reynolds!


  1. I suspect that ngram is just going to melt into the ground once is factors in how often "group hug" is said in "Fuller House."

  2. There is a terrific example/parody of the "insult therapy" you discuss in the 1983 movie, "Local Hero." The oil company executive, Mr. Happer (Burt Lancaster), hires a therapist to surprise and confront him with insults.