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The Glass Teat


by Harlan Ellison

isbn: 0441289886
subject: Nonfiction, Media
finished: 1/18/2001

This is a collection of columns about television and its relationship to American society that Ellison wrote for The Los Angeles Free Press between 1968 and 1970. It's good in some ways and bad in others. Starting with the bad, it's fairly dated: Harlan hips us to lots of facts and gives some shows a bum-rap -- did anyone actually write like this, even in 1969? Also, most of the shows, writers, actors, and actresses he discusses are long forgotten, and the assumption that conflict between The Man and the people should be a primary factor in most people's lives has not aged well.

On the other hand, The Glass Teat is more than a curiosity. Ellison comments on (and was present at) some of the pivotal events of the 1960s, and he was rightly outraged by the things that were going on. What he wrote was scary (or insulting) enough to certain people that this book was actively suppressed during the early 1970s. That alone doesn't make it worth reading, but it does indicate that there may be something to what he said.

The characteristics of television shows that Ellison criticizes: the idiotic plots, the insulting stereotypes, the pandering to the lowest common denominator -- everything about the weird alternate universe that sits on the other side of the tube -- are still perfectly applicable. It's pretty safe to say that television hasn't gotten a whole lot better during the last 30 years (although it doesn't seem to have gotten much worse, either). To summarize, there's quite a bit of interesting, amusing, and provocative writing in this book, surrounded by enough dated and irrelevant material to make it somewhat irritating to read.

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copyright © 2001 John Regehr