Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Life Before Death

The purpose of this blog post is to provide some context regarding the video of a Nicholas Johnson talk in 1971 you may find of current relevance and interest.

Why? There are a number of possible reasons. It touches on questions you may be asking yourself about your own life -- past and future. It provides a contemporaneous insight into the 1960s and '70s -- and the Federal Communications Commission during those years -- from the perspective of an FCC commissioner. It discusses electric cars and why men should share household tasks. It reminds us that presidential attacks on the media are nothing new, and puts in context the current effort of the FCC and broadcasters to permit even greater accumulations of media power as consistent with the statutory standard of "public interest." It explores the impact that television (and today's "social media") can have in shaping our politics and government, peace and war, children's education and values, and the products with which we surround ourselves. Finally, I hope you'll find the stories, extemporaneous stand-up lines, and brief readings simply entertaining television. [Photo credit: tomislav medak,]

To see the video in the context of the entire Nicholas Johnson YouTube site, click here:, scroll down to the row of videos labeled "Presentations - 1970-1979," and click on the one titled "Life Before Death, Grinnell."

If you want to skip that step, and the "Backgroud Basics," below, and go directly to the video, click here:

Background Basics
Here are the truncated textual basics associated with the video as they appear on the YouTube page (
"Tactics for Survival in the Corporate State: Life, Love and Other Stuff," Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, April 1, 1971, Broadcast on Iowa Educational Broadcast Network, April 12, 1971. The lecture runs an hour and ten minutes. The Q&A, which is about 21 minutes, begins at 1:10:38.

An earlier version was presented November 5, 1970, as "The Barbara Weinstock Lecture on the Morals of Trade" ("Life Before Death in the Corporate State"), Pauley Ballroom, University of California, Berkeley, published in booklet form by the University in 1971.

Some of the material in both of these largely extemporaneous talks ultimately found its way into Johnson's book, Test Pattern for Living (Bantam, January 1, 1972; 2nd ed. June 2013),

With thanks to the University of Iowa Library Archives for the raw source material, and Gregory Johnson,, Iowa City, for the assembling of this single video and associated technical support.
Contents/Index for Video
If you have not yet watched the video, what follows below will be of little use. It breaks down the video into seven relatively arbitrary sections, noting starting and finishing times. If you have watched it, and would like to find and replay an item, or share it with a friend, this material will provide reminders, take on meaning for you, and help speed your search.

0:00:08-0:05:00 -- Opening; stand-up remarks; introduction/overview of topics (Tommy Smothers and FCC, others, future of Grinnell program; walk on the moon; garbage in environment and our heads; "Tactics for Survival in the Corporate State: Life, Love and Other Stuff;" antenna tower painting vs. programming)

0:05:00-0:12:20 -- Introduction to impact of TV technology (omnipresent; impact technology generally; 9 years of life watching TV; impact programming as well as commercials; examples; male cosmetics; impact on race relations, violence; anti-smoking commercials, public exposure to truth; need for broader study)

0:12:21-0:18:21 -- Range of societal concerns (TV as component; problems predicted; upswings in mental illness, narcotics addicts, youth suicides, alcoholism; all feel pressures, artists and neurotics first to notice; country music; passive, unalive)

0:18:22-0:30:25 -- Corporate TV relation to societal concerns (time-consuming, plus: principle source of information, culture, moral values, political values; almost exclusively used for merchandizing, consumption, consumer manipulation; corporate environmental impact vs. impact on brains; TV owned and programmed by big business; all-purpose commercial; nutrition; why original dramas cancelled; P&G policy)

0:30:26-0:47:26 -- What is television selling? What are the consequences? (conspicuous consumption; examples; personal identity from products; "drugs" (and other products) are the answer to life's problems; commercials are persuasive, programming has no impact; consequence: "corporate interlock;" electric cars; commercial for anything selling everything else; TV impact on women; oppression of the system leads to rotten goals)

0:47:27-1:10:48 -- The Antidote (surrounded by multiple media, people, who've bought TV's pitch; individuals living empty lives; West Virginia woods; our potential, what a "whole life" can be: love, daily "creative time," relation to nature, productive activity (men sharing household tasks); how bring into life within urban corporate state; baking soda; commuting by bicycle; simple, older machines; less you have the better you feel; why Holiday Inn bought the woods; religions, philosophers, psychiatrists share these insights; citizens groups and media reform; cable TV; make your own TV programs)

1:10:49-1:30:17/48 -- Q&A (Pacifica, other audience-supported broadcasting; commercial broadcasters in business of supplying listeners and viewers to advertisers; President Nixon, Pentagon, FCC attempt to forbid music with "drug lyrics;" "For Whom Does Bell Toil?"; anti-cigarette smoking commercials; public primarily depends on TV news and soap operas for information; political attacks on journalism)

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