Has the world ever known a more compellingly eccentric cultural outlet than the fringes of Los Angeles television in the 1970s and 80s? For the most part a realm of false prophets, unhinged crackpots, desperate pitchmen, and Cal Worthington, its airwaves also occasionally carried the thoughts of important minds. Take, for instance, the appearances on the public-access cable programs Psychic Phenomena: The World Beyond and Quest Four: The Fourth Dimension of none other than prolific architect-theorist-inventor Buckminster Fuller. You can watch both together, and thereby get an overview of the then already octogenarian Fuller’s life and ideas in a fairly unusual context, in the videos of the Youtube playlist above.
On both programs, the first of which aired in 1979 and the second in 1983, Fuller sits across from Damien Simpson. The founder of an organization called the Universal Mind Science Church, Simpson seems to have spent his life as something of a seeker. After time in the seminary, he lived for a period in a monastery under a vow of silence.
In the years after starting his own church, he hosted new-age television and radio programs whose guest lists included, according to his bio, everyone from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to Dennis Weaver. But Simpson clearly considered Fuller the catch to beat them all, more than once likening himself to “a kid in a candy store” as he revels in his chance to converse with the man who thought up the geodesic dome and much else besides.
Born in the 19th century, usually dressed in a suit and tie, and constantly working on the development and application of ultra-practical ideas, Fuller hardly projected the image of a 70s new-ager. Yet he and the audiences of shows like Psychic Phenomena and Quest Four shared more than a few habits of mind. Fuller, for instance, insisted on always considering the world as not a collection of nations but one whole system (one he memorably labeled “Spaceship Earth”), an example of “holistic thinking” in the truest sense. He also believed, as he spells out in these interviews, that humanity faces an existential “final examination,” a test of our collective intellect and will to determine whether we can bring about an era — quite literally, a new age — of peace. It will demand much of us, he tells Simpson and and his viewers all across Los Angeles, not least our naiveté: “Dare to be naive. That’s the only way you’ll ever learn anything.”
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.