Papers presented by Richard Popp since 2019
2023 Detroit, MI, United States
"Mediating Real Estate in Midtown Manhattan"
Richard Popp, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
In 1938, programmers at NBC received a novel proposal from their landlords at Rockefeller Center. Why not make greater use of the Center’s observation decks? Perched atop the 70-story RCA Building and wildly popular with tourists, the decks offered a panoramic view of greater Gotham. What if NBC turned this Olympian perspective into the basis for a radio series? Experts could lecture on everything from the region’s geologic formation to its systems of parks, ports, and highways. The network passed, but the idea encapsulates many of the dynamics that shaped the uneasy partnership of media corporations and real-estate developers that was becoming one of US capitalism’s key relationships in the interwar years. As the largest development in Manhattan’s history and home to the world’s greatest concentration of communications firms, Rockefeller Center was a powerful embodiment of these ties. Nor was it alone. Paramount Pictures and other media giants had also recently moved into towering headquarters built atop Midtown’s old five-story landscape of walkups and theaters. Doing so brought them into business with industrialists and landholders, who, believing that skyscrapers were “machines that made the land pay” (to paraphrase architect Cass Gilbert), had plunged into commercial realty. As Max Page argues, early-twentieth-century Americans were accustomed to reading New York’s volatile cityscape through a lens of “creative destruction.” Having assumed a lead role in this drama, media firms sought to capitalize on that perceptual framework by promoting their ability to transform the revenues yielded selling light and sound into massive interventions in the built environment. Drawing on the NBC archives, this paper explores such efforts, paying close attention to how, despite their Promethean ambitions, the operations and public image of these headquarters were nonetheless conditioned by the surrounding neighborhoods, infrastructure systems, social stratifications, and remembered landscapes into which they had been implanted.
2021 Hopin Virtual Events Platform
"A Businessman’s Holiday: The Time Newstour and the Forging of a Multinational Mindset"
Richard Popp, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Between 1963 and 1985, the magazine publisher Time Inc. whisked more than 150 top U.S. business executives around the world as part of its invite-only Newstour program. Recruited from the nation’s largest corporations and traveling in groups of 20 to 30, Newstour participants held court with presidents, premiers, prime ministers, ministry heads, sultans, generals, foreign CEOs, and others, all the while hobnobbing with each other on two-week journeys organized by Time Inc.’s editorial brain trust. Planning itineraries, lining up appointments, booking flights, and enlisting its foreign correspondents as tour guides, the publishing giant transformed itself into the world’s most exclusive travel agency. Altogether, Time Inc. hosted nine Newstours during this period, building them around global hotspots: Western Europe and the Soviet Union (1963), Southeast Asia (1965), Eastern Europe (1966), The Far East (1969), The Middle East (1975), Africa/Mid East (1978), Eastern Europe/Mideast (1981), Mexico (1983), and the Pacific Rim (1985). Drawing on material from the Time Inc. archives, this paper explores the Newstours, providing an overview of the program and examining its role in the broader globalization of corporate capitalism in the late-twentieth century. For Time Inc., the Newstours were institution-building exercises meant to demonstrate the publisher’s global clout to national business leaders. For the travelers, the Newstours were a kind of working vacation. They offered opportunities to scope out global markets and establish relationships with foreign officials in an era when the corporations they ran were reinventing themselves as multinational enterprises. Crucially, though, the Newstours also furnished a distinct type of spatio-temporal experience in which US business executives and journalists could reimagine themselves as members of a transnational network of elite actors collectively forging a more thoroughly integrated planetary community.
2020 Charlotte, North Carolina
"Checkout Lines: People, Supermarkets, and Suburbanized Media Networks"
Richard Popp, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
In early 1974, supermarket shoppers may have noticed a new magazine, People, peering out at them as they waited at the checkout. With $2 million worth of TV advertising behind it, the new Time Inc. weekly was hard to miss. Critics recoiled at People's blend of news and gossip. The publishers they worked for, however, were more impressed. For them, People – designed for single-copy sales – was something of a guinea pig and its fate would help answer a question many had long pondered: how much did the magazine business really need the mail? For decades, publishers had experimented with private delivery networks. The rate hikes triggered by the U.S. Post Office's transformation into the Postal Service in 1970 gave these experiments a new urgency. Mandated to operate more like a business, USPS slashed the subsidies magazine publishers had enjoyed for over a century. By then, publishers were more dependent on mail delivery than ever thanks to the mass migration of middle-class whites –always their core readership – to newly-built subdivisions devoid of the newsstands that dotted the urban communities they left behind. But as Time and others recognized, there was another way to reach this decentralized readership: supermarkets. Working from the recently opened Time Inc. archives, this paper explores how supermarkets – built to move mass volumes of packaged foods – became important distribution networks for media and how broader ideas about the supermarket as a suburban, feminized space conditioned critical reaction to the media productions designed to sell there. In so doing, the paper offers insight into the role of large-scale spatial transformations in the forging and fracturing of business relationships. Moreover, it shines a light on how collaborations are themselves something to be interpreted by the consuming public.