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The Other Glass Teat
The Harlan Ellison Collection
By Harlan Ellison
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2011 The Kilimanjaro Corporation
All rights reserved.
53: 13 FEBRUARY 70
Shotgun week. Random thoughts on some randy topics.
I always like to know if the men whose criticism I read are beyond corruption, above reproach, out of reach of their own base desires and greeds. I think you'd like to know that about me, as well. So to put your mind at rest, be advised: I can be had. (In fact, I'm such an easy lay, I don't understand why I don't get more dates. But, be that as it may ...) How many other critics do you know who'll own up to being corruptible?
I mention this, because I'm going to make some remarks about a new ABC situation comedy, Nanny and the Professor, and I want you to know out front that I met and had lunch at 20th with the star, Ms. Juliet Mills, and she is a stunner. She is English, which gives her a runaway head start with me ... as friends who know my ladyfriend, Louise, will tell you. But she is also reserved, witty, charming, totally professional, and an Actress with the cap A who speaks about having been on the London stage but doesn't lumber the listener with hideous starlet talk about her agent, her parts, her dressing room, her likes and dislikes in show biz, ad nauseam. From all this you may gather that I found Ms. Mills (who is related by birth to John and Hayley and that whole crowd, but who need borrow no credentials from any of them) quite the winner.
And from that you may understand my distress at having to report that Nanny and the Professor is about as nitwitty a piece of persiflage as I've been forced to watch in many a season. I think, for dumbness, it even rivals The Good Guys, Gomer Pyle, and Gilligan's Island. But it isn't quite as bad as The Lucy Show—only because one has Ms. Mills and the other has Lucy.
The situation is a widower, a physics professor, played by Richard Long (whose range of emotions in this show flings itself from boredom to bemusement), with three little moppets, and an English "nanny" with claims to metaphysical/supernatural/leprechaun-type powers. Mr. Long does what he is required to do, and tries very hard not to look like a man about to get an enema with a thermite bomb. He, like Ms. Mills, is a professional, and we should sometime dwell on the horrors through which we put our competent, craftsmanlike actors. It must be a dreadful life they lead, succored only by the nice green money people give them.
So. Ms. Mills and Mr. Long. They're fine, acting-wise. But those three no-neck monsters, and their moronic dog, are quite another can of worms.
One cannot blame the kids. Several years ago I knew a young married couple who had a sweet child, a blond and blue-eyed moppet in whom they had dumped all their dreams and hopes. This lad had the singular and charming habit of coming downstairs during his parents' frequent parties, standing in the center of the room where he could drink in all the attention, and announcing in a voice frighteningly like that of Walter Brennan, "I have a pee-pee!" He would then whip out of his Dr. Denton's a pee-pee-sized penis and piss all over the rug. Well, sir, may I tell you that the first time it happened, I was a bit startled. But, being a true liberal, I shrugged and mumbled something about the kid's doing his thing ... or doing it with his thing ... or something ... and went back to whatever conversation it was I'd been having before the interruption. On subsequent occasions, I must say the novelty of the act wore off. It was like your second or third exposure to Jerry Lewis. (I know of few rational people who can report having had a fourth.) But the tot's parents thought it was a wonderful expression of the child's individuality and cleverness and perceptions about his own body and bodily functions. And they applauded wildly every time he did it. Maybe they were right; I don't know. All I do know is that the first time the kid missed, and scored my pant leg, I stopped accepting invites to their brawls.
Let the little ankle-snapper express his individuality on somebody else's pant leg. Which, of course, is the point about the kids on Nanny and the Professor. Let the little darlings express their individuality, their cuddlesomeness, their precociousness on somebody else's television tube. Because, all shilly-shallying aside, they make my gorge become buoyant.
And if you add three lovable urchins to plots devised by a gaggle of waterheads, you have what is unquestionably the lowest point in tv programming this year, and in many years of recent memory.
Please, someone, won't you build a new series around Ms. Mills? She's really lovely, and she can act, and her accent is trilling, and she even ate my avocado so it wouldn't go to waste. Now that is a lady.
Onward and downward. George Hamilton. Paris 7000. The Hee Haw of the dramatic shows. ABC has a positive penchant for masochism.
Of all the things to save from The Survivors (and I don't know about you, babies, but I break up and fall down twitching when I think of the irony of that title), why ABC had to save old taciturn George is beyond me. The only difference between his character on the former show and his character on this one is that he let his hair grow longer.
If ever there was a no-talent, it is George Hamilton. He walks like a man who has just gotten his peg leg caught in a knothole. His face shows every subterranean bit of dissipation in which he's ever indulged. His sloe-eyed and supposedly sexy glances merely register as heartburn. And if the word "actor" should ever be applied to him by anyone but a studio PR man, the offending semanticist should be taken out, put in the stocks, and flayed alive.
Well, dammit, there goes another hour of primetime. But I certainly am getting a lot more books read these days.
Two weeks ago (in THE GLASS TEAT), on the occasion of the birth of a two-headed calf, I made some passing remarks about war, the love of glory on the battlefield that drenches this country, the way we substitute war games like football for the real thing, and tsk-tsk'd the whole affair.
The other night I saw the film Patton, and I recommend it highly to left- and right-wingers alike. It manages to walk a line of ambivalence that should pleasure both extremes, if you can conceive of such a thing. It at one and the same time provides a portrait of General George Patton as a megalomaniacal, psychopathic war-lover whose comment, "Next to war, all other endeavors of man pale into insignificance," sums him up just nicely thank you—and provides superpatriots in the audience with the opportunity to see him as the instrument of a great American Destiny, destroying our enemies and bringing us to the greater heights of nobility through destruction.
That film, and a segment on First Tuesday dealing with the basketball mania in Galesburg, Illinois, coupled with a documentary earlier that week called The Day They Closed Down the Schools, made a tidy little object-lesson package in my mind about the gullibility of the American People. (You'll forgive me for belaboring the poor American People so regularly, friends, but there just ain't no one else around this country these days.)
I'm reminded of the Romans, in the Gibbonesque days of decline that civilization knew. The people closed their eyes to all manner of really ugly things like slavery, butchery, contamination, violence, and the debasement of the individual, chiefly because they had bread and circuses. You're hip to bread and circuses, of course. Toss a few zealots to the crocs, or let the Nubians battle the Sumatran panthers with toothpicks, and the crowd goes cuddly with joy.
Have you ever thought to compare basketball and football and the antics of Bob Hope to bread and circuses?
Now I dig pro football a lot, and Hope even makes me smile sometimes, but when I think that the schlepps in Galesburg, Illinois, keep putting gold stars up in their windows and can't find anything better to worry about than whether or not they get a season pass to the ball game ... well, I begin to think about the last days of the Roman Empire, and I have ghastly visions of Spiro Agnew in the window of the White House, tootling on a harmonica while the land of the free and the home of the brave goes up in a pillar of smoke.
But, then, what more than cynicism can you expect from a dude who hates cute little kids?CHAPTER 2
54: 20 FEBRUARY 70
Hello, there, this is your friendly neighborhood astronaut, Scodd Carbindur, coming to you directly (blewp-bleep) from a small corner-set in back of sound stage 17 at Universal City Studios (bleep) with some startling news about the greatest digestive breakthrough since antacid. Now, the Standard Gastric Company of California has pioneered in wind-breakage pollution emission, an amazing additive that virtually removes all odor from fundament leakage.
As you see behind me here, a clear balloon was attached to the exhaust aperture of Sidney J. Partridge, the 345-pound fat man on the dais. Mr. Partridge has been eating baked beans, tuna fish salad and egg salad sandwiches, veal parmigiana, and drinking beer by the pitcher—under controlled research-lab conditions—for over two thousand hours. The balloon, as you can see, has filled with dirty exhaust emissions, causing the hideous green fog that swirls inside the clear container. A graphic example of how backside emissions from clogged systems go into the air, cause unseemly odors, and waste human performance.
But! After dropping only six gutfuls of FAR-10, Standard's new wonder additive, here is Sidney J. Partridge with a similar balloon attached to what we in the emission game call the tuchis. The balloon remains clear! No dirty green smoke. No debilitating odor. Proof positive that Standard gastrics with FAR-10 turn dirty people into good clean producers.
Blewp-bleep. Blewp-beep. Ssssssss ...
Mr. Nixon, Mr. Agnew, Mayor Daley, and Judge Julius Hoffman don't understand. They can't figure out why the kids in this country weren't conned by campaign bullshit, by the Big Lie that the cops in the Chicago Riots were not brutal, that the Democratic and Republican conventions were on the up-and-up, that the Conspiracy Trial is a reaffirmation of the validity of Establishment justice. They can't figure out why all the obfuscations and lies they've always used should suddenly fall flat and produce a credibility gap only slightly smaller than the distance from here to Proxima Centauri.
The old men don't really understand what television has done for and to young people in this country for the past eighteen years. They can't grasp the concept that kids have been watching commercials on tv that promise to sweeten this or brighten that or knit up the raveled sleeve of care with such&such. They can't orient themselves to the reality that young people now reach puberty with a built-in avoidance circuit in their logic equipment. The hard sell and the Big Lie don't work on them. They've tried Dial Soap and still couldn't get laid, so they know that most presentations intended to hustle them into buying something or believing something are nothing more than dumb show.
And the kids' reaction is interesting.
They don't mind Agnew or Procter & Gamble or Daley or Liggett & Myers thinking they're stupid, but they do resent being talked to as though they were stupid. Ergo, they simply ain't buying no more bullshit product, whether it be the sanctity of the Silent Majority or hypo-allergenic toilet paper.
Unfortunately, the reaction-formation of avoidance to television commercials becomes a hang-up when we need the product. Case in point, Standard Oil Company's new F-310 gas additive that "sharply reduces exhaust emissions from internal combustion engines that cause air pollution."
Blewp-bleep, friends. I find myself in the ominous position of being a huckster for one of the largest oil companies in the world. But maybe you know me well enough by now, in this the second year of the column, to know I would not willingly shill for one of the Powers, unless it seemed important.
And I'm doing this salesman shtick because it seems to me that the Chevron gas commercials are such a turn-off, with their tame astronaut and his big gas balloon, that too many people are saying screw it and continuing to buy the cheaper gases. Let me give you a f'rinstance.
Friend of mine, helluva writer, guy who is always writing articles in magazines and underground newspapers about the imperiled state of the nation ... this friend of mine, and Ed Bryant, the demon writer from Wheatland, Wyoming; the three of us were sitting around rapping one night a few weeks ago, and I began saying how great it was that one of the oil companies had finally done something and how I was using Chevron gas exclusively. I idly asked this friend of mine if he had gotten turned on to the F-310 thing, and he said something to the effect that it was a shuck, he didn't give a damn, and he was saving about six cents a gallon by buying one of the other brands, whichever one was cheapest in the gas war. I confess it turned me off him for a moment.
But then, Ed Bryant said the same thing.
I was amazed. "How can you guys write what you write, spout all those noble thoughts about improving humanity's lot, and when it comes down to something as insignificant as six cents on a gallon, you don't give a damn?"
That was when I got the barrage: (1) It was all a lie. (2) What did it matter if we stopped emission from our cars if the big companies still poured out all that smog? (3) The government should force Standard Oil to give the secret formula to all the refineries. (4) Chevron had raised its price and why should we make Standard rich to do something that was ineffectual anyhow?
The basis for Ed Bryant's avoidance of Chevron gas was the commercials he had seen. They didn't actually come right out and say CHEVRON GAS STOPS POLLUTION. They talked around it, and hyped the sell with how much better your mileage would be. My other friend said the commercials were a cheap come-on and Chevron was no better than any other gas.
I took the position that even if it didn't work, even if it was a righteous fraud, on the chance that it did work we should support it till we found out it was worthless. I said it was in the nature of personal responsibility for not only ourselves, but others living in the city, this country, and by extension everyone on the planet. They laughed at me.
They rationalized it all away, and said the saving of pennies was more important. These were close friends of mine. Guys I'd heard bemoan all the evils of which I've spoken in this column in THE GLASS TEAT (though my nameless friend averred he didn't care about the ecological problem, that it was a "safe" political toy for Nixon, who was using it to take our minds off more important matters). (I won't deny that, incidentally; I'm sure Nixon is using it for just that purpose, but for once his interests and ours coincide, so it becomes only another rationalization on my friend's part.) And when it came right down to the bottom line, to the place where they could do something, no matter how small and ineffectual, instead of just shooting off their mouths like all parlor liberals, they found a million dumb reasons why it wasn't worth it.
You know: the kind of thinking that always has people who don't care or want to stall integration saying, "Bussing isn't the way." But they have no other solution to offer. It's always not good enough, or too complex, or some other exit from the reality of getting it on.
The core of the question was: does the gas do what it seems to say it does—that is, sharply reduce the pollutants a car produces?
I got Ed Bryant around to the position where he admitted if I could produce evidence to satisfy him that the gas did it, he'd start using it.
So the next day I called W. J. Murphy, public relations counsel for the Western Operations Division of Standard Oil Co. of California. I told him I was going to write this column, one way or the other. If he could convince me it did the job, I'd try and sell his gas for him. But if it was just bullshit advertising again, I'd 'dobe-wall him.
He sent me a press kit with photographs of the research experiments, with facts and figures, with reports from Scott Laboratories, who tested the gasoline for more than 250,000 miles, "using various makes of late model cars and several different grades of fuels and lubricants."
Excerpted from The Other Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 2011 The Kilimanjaro Corporation. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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