The Glass Teat, p.1Harlan Ellison
The Glass Teat
The Harlan Ellison Collection
This book is
to the memory of
that irreplaceable “borrower” of
large Russian tanks,
WELCOME TO THE GULAG
This is my final communiqué to you prisoners of war. No more warnings. I’m done with all that. We’ve lost.
I began actively warning you how it was closing in, what the prison would look like, how they would try to fool you with new meanings to old words, how they would convince you that everyone was your enemy, and you were too stupid to know who the Bad Guys were. Told you they’d lie to you, but mostly they’d frighten you. Began writing the “Glass Teat” columns the week of 4-10 October in 1968, in the Los Angeles Free Press and kept going for 102 episodes. When I quit the Freep I was instantly snapped up by the Los Angeles Flyer and did two very long columns there…which are included in this Compleat “Glass Teat” for the first time.
One hundred and two installments, dozens of other essays and critiques, comments on our culture, as interpreted through the all-seeing eye of television.
And gardyloos! Many gardyloos along the way. Warnings. Sapient to my eye-teeth, smart guy who could read the future, I took what I saw coming across that screen daily, and as awful as it was, I treated it seriously. For laughs, of course, because such endless japery could not be considered Real, it was all a dumb show, but it portended much. And it was easy to make fun of. Every miserable little sitcom was a microcosm of what was going on in our country. And so, laughing heartily inside, I treated it seriously.
I wrote small essays that would have made de Toqueville smile. I was a Baedeker of my time, a field guide to what Rinso and Joy commercials really meant.
Oh, I thought I was the cultural Freud; much in love with myself, predicting woe if one embraced that whore, television, and having no idea that the internet was just around the corner. Warning that if you spent too much time each day staring into that screen, your life would be majorly fucked. Now we spend all day staring into one screen or another. Now we have no more friends, but have been given something utterly bogus, “FaceBook Friends,” total strangers to whom we pass along every last little boring jot of minutiae the instant it happens. We have destroyed genuine friendship, we have grown dumber and dumber the more information is put on that electronic back-fence-gossip, we have vanished civility and privacy and courtesy. The little hand-held horrors can take pictures, so take pictures, whether the object of your snap wants you to do it or not. Why, you’re a “public person” if you step out on a sidewalk! You have no say whether I can be permitted to make you look like a fool, and shove you out onto one of the millions of little blathering blogs that once were reserved for a locked diary in a drawer. Now, everything is free. Never mind that you’re stealing, that you’re destroying what was always a shaky economy. It’s free!
(Unless some really mean asshole like Ellison sics his flying blue monkey squad of attorneys on you for breaching my copyright, by stealing one of my stories, and throwing it up on that electronic highwayman’s dream.)
You are prisoners of the tube, and prisoners of the computer. They tell you how much freedom you have, how much wider and freer a world than those crude, olde time boys from just twenty years ago had…those who didn’t have the freedom of walking around all day hooked into a smaller version of the gulog, that imprisoning screen!
Trapped, is what you are. Trapped. And everything I’ve been fulminating about in these two books, well, it’s all come true. Millions of words…fifty years…it all made me seem so sapient, so puissant, so coaching-Team-Humanity-to-cover-its-ass…well, it meant nothing. I did my little tumble and high-wire act, my dog’n’pony, but I was an ass to think I could even slow it down an hour.
They bought you. The way they buy those fools who go to the Golden Globe Awards knowing they’re bogus, but going anyhow because the studios are paying for it. The self-congratulating little cadre of the entertainment industry, that has taken over our world. You got scammed: they bought you. And when something actually wonderful happened, like the rescue of the Chilean miners, when something like that comes along, it gets its mere fifteen minutes in the spotlight, one of the miners gets to sing at Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and the world forgets the men in the hole, the incredible miracle; it needs its idiot distractions, and turns away to babble about how its cat can play the oboe, and how outrageous are the thongs on the girls on “Glee.”
So, though the doom peal I’ve been sounding (first in these now “classic” books, thereafter, anywhere my mouth would be open, as if I had declared myself the Town Crier) about television and its syphilitic mate the internet, and all the octopoidal dark alleyways of this imprisoning electronic madhouse, has as much effect as a fart on the open sea, here are the books. Together at last, as are you with the gulag, Bedlam, the prison. It is no more that the barking of a clown at the night sky.
You are as trapped as I and everyone else, no more noble than consumers, the burros at the end of the pack-train.
And they tell you how free you are, because you can download Avatar into the palm of your hand while you walk while you text while you tweet while you get yo’ ass run over in a crosswalk by a 7 Santini Bros. moving van.
No, schmuck, that ain’t freedom.
(The only reason to see Avatar to begin with—apart from Cameron badly swiping all the planetary artwork from Roger Dean—is because the boring piece of crap was AS FUCKIN’ BIG AS LITHUANIA! But shrunk down to your hand, dullard, you might have, a lot less expensively, bought this year’s Roger Dean calendar, and gotten more truly transported.)
(But that might require you use your imagination, and we sure as hell don’t want that dried-up old peach-pit to be stressed, do we?)
I used to think that just my tone of voice could keep people above the ridgeline, safe from the lava…thus these two GLASS TEAT books. But what a fraud, what an ass full of himself. I can’t save you. No one can.
You gave yourself over happily. You let yourself be scammed. You looked around the poker game and couldn’t spot the mark, and you forgot what I kept warning you: if you can’t spot the sucker…
Enjoy the books. They’re my testament, and my piss-poor attempt to keep you all from becoming butts in the big gang-rape.
26 January 2011
It is at the author’s request that
the words “god” & “tv” be type-
set in lower case unless they
appear in citations or at
the beginning of
This collection of random thoughts and
strident alarums is dedicated, with
gratitude, respect, but
mostly love to the
CRAZY JUNE BURAKOFF
ART & VAL KUNIN, JACK BURGESS,
TED ZATLYN, MARY REINHOLZ,
CHRIS BUNCH, RON COBB,
FRAN TROY, ALEX
and to JOHN O’HARA,
whose “conservative” columns,
“My Turn” in the Establishment newspapers
convinced me of the need for some hyperthyroid gadflying.
The author wishes
to thank the following persons
for their assistance and support in the
preparation of these columns and this book:
Norman Goldfind, William Rotsler, Tom Smothers,
Allen Rivkin, Louise Farr, Marry Reinholz, Norman Spinrad,
Barbara Benham, John Basken, Nat Freedland, Ed Bryant, Lucy Seaman,
Sandra Rymer, James Southerland, Joseph Stefano, Ray Bradbury, Cecil Smith,
Laurence Laurent, Robert Blake, Stan Freberg, John Jakes, Joyce and Robert
and Jeff Angus, Digby Diehl, Sue Cameron and the late Spiro T. Agnew.
The Glass Teat Revisited:
A Supplementary Introduction / 1983
Now that Dick and Spiro and all their ghoul errand-boys are gone, you can read this book again.
I’m not much one for conspiracy theories—I’m not that paranoid yet but I’m getting there, I’m getting there—and so you’ll understand that I’m telling you nothing but the flat truth when I explain that Agnew and his minions scuttled this book the first time around, in 1970. I’ll even tell you how it happened, who to ask for verification that I’m not making it all up, and how it happens that THE GLASS TEAT got a second chance…thereby proving I’ve been storing up some good karma.
As you’ll read in the introduction to the original edition of this collection of essays (it follows immediately hereafter), I started writing my television column for the Los Angeles Free Press in late 1968. I wrote the column every week for two and a half years; enough copy to fill two books of essays. The first was this one, originally published by Ace Books in 1970 as THE GLASS TEAT, reprinted by Pyramid in 1975. The other book, with the balance of the columns, was to be published by Ace in 1971 as THE OTHER GLASS TEAT. Second book never got born; and in that story lie the seeds of verification for everything I’ve set down in this book…everything about the rapacity and need to stifle criticism of Nixon’s reign, that is. I’m wrong about a few things—like the nobility of youth, f’rinstance—but then, even god made a few mistakes. Otherwise how do you explain poison ivy, tsunamis and Donald Segretti?
As best I can make it (and getting cold-fact substantiation of the sequence of events was like trying to screw fog), here’s what happened:
Ace released the original version of this book in March of 1970. It was their leader. Nice promotion, nice package, a lightweight PR trip during which I covered the major markets in the West and on the East Coast. The column was still running in the Free Press and I was hyping the book through that medium, as well. Reviews started coming in. Excellent reviews. Several hundred of them, not a downer in the batch. Cronkite mentioned the book, Cecil Smith in the LA Times did an entire column on it, college newspapers picked up on it and said it was the best down-home look at tv ever published; lotta that kind of ego-buildup.
The publisher was overjoyed. Terry Carr, then an editor at Ace, the man who’d first decided to publish the book, felt vindicated; John Waxman (now a v-p at another New York publishing house, but at the time Ace’s head of publicity and promotion) kept a box of the books under his office desk so he could fill special requests on the spot; several colleges ordered large quantities and adopted the book for their “media” classes.
Preliminary reports from the field, after two months, showed an incredible seventy per cent sale on the first print run of 88,565 copies. Ace started talking about going back to press for another one hundred thousand copies, just in case we had hold of something that was taking off. Terry approached me for a second book, on instructions from the Ace higher-ups: “Sign him up for the sequel before the book hits so big he demands more money.”
On August 10, 1970, I signed the contracts for THE OTHER GLASS TEAT, for four thousand dollars advance, same as I’d gotten on THE GLASS TEAT. And I kept on writing my columns, saying what I had to say about the condition of life in these here now United States, as viewed through the lens of television. Merely waiting till I hit column number 104 so the second book would be the same size as the first.
Then, suddenly, everything turned into a nightmare!
A friend called from Sacramento to tell me I’d been placed on then-California Governor Ronald Reagan’s “subversives list.” This was four years before we were to learn of “enemies lists” via the Watergate route, though such lists undoubtedly existed at that time. My name was one of several hundred on a semi-public document being circulated out of the California state capitol, ostensibly setting out guidelines for colleges and universities who hired guest lecturers. There I was with Abbie Hoffman and Dave Dellinger and Jane Fonda and other Commie-Symp radicals like John Ciardi and Dick Gregory. People our dear Unca’ Ronnie would frown upon being solicited to come and talk; the hook was, of course, that state funds might be withheld at budget time the following year, from institutions that chose to ignore this friendly suggestion. It wasn’t exactly a blacklist, just don’t breathe too deeply, y’know what I mean?
That was the first indication I had that maybe my big fat typewriter had gotten me in deep stuff with the shadowy Them who took as a concomitant of power sneaky panther games we’ve come to know and love so well as brought to a fine Machiavellian art by King Richard the Phlebitten. What I didn’t know at that moment was that Spiro had been shown a copy of a column I’d written, by someone on his staff, and had taken direct offense at a wayward line I’d written about him. What line? Uh, er…
“Spiro Agnew masturbates with copies of The Reader’s Digest.”
Uh, heh heh. All in, er, uh, good fun, Spiro…see, I was just trying to make a smartass reference to your oneness with the Common Man in America during that period, your homey-ness, your commonality of roots with Middle America, your utter sexlessness, your purity, your squeaky cleanliness. Not a mean thought in my bones, Spiro, honest to god.
Would you believe, gentle readers, Spiro took that line as a personal slur. Simply no pleasing some people!
I should have gotten the wind up with the rotten letters started coming in. From the Kiwanis in Florissant, Missouri. From the American Nazi party in El Monte, California. From the American Legion in Harrodsburg, Kansas. From a bailing wire salesman in a motel in Talihina, Oklahoma. From my mother in Miami Beach, Florida.
And Ace’s running ads for the book in college newspapers, with the banner headline AGNEW’S ANSWER! didn’t do much to help.
So there I sat with a two grand advance of Ace’s money, just shucking and jiving, writing my columns, heading toward the 104th installment of “The Glass Teat” column, at which point I’d Xerox up the lot from installment #53 to installment #104, fire it off to Terry Carr in New York, and collect my remaining two grand advance money. But it didn’t work that way.
One day Terry called me. Now I’ve known Terry for close on thirty years, ever since we were both sf fans. He’s a tall, mostly quiet guy with an impeccable sense of decorum and restraint. Good editor, nice man, patience of Job. Can’t even remember seeing him angry or demonstrably troubled, even when he was. Called me. Troubled. Heard it in his voice.
“Hi, Terry, what’s up?”
“Got some bad news for you.”
“Krakatoa isn’t ‘East of Java’?!”
“Okay, sorry. What is it?”
“We’re not doing THE OTHER GLASS TEAT.”
(Long silence.) (Fighting for breath.) (Battle won.)
“Don’t fuck around with me, man; it’s been a meat-grinder of a day.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“Well, shit, Terry! You’ve gotta be kidding because the damned book is selling seventy per cent of its print run, so what the hell is the story?”
“I don’t know. I got the word from the front office. The returns are starting to come in. By the carloads. Some of the distributors aren’t even just tearing off the covers and sending them back; they’re sending back the whole damned book, boxes of them, most of them unopened, more every day, like they were plague carriers.”
I sat stunned. What the effulgent hell was happening!?!
Well, it was true. John
It didn’t make sense. I’d gotten a call from a friend who worked in the offices of Marboro, one of the biggest chain booksellers in New York. THE GLASS TEAT had been their non-fiction leader for three solid weeks; they couldn’t get enough copies to stay in stock. And I knew for a fact that here in Los Angeles the damned book was moving faster than a Tijuana breakfast.
Terry called back a few days later and said Ace had told him to tell me I could keep the two thousand dollars I’d already received as first half of the advance. Just let them out of the contract for THE OTHER GLASS TEAT. Book was mine, no claims, I could do what I wanted with it. Now, if you have ever had any dealings with New York paperback publishers—known to hang onto a property unto the ninth generation—you will perceive my shock and stunned disbelief. They just wanted rid of me and that sequel.
So. What had happened, as best I’ve been able to piece it together since 1970, by asking discreet questions of people now years’ removed from the situation and somewhat less under pressure, was that the word had come down from what John Dean liked to call “the highest offices in the land” that THE GLASS TEAT was a seditious, Communistic, mind-polluting snare of verbiage promulgated by elements bent on the violent overthrow of the Miss America Pageant, Let’s Make a Deal, Monday Night Football, MacDonaldtoadburgers and, not incidentally, the United States of America as personified by the mouth that walked like a man, Spiro T. Agnew.
Distributors, newsdealers, wholesalers and retailers, all got the clear but surreptitious message: this book ain’t for sale. Not nowhere, not nohow, not no way!
The Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes