MIKE WALLACE AND THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

Here's link, via Boing Boing, to a collection of Mike Wallace interviews from the 50s, including one with Gloria Swanson:

The Mike Wallace Interview Archive



Wallace's
technique was to get as close to insolence with his guests, especially
his female guests, as possible without crossing the line into
rudeness.  The lack of respect he shows to Swanson is sickening
and she barely keeps her dignity intact.  Swanson observes that
“something has gone dreadfully wrong with the American man,” and
Wallace, puffing away on a cigarette throughout the program, proves her
point.




There's also a
touching interview with Jean Seberg, age 19, just after the disaster of
her performance in Saint Joan, her first film, in which Seberg, too, struggles,
somewhat more successfully, to keep her dignity in the face of
Wallace's insinuating smugness.  “What will happen to your
career,” Wallace asks, “when it comes time for you to get married and
devote most of your time to your family?”  “I hope I'll marry a
man who lets me continue with my career,” says Seberg, looking slightly
bewildered by Wallace's attitude.






The two great
stars, speaking from different ends of their careers, manage to make
Wallace's cigarettes look like accurately-sized phallic symbols. 
What we're seeing in these interviews is the birth of modern
journalism, in which hacks try to elevate themselves by patronizing
their betters, treating their accomplishments as the same sort of
hollow flim-flam the hacks are practicing.




What we're also
seeing is further proof that modern feminism was a response not to an
over-powerful patriarchy, but to a patriarchy in full-on psychic
collapse.  Wallace comes off here as a truly pathetic figure.


2 thoughts on “MIKE WALLACE AND THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

  1. Thanks Lloyd for this link.
    I watched the Gloria Swanson interview and was blown away by her vivacity and intelligence.
    I know nothing of Mike Wallace and whether this performance was typical, but yes he comes across as a total jerk. Though I wonder whether this was a personal trait or a deliberate production strategy developed off-screen by others or in concert.
    The cigarette smoking and advertorials for Phillip Morris were equally fascinating: still the unarmed real woman Swanson easily knocked down the “real” smoking man. While the cigarette was a phallic intimidation, it was perhaps more a psychic prop, a symbol of authority which would have been used in the same way for male interviewee.
    The cigarette seemed also to be an important part of the very different persona of Edward R. Murrow, but here I am relying solely on George Clooney's excellent Good Night and Good Luck (2005). Do you know if any of the Murrow shows are available on-line?
    I am wondering also whether the Wallace show's sexual politics was simply reflective of US/Western culture at the time -I was only 5yo then 🙂 – and thinking of the excellent Mad Man (2007) TV Series, where the sexual battles of the late 50's are played with cigarettes, booze, and infidelity.

  2. Yes, the sexual politics were part of the culture, but in the Seberg interview you can see that they were changing. She seems baffled by Wallace's sexism, whereas Swanson just reads it as rudeness.
    Sheds some light on the phenomenon of the femme fatale in noirs of the era. Wallace seems unaccountably terrified by these women.
    Don't know if any Murrow interviews are on-line — he was a whole different kettle of fish.

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