Fusion: on the edge of abundance

Rediffusion London’s house magazine, Fusion, on two productions on poverty and abundance in the USA

Intertel is a project for international understanding through television. The full title is the International Television Federation. The members of it are the National Educational Television and Radio Center and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of America, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Rediffusion Television Ltd, London.

The two Intertel programmes contrast poverty and abundance. The United States is the richest country in the world. Vast car parks full of automobiles reflect this richness. Consumer goods pour out. Yet as machines increasingly take over, the awesome surplus of people grows. So do the dole queues – and despair. Homes, too, range from luxury apartments to shacks.

From 'Fusion', the house magazine of Rediffusion London, issue 37 from Christmas 1964
Abounding factory production and conspicuous consumption. Every scrap of the pigs which enter the factory (above) is used for something. Nothing is wasted. It all goes to the consumer. And the consumer packs the car parks outside the local shopping centre (below). Yet all these cars will end as scrap (bottom). This production for a relatively short life has given unbounding employment – to more and more machines.

Jack Hargreaves

America is a land of abounding factory production and conspicuous consumption. where success is measured mostly by material standards. Now, with the march of the computors [sic] and the spread of automation, she moves on again from affluence to the ‘edge of abundance’, and the American conventions and assumptions, even the whole American system of values, comes into question.

The programme traces the short but galloping history of America as an affluent society, shows how the mind of her people has formed, and examines the questions that the United States must face for herself – and on behalf of all the other nations that follow her route of development.

The greatest fact of American history was the Louisiana Purchase by which – hardly more than a century ago – she came into possession of what was probably the largest stretch of temperate and fertile land still undeveloped. Although there was title to the land there was not vacant possession and it had to be wrested from the original red men. Yet. within a century the area had a population of fifteen million whites.

During the century of expansion, a hard, pioneering mind was formed. The tough, mainly Protestant people sang their Lutheran hymns – ‘Work – for the night is coming when we shall work no more’. The business of America was conquest and each man’s ambition was to leave his mark on the wilderness. Cities, fords, mines, mountains and counties were named after people.

The expansion complete. America went through the first of two major social revolutions. She changed from an ‘extractive’ society, with more than eighty per cent of the people exploiting the earth by farming and mining, to a manufacturing society.

Now the business of America was business. The conquering spirit moved into industry. It was the time of the self-made millionaires who started life selling newspapers. New immigrations built a bigger and bigger labour force. Skill at making things was followed by a growing skill at selling things. Work meant money, money meant possessions. Possessions could be expanded with credit. Credit meant more work to keep pace with the payments. It was the Affluent Society – and the age of the ulcer.

Bunny Girls
Efficiency epitomised - at these flats in Chicago (top left) you can park your car outside the door, then you can change, take the elevator to the ground floor and go out for a trip on the lake in your boat. They may not be attractive, but they are functional. However, the girls (above) are more attractive. Chicago is the birthplace of a typically American phenomena - the Bunnie Club. The girls cannot be dated. But there are exceptions. America is the land of the exceptional - the biggest this or that (top right).

But now the second great social revolution looms. While America has not yet finally come to terms with the change from an ‘extractive’ to a manufacturing society – particularly in respect of her farming policies – the new change to an automated society is under way. Already over the horizon is a new slave state in which, this time, the slaves are machines. Her driving technological progress has produced ways of working which already need fewer men. and those of greater education and training. The boy who once left school early to sell newspapers and build a fortune is now called a ‘high-school drop-out’- and he’s a problem. The computors are doing the work of the white-collar men in the banks and insurance offices. The self-directed machines are taking over from unskilled and semi-skilled workers. It is the tragedy of the American negro that he came into industry just as industry began to organise for a smaller, higher-grade labour force. How fast is the second revolution moving ? It is said that already all the lamp-bulbs used in America are made by sixteen men. Already the job of re-training displaced operatives for other work is being overtaken by the fact that the other work in turn is being automated.

How can a people whose minds are trained to the idea of work and its rewards face an age in which a minority of the people can manage the nation’s work? It looks as if the business of America will, to a great extent, be leisure.

A boom in leisure means that people must have the means to enjoy it. Booming production from automated factories means that people must have the means to consume it. Yet the system assumes that people are paid high wages for work and only subsistence when they are not working. Can the planning needed to solve these problems be faced in a country where too much planning meant too much government to interfere with private enterprise? Can the system of values be adjusted to accept the idea of a good life not dependent on hard work and its rewards? May the slave state – this time with slave machines – bring a flowering of culture and civilisation such as came from slave societies of the past?

The programme dramatises the rapid history of American affluence and the dilemma of ideas which the onset of abundance brings. Already you can find cities where the factories are prosperous and the streets around are dark with unemployment. Traditional economists, accustomed to the idea that buoyant production means buoyant earnings, are brought up sharply by the spectacle of boom and depression at the same time in the same city. The world’s greatest technical nation is checked in its optimism by sociological problems. Here are some of the things being said on the ‘Edge of Abundance’.

I don't think we really know the limit to which machines can take over tasks from men. I suspect that, rather than our being surprised to find some limit, we'll be surprised by the things they can do that today we say they'll never be able to do.
Paul Armer
USA
What do we want out of this superabundance? I think this is the fundamental problem. It's fascinating that a mechanical development - an electronic development of the computor - is forcing people back to the philosophical and spiritual consideration of fundamentals… It's not a question of when will the automation problem become serious… The problem is serious right now. The basic question is this - can a democratic society stand the strain of having large numbers of people out of work and therefore uncommitted to our system?
Dr. Belman
USA
We're training boys and girls as if the main thing in life is work and not human expression and development. We're not doing much to help our children understand leisure and the problems of nonwork… We have almost no regard for human time. We sell human time, human life, on an hourly basis. We have an educational system which over-emphasises the use of human time for the production of goods, rather than for human development.
Professor Carstens
USA
How can we solve the burden of abundance that I would call mass entertainment and mass emotion? They are the core of leisure, television in particular, but mass media exposure in general. How can we upgrade it? How can we make it less enervating and more edifying?
Dr. Willensky
USA
It's very hard for us to imagine a society not dedicated to getting and spending so when the possibility comes of taking the economic machine from the middle of the room and putting it over on the side, getting it out of the way, so people have some living room, something to do with themselves as human beings, great shouts of alarm go up all over the place… After all, all of the western world has been sort of consecrated to this notion of hard work and the relation of work to income and the automaticity of the whole procedure. That everything would automatically fall into place if you just kept the machinery going. It isn't working that way - the circle's been broken.
W. H. Ferry
USA

ON THE EDGE OF ABUNDANCE

THE DOLLAR POOR

Script
Research
Sound Recordists

Film Editor
Cameraman
Director
Executive Producer

Jack Hargreaves
Bryan FitzJones
Basil Rootes
Freddie Slade
Beryl Wilkins
Ron Osborn
Bill Morton
Cyril Bennett

Narration
Script
Research
Music
Sound Recordists

Film Editor
Cameraman
Director
Executive Producer

James Cameron
Paul Johnson
Bryan FitzJones
Fredrick Buxton
Basil Rootes
Freddie Slade
David Hodgson
Ron Osborn
Randal Beattie
Cyril Bennett

RESOURCES

America: The Dollar Poor has an American Archive of Public Broadcasting record

America: the Edge of Abundance has an American Archive of Public Broadcasting record

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