Faulkner on Omnibus
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How to Cite

Atkinson, T. (2021). Faulkner on Omnibus: A Portrait of the Artist as a Cultural Ambassador in the Making. American Studies, 59(4), 7–21. Retrieved from https://journals.ku.edu/amsj/article/view/13503

Abstract

When the popular television news magazine Omnibus aired late in the afternoon of December 28, 1952, the episode included a fourteen-minute film featuring William Faulkner as himself. Largely neglected by scholars, the Omnibus production is a cultural artifact from the post-Nobel Prize phase of the author’s career that warrants closer examination. Faulkner’s big TV moment gave him access to the largest audience he was ever able to reach at once, since the viewership of Omnibus averaged seventeen million. The short film preserves in an encapsulated form a juncture at which Faulkner was poised to become an actor in a geopolitical theater of cultural Cold War. A series of connections between the Radio-Television Workshop, the Ford Foundation-supported production company responsible for Omnibus, and the cultural operations of the U.S. State Department suggest that Faulkner’s appearance on the program factored into his becoming an official cultural ambassador during the mid-1950s. The producers employed the increasingly influential new medium of television as an instrument for rendering the local and global domains Faulkner now inhabited as a worldly Mississippian. The version of Faulkner portrayed on screen is responsive to key concerns prevalent in Cold War culture: fraught southern race relations, compromised American masculinity, and Atomic Age fears. A combination of televisual image-making and trademark self-fashioning in the Omnibus production helped to cultivate the persona that Faulkner, a writer-diplomat in the making, would soon take to the far-flung places where he was dispatched in the interest of advancing U.S. interests amid a heated ideological conflict.

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