Inanna Arthen's Reviews > The Glass Teat

The Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison
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Apr 15, 12

bookshelves: the-1960s-history
Read on April 14, 2012

I read this book chiefly for its example of contemporary writing style and attitudes in a "free press" publication in the late 1960s. I bought a used copy planning to cherry-pick the essays and ended up reading it straight through. Read in retrospective, it's a fascinating picture of how much some things have changed and how much (depressingly) some others have not. I'm old enough to remember most of the TV shows that Ellison discusses, and in some cases, I wish he'd gone into more detail (he reserves the detail for the stuff he didn't like). For instance, I also loved the show "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," principally because of star Edward Mulhare; but I'm surprised that Harlan Ellison, of all people, liked it so much. He never really says why!

The essays not only paint a picture of how a certain type of person thought in 1969, but of Ellison himself; there are essays in which he is clearly oblivious to the way he appears and sounds to others around him, and any conflicts he runs into are entirely the fault of the dunderheads he's forced to deal with. Like many self-justified confrontational people, Ellison is not familiar with the notion of "disarm and conquer." But that was typical of the times--except for the fact that Ellison was at least 10 years older than most of the contemporary exemplars of this approach. But at least he wasn't blowing anything up. (At least not *literally.* He did a pretty good job "blowing up" the Writer's Guild and Dayton, Ohio.)

We see where the 1970s and the "P.C." mania have brought us with Ellison's statements about "chicks," sex and casual use of the "n word". Anyone who wrote stuff like that today would be anathematized and probably get death threats. His forecasts of where the future might be leading--either in general assumptions or in a piece he wrote for a magazine speculating about the year 1980--are amusingly, and sometimes sadly, short-sighted. But as such, they're an object lesson about the way we all generalize trends from our own present-moment concerns. Ellison's imagination of 1980, for example, includes a never-ending Vietnam war, Nixon still in office, rationing, and "dissidents" all forced underground and hunted down by law enforcement like resisters in WWII France. He had no idea what really lay just a few years ahead: Watergate, the oil embargo, the Recession, the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism, the Carter administration and the birth of the 1980s with his Nemesis, then-Governor Reagan, elected to the White House.

This book and its sequel (The Other Glass Teat) are not easy to find, and now I want to read the second book!
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