An ‘Omnibus’ view of the world

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Assistant Professor Anna Nekola

The latest fodder for intellectual inquiry on this year’s campus theme, “Migrations,” came from 1950s TV.  Hey, it’s not just people who migrate; information does, too, along with a thirst for cultural knowledge.

First-year programs assistant professor Anna Nekola brought a glimpse of how world music and dance “migrated” to American audiences via Omnibus, the award-winning Sunday afternoon variety show that aired from 1952 to 1961. Her presentation was part of a lunch lecture series that highlights faculty members’ scholarly interests.

Nekola said TV pioneer Robert Saudek created the show in conjunction with the Ford Foundation as a way to “convey an appreciation for high art” and “to legitimize TV for cultural edification” in post-war America.

With host Alistair Cook, Omnibus invited experts to talk about their work. Orson Wells, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jacques Cousteau, Les Paul, Mary Ford and W.H. Auden were among those who made appearances, and fascinating examples of the arts from other cultures often held center stage.

The show was much loved, receiving 65 awards, but occasionally was criticized for being “too artsy or eclectic,” Nekola said. “Omnibus explained and legitimized world culture as intellectually valuable but, unintentionally, it still positioned the United States as the norm and all else as ‘other.’ Migrations and the movements that come with them can be enriching—and troubling.”

A Macedonian folk dance showcased on Omnibus.

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