The furrow Prince Charles has plowed across the brow of architecture prompts sociologist (and sometime observer of the city) Nathan Glazer to ask some very good questions:
"How is it possible that modernist architecture, which began with deep social concerns, and one of whose themes was proper housing for workers to improve their lot, now requires an elitist defense, arguing that only properly qualified, professionally trained experts should discuss and criticize architecture?"
Put another way, "How did a socially concerned architecture turn out to be condemned, fifty years later, as soulless, bureaucratic, and inhuman -- a critique that receives wide acceptance by ordinary folk, who have enthusiastically and overwhelmingly applauded the Prince's attacks on contemporary architecture ...?" And -- heads up, ye maligned developers: "Why is it ... that environments built by commercial builders, trying simply to make a buck as best they could, so often beat out architects' environments in their appeal to ordinary people?"
The articulation of the paradox is more interesting than Glazer's explanation of its cause, but that nevertheless is surely worth repeating. We came to this pass, he says, because "designers failed to explore just what it is people find attractive in areas and buildings for whose design characteristics not much if anything can be said."
This and a good deal more good reading -- on "White Guilt," by Shelby Steele; on Andre Gide and homosexuality, by John Weightman; and on that often-ignored figure in the literary household, the author's widow, by Donna Rifkind -- in the autumn issue of the American Scholar, 1811 Q St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. One year, $21.
Harry, Your Head Stinks In Health is such good reading it attracts even the health-averse. Case in point: the November/December issue, and Mary Roach's visit to Lantana, Fla., capital of supermarket-line tabloid journalism, mainly to check out all the absurd health claims that constitute a whole subgenre of this popular modern art form.
BALD SALESMAN DOES OWN HAIR TRANSPLANT FROM HIS ARMPITS. SIZE OF YOUR HEAD REVEALS HOW LONG YOU'LL LIVE. SEVERED LEG HOPS 75 YARDS.
Luckily she finds a likable, guileless editor in Eddie Clontz of the Weekly World News, the only one of these First Amendment privilegees who'll talk about his paper. Clontz is full of endearing if artless one-liners: "I never question myself out of a good story," for instance, and "The key to a tabloid story, many times, is not what you put in, it's what you leave out." What about that hopping leg? "The leg may have twitched, but it didn't go 75 yards. I know that. Or maybe it didn't even happen. What's the difference? It's a great story."
An entirely false story, incidentally, is preferable to one in which the truth is shaded. In-house counsel puts it persuasively: "If it's totally made up, who's going to sue you? The captain of the UFO?" Interestingly, the National Enquirer, the full-color big sister of the Weekly World News, like many other of these tabloid publications, now submits health and medical stories for comment to the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society and such. Clontz compares the Enquirer's fact-checking procedures to "working for The New England Journal of Medicine." The Weekly World News, however, is pleased to publish FLORIDA BOY SCREAMS FROM THE GRAVE ... 'MY BRAIN IS MISSING!' without consulting the American Cemetery Association.
Incidentally, Roach alleges that among Clontz's stringers are unnamed reporters at such upright newspapers as The Washington Post, "who let loose at the end of the day with a 500-worder on a flying poodle or a haunted toaster." Gosh. For more serious stuff, try In Health's cover story, which impertinently asks how come so many drug users never become addicts.
This week brings Congressional Quarterly's soon-to-be-well-thumbed preelection issue (Oct. 13), with its usual detailed rundowns of all the Senate and competitive House races of the season. The Weekly Report's political team didn't find that much sentiment to eschew incumbents. Only five House and two Senate races (Hawaii and Iowa) were deemed too close to call. To obtain this $15 issue call Congressional Quarterly at 202-887-6279 or 800-432-2250, ext. 279).
The New Republic's Bob Kuttner pulls the whole depressing economic picture together in "The Abyss" (Oct. 29) and concludes that war-footing and Depression-era remedies may be needed in the coming calamity. Kuttner's massive public investment in infrastructure and public works ("everything that went to ruin during the Reagan years") would be financed by painful surtaxes on hundred-grand-and-over citizens and perhaps even led, in an act of penance, by those bankers, brokers and industrialists who profited from the nation's decline in the 1980s.
Humanities, the lively journal of the National Endowment for the Humanities, offers historical tapas on the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower on the centennial of his birth. Also in this issue, the cultural Canon gets its "Crossfire": on the left, Catherine R. Stimpson, president of the powerful Modern Language Association, and on the right, Lynne Cheney, chairman of the endowment. Six issues, $11; write Humanities, Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402-9371.