Saturday, January 26, 2013

Backstage Wife

In Herzog’s (1941) article, the author suggested that listeners (always housewives in her study) tuned in to daytime radio serials as a way of validating their own views and lives. She argued that the women she interviewed sympathized with the characters in the fictional sketches and that the programs they listened to had themes that reflected the listener’s own values, or at least the listener would identify with themes that she could relate to. Some, she observed, projected their real-world lives into the serials they listened to, like an extension of their own family lives. This kind of make-believe was also a way for a given listener to pretend, for at least 15 minutes or so, that her life was different. Herzog continued to suggest that the more troubles a listener had in her own life, the more daytime serials she listened to. This either helped the listener drown her sorrows as a form of escapism, to feel better about herself by taking pleasure in the comeuppance of others, or it provided guidance for her own self-improvement. Radio was not only filling in the hours and minutes of one’s own leisure time, but modeling ways to live. 

In a lot of ways Herzog seems in agreement with Addams’ (1909) House of Dreams argument, that art (film in Addams’ case, radio in Herzog’s) influences the ways in which individuals choose to model their lives. For both, listeners and viewers are assimilating an experience and filtering it through their own real-life lens. The art form is affecting a real reaction from the participants, as a form of education, as a confirmation of one’s own biases, or simply as a desired fantasy. 

Herzog’s criticisms are obviously wrapped up in a very different era than today. There are very different forms of communication, and gender roles have certainly changed. Despite this, I feel that there is something valuable about Herzog’s study, particularly as it relates to the idea of art and media influencing society and culture. Where radio was influencing how the women in Herzog’s study gauged their lives, aren’t television, magazines, and the internet often doing the same today? Herzog’s housewives were learning how to address issues in their lives by listening to daytime radio serials. It might be argued that many people today look to television for cues on how to behave and think, magazines for cues on how to look, and internet for validation of one’s own biases. 

Here's a radio serial I found interesting. It begins with a minute of gripping WWII news, followed by a minute of static, a couple of well-placed ads, and then the program Mary Noble, Backstage Wife...


Addams, J. (1909). House of dreams. The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. Macmillan Co.

Herzog, H. (1941). On borrowed experience: An analysis of listening to daytime sketches. Studies in Philosophy and Science. Vol. 9, no. 1 (pp.65-95) Institute of Social Research.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you posted the audio from Backstage Wife. It was fun to listen to!