HCJ THREE: WR Hearst, the Modernist Movement & Carey and the Masses

WR Hearst and the Modernist movement

William Randolph Hearst had a powerful influence in many aspects of the modernist movement which extended to politics, publishing, art, Hollywood and architectural endeavours.

Born in San Francisco, California in 1863, he was the son of the notorious George Hearst. His father was a wealthy man and this allowed William to experience opportunities many others wouldn’t have been able to.

He excelled in journalism at Harvard University. In 1887 William acquired the San Francisco Examiner from his father and shortly after purchased the New York Journal.

His interest in politics led him to election to the United States House of Representatives as a Congressman from New York in 1902. In the 1920s he started one of the first print-media companies to enter radio broadcasting and in the 1940s he was an early pioneer of television.

Hearst became a major producer of movie newsreels with his company Hearst Metrotone News and in present day his King Features Syndicate is the largest distributor of comics and text features in the world.

During his lifetime, William built up an impressive art collection Hearst Castle is an architectural feat he dreamed of since his European tour as a boy.

William Hearst died on August 14, 1951, at the age of 88. He is an inspiration to any entrepreneur and dabbled in an array of businesses and it is for this reason he was such as great influence on the modernist movement.

Modernist Movement:

  • The European Revolutions of 1848 which spread to America (Irish Famine / Italian/ German/ Polish/ Jewish/ German, etc.)
  • California gold rush in 1849
  • Industrialization of the North East (New York, Pittsburg) in the 1850s
  • US Civil War: 1861-1865
  • Destruction of the plantation system, black migration to the north opening up of the Mid-West and West
  • 1870s – 1880s: Annihilation of the American Indians (Little Big Horn 1876)
  • The West: Railroads/telegraph office – “sod-busters” vs. cattle ranchers/ large scale wheat producers
  • 1854: The telegraph, Crimean war
  • San Francisco Examiner 1887 (WRH took control from his father – Gold mines)
  • The move to New York – New York Morning Journal vs. Pulitzer’s The New York World
  • Urban poverty and migration, New York polyglot; populism – Pulitzer and the Muck Rakers.
  • Circulation War – Pulitzer vs. Hearst
  • “While others Talk, the Journal Acts.”
  • Heart’s Journal vs. Yellow Journalism and rivalry with the New York World (The Daily Planet: in Superman)
  • The New York Journal and its chief rival, the New York World mastered a style of popular journalism that came to be derided as “Yellow Journalism,” after Richard F Outcault’s Yellow Kid
  • Hearst’s politics: he ran for Mayor of New York in 1905 and 1909 as springboard to be US president.

Lecture Notes:

Populism allied to militarism and hatred of the Spanish, especially the populists of California and the South West (the last European empire in the Americas) Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, etc.

Spanish American War (1898): ‘You supply the story, I’ll supply the war’.

Journal’s daily circulation over 1 million mark after the sinking of the Maine “Heart’s War” due to the Journal provoking anti-Spanish stories, including false story on page one the a Spanish armada was off the coast of New Jersey ready to attack and president McKinley was doing nothing, etc.

1900: William Randolph Hearst created the model for the modern tabloid newspaper:

  1. Simple, polyglot language.
  2. Massive western “Wanted poster” type headlines (this from the Gold Rush days).
  3. Populist politics, pro “the little guy” but intensely nationalistic, militaristic.
  4. News agenda dominated by urban problems such as crime.
  5. Visual emphasis: especially cartoon, “funny papers” and when technology came along picture magazines (1930s onwards with 1950 heyday).
  6. Political manipulate to secure business deals.
  7. Sex life scandals as a form of blackmail of politics, movie stars and business enemies.

This model was precisely copied by Northcliffe and Rothermere. The Hearst news empire peaked in 1928. The same year there was the economic collapse of the Great Depression after Wall Street crash. The papers were never profitable, and were subsidized from profits of mines, forestry interests and railway interests. The role of the papers was to blackmail politicians to allow gain to industrial monopolies, and to manipulate the share price of companies (echoes of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp).

John Carey: The Intellectuals and the Masses (1992)

In this book Carey demonstrates how anti-populism, pro-elitism was reflected in the literary culture of the 1880-1920 period (“Modernism or high Modernism”) in the form of elitism. He explores the idea of mass murdering the herd before they destroy civilisation.

Carey says intellectuals did not find themselves confronted by the masses; they invented them. The masses do not exist:

“The mass, that is to say, is a metaphor for the unknowable and invisible.”

Chapter One: The Revolt of the Masses

The classic intellectual account of the advent of mass culture in the early twentieth century was by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. His book was called, in English, The Revolt of the Masses and was first published in 1930. The main root of concern is the population explosion. Europe had produced ‘a gigantic mass of humanity, which launched like a torrent over the historic area.’ H.G. Wells also referred to the population growth with disgust:

‘The extravagant swarm of new births [are] the essential disaster of the nineteenth century.’

According to Ortega, the population expansion had various consequences:

  1. overcrowding
  2. intrusion
  3. the dictatorship of the mass

Ortega’s thinking is similar to that of Nietzsche, especially Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, who despised the ‘rabble.

Nietzsche’s view of the mass was shared by most of the founders of modern European culture. Ibsen, Flaubert, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Mann, Hermann and Gide all shared a similar view on the despicability of the masses.

Between the 19th and 20th century, a literate public had come into being. The newspaper became aimed at the masses, with Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) pioneering this post-Education Act.

The popular newspaper created an alternative culture, which ‘bypassed the intellectual and made him redundant.’ Northcliffe encouraged human interest stories, extending the typical themes beyond business and politics.

European intellectuals rejected newspapers, believing the rabble ‘vomit their bile and call it a newspaper.’

Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes ‘a comforting’ version of the intellectual for mass consumption. Holmes, like Nietzsche is a product of mass culture. Holmes’ purpose being ‘to disperse the fears of overwhelming anonymity that the urban mass brought.’

T.S Eliot writes in The Waste Land: ‘A crowd flowed over London Bridge so many, I had not thought death had undone so many.’

The implication is that the crowds of people in London are not really alive, which corresponds to Nietzsche’s claim that life in the modern state is really slow suicide. Carey explains how it was largely through Eliot’s influence, the assumption that most people are dead, became, by the 1930s, a standard item in the ‘repertoire of any self-respecting intellectual’.

The idea that mass existence could not be called life was taken on by the likes of D. H. Lawrence, a major English disciple of Nietzsche. Nietzsche and Lawrence both believe in the annihilation of those not worthy to live, although neither specifies how this annihilation should be done.

A selective idea of eliminating the mass was found by some intellectuals through the science of eugenics (preventing the increase of inferior breeds). The Eugenics Education Society was founded in 1907. W. B. Yeats joined the Society and Shaw and Aldous Huxley were sympathetic.

Yet another evil of democracy was the expansion of colleges and universities. T. S. Eliot believed that in our bid to educate everyone, standards are lowered and too many books were published. He stood by the argument that the number of people receiving higher education should be severely cut.

Similarly, Aldous Huxley believed:

‘Universal education has created an immense class of what I may call the New Stupid.’

Ortega believed the function of modern art was to divide the public into two classes and Modern art was to demonstrate that men are not equal, bringing historical development.

On a funny ending note a specific despised symbol of mass culture from the intellectuals’ perspective was tinned food, as it was believed to offend against what the intellectual designates as nature; it was mechanical and soulless.

Chapter Four: Natural Aristocrats

In response to the revolt of the masses, intellectuals generated the idea of a natural aristocracy, consisting of intellectuals.

Suggestions included the idea that there should to be a secret knowledge that only intellectuals could possess, or the idea of hereditary aristocracy.

For Oscar Wilde aesthetics were considered higher than ethics. Lawrence rejected logic, allowing him to keep hold of the idea of natural aristocracy. Nietzsche rejected Christian ideals and beliefs.

Nietzsche’s assertion that men are not equal defied Christian beliefs. He even stated: ‘I abhor Christianity with a deadly hatred’. Carey explains how that in abandoning Christianity, Nietzsche also abandoned the fixed value system that it offered.


About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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