Duke University Alumni Magazine


Media Marathon: A Twentieth-Century Memoir

By Erik Barnouw. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 282 pp. $22.95


f media critic Erik Barnouw were asked to write a list of his favorite aphorisms, he might begin with "the political is personal." Media Marathon: A Twentieth-Century Memoir weaves Barnouw's lives as actor, radio director, historian, writer, and professor into a personal, political media tapestry. By devoting each chapter to a different person, from writer Joshua Logan to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Barnouw continually reminds the reader that individuals comprise history and that history, like its constituents, moves unpredictably.

     While Barnouw's memoir hardly constitutes a narrative of disillusionment, it nevertheless charts an increasing personal and shared cultural awareness of the political implications of the media. The book repeatedly returns to the relationship between illusion and the media: Barnouw, who wrote The Magician and the Cinema, notes that in the 1790s magicians anticipated film by projecting images onto smoke, in a sense lighting the fires that ultimately consumed live performance.

     Smoky illusions again emerged during Barnouw's stint as program director of the R.J. Reynolds Camel Quarter Hour. During a radio tour of thirteen U.S. cities, Barnouw and his performers (Tony Wons and Morton Downey) found themselves seduced by their own success. Although the Quarter Hour targeted in the Twenties the untapped market of women who smoke, Barnouw and his colleagues thought in terms of entertainment rather than ethics. As he notes, "To any larger implications, we were as oblivious as our audience. The obliviousness was a gold mine...." At the time, because health data on smoking were not widely available, this obliviousness was understandable. Nevertheless, the culpability of the media increased as ignorance became less plausible. After the U.S. ban on cigarette broadcast advertising, tobacco companies moved on to the Asian markets and, despite health findings, remained jubilant over export statistics. As with the Camel Quarter Hour, the success of the media campaign, measured by audience sizeand appreciation, fueled the smoke machine.

     As Barnouw's media involvement led to more commercialized and widely-distributed programming, his concern with its connections to illusion increased. While working on his Indian film project, Barnouw considered the power of Indian film on Indian politics and even Indian religion. (The actor N.T. Rama Rao was so identified with Indian mythology that religious calendars began depicting gods in his image.) Barnouw concludes the chapter by questioning illusion's power; he is no longer merely dazzled by the smoke of his own machine: "[I]n an era so dominated by images of film and television, I found myself less and less sure what 'democracy' meant. Could democracy survive the new-age democratic procedures?" Barnouw's question might make a useful starting point for broadcast journalists and pundits covering this American presidential election.

     As an archivist and international adventurer, he fully appreciates the positive contributions of technology to communications; he also recognizes the potential of technology to render "democracy" and "market forces" interchangeable. In retrospect, Barnouw remains a conflicted participant. He prides himself on his political work, which includes a Hiroshima documentary containing previously government-suppressed footage of bomb victims and several constitutional law documentaries. Yet, despite his almost seventy-year involvement with the media, Barnouw admits to feeling swept away by the "overwhelming tide" of mass communication.

     Barnouw is able to be provocative without belaboring the point and to entertain while informing. Although he has arranged this memoir chronologically, beginning with his early forays into drama and then progressing into his film involvements, each chapter reads comprehensively like its own little world. This work withstands browsing, allowing readers to dip into Tallulah Bankhead before backtracking to child star Billy Halop. Equally enjoyable are interesting morsels of historical trivia, such as the failed introduction of camels into the American western desert. Barnouw also offers an insightful look at Tony Wons, a pre-Oprah radio personality who garnered a huge following reading poems and philosophizing over the air. His female audience listened, swooned, wrote in, and smoked, proving that psychological seduction predates the media's shift towards the visual.

     Whether discussing the complexities of making law documentaries, J. Edgar Hoover's influence on the granting of FCC licenses, or actors' temperamental quirks, Barnouw eloquently demonstrates his memoir's underlying theme: To communicate, whether individually or en masse, gives lives shape and, ultimately, significance. How great, then, the responsibility of those who would speak.

--Lisa Lebduska

Lebduska '84 is a freelance writer living in Rhode Island.


From People's War to People's Rule: Insurgency, Intervention, and the Lessons of Vietnam

By Timothy Lomperis Ph.D. '81. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. 456 pp. $45.95 cloth; $17.95 paper.

A Vietnam expert and former Duke professor who now teaches political science at the United States Military Academy, Lomperis proposes a comparison of the Vietnam experience with seven other cases of Western intervention in communist insurgencies during the Cold War era: China, Indochina, Greece, the Philippines, Malaya, Cambodia, and Laos.



"You Have Stepped Out of Your Place": A History of Women and Religion in America

By Susan Hill Lindley Ph.D. '74. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 500 pp. $35.

Lindley chronicles the struggles and successes of scores of American women who, beginning with Puritan Anne Hutchinson, have challenged the subordinate roles assigned to them by their families, churches, and society in defiance of the presumed divine sanction for their subordination.



Talking Gender: Public Images, Personal Journeys, and Political Critiques

Edited by Nancy Hewitt, Jean O'Barr, and Nancy Rosebaugh. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. 205 pp. $39.95 cloth; $16.95 paper.

This anthology, compiled by Duke Women's Studies director O'Barr, Women's Studies coordinator Rosebaugh M.Div. '80, and history professor Hewitt, is the result of a lecture series organized by Hewitt to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the program at the university. It features an afterword by author Sara Evans '66, A.M. '68, a history professor at the University of Minnesota.



The Beauty That Saves: Essays on Aesthetics and Language in Simone Weil

Edited by John M. Dunaway Ph.D '67, A.M. '71, Ph.D. '72 and Eric O. Springsted. Macon: Mercer University Press. 229 pp. $35.

Weil has made notable and striking contributions to twentieth-century philosophy, theology, and political thought. This book discusses her explicit reflections on language and aesthetics, seeks out her own aesthetic, and includes several Weilan readings of literature, music, and art.



Strange New Land: African Americans, 1617-1776

By Peter Wood. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 125 pp.

History professor Wood wrote volume two of the eleven-volume collection The Young Oxford History of African Americans. His illustrated book traces the terrible human costs of institutionalized slavery in the New World colonies of England and Spain in the years between Jamestown and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, and early forms of rebellion against the slave system.



The Corinthian Body

By Dale B. Martin. New Haven: Yale University Press. 330 pp. $35.

In this discussion of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, the Duke religion professor contends that Paul's various disagreements with the Corinthians were the result of a fundamental conflict over the ideological construction of the human body.



The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860

By John Hope Franklin. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. 275 pp. $12.95 paper.

Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, shows in the paperback version of his landmark first book, published in 1943, that freed slaves in the antebellum South did not enjoy full rights of citizenship. Even in North Carolina, reputedly more liberal than most Southern states, discriminatory laws became so harsh that many voluntarily returned to slavery.



Exploring the Gospel of John; In Honor of D. Moody Smith

Edited by R. Alan Culpepper Ph.D. '74 and C. Clifton Black Ph.D. '86. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 488 pp. $42.

This collection of essays honors one of the most outstanding Johannine scholars of our time. "A Ômust' for those interested in the Fourth Gospel," writes Raymond E. Brown, Auburn Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Union Theological Seminary. The book celebrates the sixty-fifth birthday of Smith B.D. '57, professor of New Testament at Duke.



Cheap Ticket to Heaven

By Charlie Smith '71. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 336 pp. $25.

In his fifth novel, Smith opens up the prison gates and looses on the world a pair of natural-born killers. Jack and Clare are robbers, killers, and lovers who cut a bloody swath through the Midwest and the South, all the while in search of some higher truths--running existential errands--they can live by and die for.



Spring Garden

By Fred Chappell '61, A.M. '64. Baton Rouge: LSU Press. 157 pp. $24.95 cloth; $14.95 paper.

Culled from six of Chappell's previous collections, as well as thirty new poems, this work represents the compositions of twenty-five years. Inspired by a long poem by the Renaissance master Pierre Ronsard, Chappell "has made his selection as if gathering greens and herbs for a garden salad."



Literary Luxuries: American Writing at the End of the Millenium

By Joe David Bellamy '63. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press. 230 pp. $29.95.

As director of the literature program of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bellamy had the unenviable task of trying to persuade Congress and ordinary citizens that American literature is worthy of support. In this book, he continues the debate with a collection of essays and articles by a pantheon of today's writers.



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