This exert is from David Holbrook’s essay Magazines – with special reference to the exploitation of pseudo-sexuality, that was part of the Pelican sociology book Discrimination and Popular Culture, 1973.
People travel vast distances to work (and on the journey they read manic journals and magazines, which supply them with sensations). They move from one meaningless sprawl to another, for the inner city environments become increasingly impersonal and ugly. There, they are largely engaged in meaningless tasks, which offer them no sense of personal value. They are offered relief from the meaninglessness of their work and environment by office flirtations, pin-up and pop-singer cults, film and television talk, cosmetic and fashion preoccupations.
As Denise Levertov writes:
In tiled and fireproof corridors
the typists shelter in their sex;
perking beside the half-cock clerks
they set a curl on freckled necks.
The formal bird above the doors
is set in metal whorls of flame.
The train goes aching on its rails.
Its rising cry of steel and wheels
intolerably comes, and fails
on walls immaculate and dumb.
Comptometers and calculators
compute the frequency of fires,
adduce the risk, add up the years.
Drawn by late-afternoon desires
the poles of mind meet lust’s equators…
(Typists in the Phoenix Building)
On such pursuits the modern office or factory worker often spends a disproportionate amount of income, in a desperate search for a sense of identity and meaning. Yet, as we know, people also yearn for much more exacting, or romantic, or challenging opportunities – as youth does especially. At home, the mother, alone in her comfortable, efficient, and hygienic living-box, often suffers from isolation, frustration, and boredom. She has few opportunities to find something meaningful to which to devote her life, beyond herself. As the suburban dweller ranges farther out from the city centre the tedium and strain of commuter travel and the lack of meaning in his work and lesiure – all threaten him with dehumanizaton. So, he bravely tries to find meaning in his family life, or in what social life he can find, amid the deficiency of provision for creative leisure, or service or ‘giving out’. But his life tends all the time to make it more and more difficult to find individuality, humaness and meaning, and this schizoid dehumanization is felt increasngly in all the great populations of suburban sprawls from Tokyo to Greater London.
In such cultural deserts the periodical press can only superficially and temporarily relieve the cultural starvation of the population at large. The first Daily Mail speaks in an editorial of being designed for commuter travel, in 1890. Since then, increasingly, the mass media have educated us to believe that the solution to the problem of life is through the acquisition of personal possessions and sensations, and implicitly, that an acquisitive attitude to all experience is a valid one. That we find the point of life through acquiring things or even experiences is a lie, and it is this deceit implicit in popular commercial entertainment which makes it nihilistic in effect, by contrast with the true arts and live entertainment.