Saturday, March 23, 2024

A Socio-Technological Preface to Postblogging Technology, Decemer 1953: The Louche Years

I started the first installment of December technological postblogging yesterday before deciding that I was a bit too spent from the work week to have a hope of finishing it over the weekend. But before giving up (because it was hard), I did some pretty basic things, like finding the big Christmas song of 1953?

Which was Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby, which I'm saving for next week. Have some meta-commentary instead! So then I had a reaction. I'm not offended by Santa Baby. "Sex positive," I remind myself. We're sex positive these days. And it's a Christmas classic, which, I don't know, did we ever get it sorted out whether that saved Baby, It's Cold Out There? And it's not like Kitt invented the idea of putting double entendres in hit parade music. But it's Christmas. It's for the kids! So that was what I was thinking just before I thought to myself, "Speaking of louche things in popular culture, I forgot to make a fuss for the first issue of Playboy when it came out! When did it come out, anyway?"

December of 1953, it turns out. Begun, the louche years have! We are starting down a valley at the bottom of which is the moment when you're not allowed to complain about skin magazines at the front of the corner store, and all the cool high school teachers are sleeping with their students, and the "Me Too" moment, which might be over as a cry for justice, but sure seems like the mood in public culture. We may or may not be back where we started,  but this isn't about  before it began, some images below notwithstanding, and it's not about where we are now. It's about things that happened in the louche years, and here I'm thinking about that second wave feminist thing about pornography being a way to hold women back. Without going too far down that road, there's a story of images --or, should I say, because we're about technology around here, graphics?

I have no idea when Time began running homoerotic photos towards the back cover, but I do know that they were still appearing as late as January of 1947, which is, I think, the issue from which I collated this particular picture  of Siegmund Klein and an anonymous pupil. I do know that Whittaker Chambers ran the back pages from October of 1942 until December of 1948. No more sexy pictures of  semi-naked men after that. 

On 27 May, 1949, aspiring actress Marilyn Monroe, chronically under-nourished, late on rent, and unable to get access to her car, posed for a nude portfolio in the Los Angeles studio of photographer Tom Kelley. She was paid $50 and, Kelly recounted later, was grateful for the loan of carfare home. Monroe was aware of the danger these photos posed to her struggling career as an actress, but hunger is a strong motivator, and the consensus is that the American Achilles was comfortable with posing  nude, anyway. 

That said, when she was linked to the photos in March of 1952, it really did seem for a moment as though her career was over. A full and frank confession of her exigent need at the time reconciled the public to the idea of Monroe posing nude and then apparently there was absolutely no problem whatsoever for Hugh Hefner to ride a tidal wave of publicity with his new "Entertainment for MEN" magazine, or for Tom Kelley to become a judge at Miss Universe, and for Monroe to never see another dollar from the photos. 
I've been running the Albright & Wilcox ads as they appear in The Economist fo a while now, and this one is new in December of 1953. Albright & Wilcox, for those interested in what Wikipedia says about it, was founded in 1856 as a manufacturer of potassium chlorate, and subsequently rode industrial demand for potassium into such disparate product lines as detergents and "strontium . . . and chromium-based chemicals." I didn't even know there were strontium-based chemicals! (For cathode-ray faceplates, it says here.) The company went public in 1948, which might be when it started its new advertising campaign, and was taken over in 1972, a dark time for British industry in general. 

I am not, however, running the Albright & Wilcox ads because I am obsessed with potassium products such as detergents. I am running them because they're beautiful. Graphic art, I am repeatedly and forcibly told, has moved past the photorealistic age. Which I guess flies at the Tate Modern, but is a 100% nonstarter down at your friendly local comic and games store. There's more than a temptation, looking at modern comics, to speculate that the reason no-one produces this kind of art any more is that no-one can. Or, at least, no-one can be bothered to. There was an age when this kind of thing got drawn all the time, and then came CAD. I'm not a historian of the graphic arts, just a simple consumer, so am not going to guarantee my potted history of why people can't draw anymore as anything but an old man ranting about the good old days of Gil Kane and John Byrne before he got all stylised. But I have advanced the conversation to the point where I can talk about computers and 1953, which as readers of the pioneering Martin Campbell-Kelly will know, is the age of the computer as the "business machine."

Which, about that. The classic era of the computer was the age of "IBM and the Seven Dwarfs." IBM is, I hope, self explanatory, as it was famous in the old days. The "Seven Dwarfs" were Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell. Burroughs and NCR entered the market for computers-as-business-machines because, like IBM, they already made business machines. In their case, a variety of desktop mechanically-instantiated data processing apps with attached typewriter elements to produce hard copy. (In other words, the first graphics machines.) There is still a robust market for adding machines, largely because they produce a hard copy of their processes, but the more complicated book keeping machines, with their hundred-plus piece keyboards have disappeared into antiquarian collections, and people only have a vague idea of what they did. 

Which is, I think, the point of this NCR ad, and may others like it. 

 The operators know now to use these things. And they're women! The ads, of course, are about the machines; but the subjects of the ads are the woman operators, and NCR in particular hammers the point home by recapitulating the image of the boss looking on with awe and admiration, however paternalistic. I assume that the talented operators could produce pictures on their outputs, because they certainly could and did with typewriters! 

There's an irony here, in that there are reasons that book-keeping machines need to get so complicated, and one of them is the introduction of "pay as you go" income tax, which, The Economist keeps telling us, is transforming state finances and economic management at the expense of requiring the iterative calculation of income tax withholding sums.  

Under the Revenue Act of 1948, American taxpayers had a basic exemption of $600, owed 22% on income up to $2000, 26% through $4000, 30% through $6000, 34% through $8000, 38% through $10,000, 43% through $12,000, 47% through $14,000, 50% through $16,000, 75% (skipping 7 brackets!) at the magical $50,000/year, and the legendary 91% for income in excess of $200,000. 

It is famously observed that this doesn't take deductions into account, and here's where the irony in this image of women working on, among other things, tax-withholding comes in, because the biggest trance of new tax deductions that cut so deeply into government revenues in 1948 were an attempt to bring community property and non-community property jurisdictions into line/ 

"The Revenue Act of 1948 attempts to cure the unequal federal tax treatment of citizens in community property and common law states by: (1) Providing for the splitting of income between husband and wife for income tax purposes; (2) Introducing the concept of the marital deduction for estate tax purposes; and (3) The use of the marital deduction in gifts between spouses and the right to divide gifts to a third person between the husband and wife."

The LA Times investigation of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's recent advocacy of a 75% top rate spent a whole lot of time dwelling on the $16,000 rate, which, it tells us, is equivalent to a $150,000 annual income today. To double down on that, the margina rate effective from $14,000 to $15999 was 47%, that for $32,000 was a swinging 65%! As the income brackets widen out, the average rate for the band of income from $16,000 to $32,000 is close to 62%, and the total saving for an income-splitting couple in which the husband earns $32,000 and the wife earns less than $600 is $2400! So: good job on the social engineering there, 82nd Congress. At least, that is, if Daddy makes enough money as a "computer programmer" to support a wife.

Or two. Engineers can get the broads!
There is no conveniently available footage of a historic UBC Engineering Undergraduate Society Lady Godiva Ride on Youtube, so here's a clip from the 1951 movie, instead.

Fun fact: The Lady Godiva Ride, which roiled my undergraduate with a procession of undergraduate engineers accompanying a naked stripper on a horse, began in the 1960s with a fully clothed female undergraduate from the "allied" Nursing faculty. I can't think of a clearer signal of the faculty's misogynistic culture, and it was getting worse. I can certainly tell you that there was nothing sexy about a naked sex worker riding a horse. I'm pretty sure that the critics are right about sexiness not being the point of public pornography. What I'm wondering is whether the decline in the pornographic arts was coincidentally or causally linked to the rise of public pornography as gatekeeping misogyny. In other words, am I pulling together two deeply intertwined threads, or presenting you with two parallel lines of free association?

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