Originality at Horn & Hardart

As a kid, one of my biggest treats – and this will seem pathetic – was my father taking me to the Horn & Hardart “Automat” in New York City. There, a series of people attired in white outfits and standing behind counters served tray-toting patrons food from well-stocked pans.

And the very neatest thing about H&H was serving myself pie by opening a horizontal, stainless steel framed glass door to extract a slice.

Going to cosmopolitan Manhattan, I guess, was no big deal for sophisticated New Jersey eight-year olds. The smoke-filled Jersey Central train ride to the ferry that carried us across the river to lower Manhattan, kinda ho-hum.

Broadcast television network CBS News uses the tagline “Original Reporting” beneath its logo. I noticed this only recently.

They may have been doing this a long time, for all I know. Since Walter retired, I rarely view that network’s newscast; I watch that New Jersey guy, Brian. Patriotism, you know.

CBS’s labeling seems a good, though subtle and curious, idea. I wonder about how well the tagline is understood or appreciated as well as its seeming necessity.

I assume CBS is trying to telegraph to potential and actual viewers that what CBS presents in its half hour newscast is something they did – as opposed to merely collecting and assembling other people’s work and then presenting that “aggregation” or “remix” as their own.

Also of late, I notice “USA Today” newspaper is advertising on TV. I’ve seen two spots: one with sports columnist Christine Brennan and another with a news columnist.

Apparently, USA Today’s ads seek to personalize what appears in their paper. And, like CBS, but even more subtly, imply originality: here are the people who report and craft the information we present in our medium.

One wonders, if only momentarily, why it is one must billboard such a fact.

Because one also wonders whether or not anyone cares.

When, as today, rearrangement of the work created by others is deemed “creative,” and even “novel,” hasn’t the notion of originality become passé?

To me, the Automat was a wonderful novelty. An original (and a magnetically compelling) idea.

Today, as then, the rest of the world might call a place such as Horn & Hardart a cafeteria.

For a recent discussion of copyright matters see Robert Harrington’s essay on The Scholarly Kitchen: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/11/22/copyright-in-a-digital-era-the-rise-and-rise-of-ccc/

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