Archive for category Television

The Far Right is Driven by Fear!


And that’s just one of the many tweets and posts of racist outrage over a Coca-Cola commercial celebrating diversity.   If you want to see a series of screen shots of equally or even more offensive bizarre-ness, click .here

So what did Coca-cola do to offend America’s brownshirts?  Seems they had a commercial where “America the Beautiful” was sung in a number of different languages.   The song reflects a sense of love for the splendor and diversity of this land.  To me it was the perfect song for Coca Cola to use to celebrate America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Here’s the ad:

Reactions from the right have been swift and harsh.   Besides the neo-nazi vomit one can find on the link above, pundits put their feet in their mouths reacting.    In a surreal statement, Fox’s Allen West said that the commercial showed that Americans are not “proud enough” and that this commercial was truly disturbing.  More from West:

 If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition. This was a truly disturbing commercial for me, what say you?

The irony.   If you are scared, defensive and weak, you will fear that an ad showing diversity somehow threatens ones own status.  Fear of other languages singing “America the Beautiful” is the response of a coward, of someone who doesn’t understand or accept the reality of American diversity and change.

Over at Breitbart Patrick Leahy whines about an “openly gay couple” being in the ad (how dare they do that in America!) and claims:

As far as the executives at Coca Cola are concerned, however, the United States of America is no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution and American traditions in which English is the language of government. It is not a nation governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty. It is instead a nation governed by some all inclusive multi-cultural synthesis of the various forms of government in the world, as expressed by the multiple languages used in the Super Bowl ad to sing a uniquely American hymn that celebrates our heritage.

Besides the fact that Katherine Lee Bates, who wrote the lyrics for the song, was a lesbian, what on earth in that commercial opposes the Constitution?   And really – liberty is only an Anglo-American tradition?   Are the only free people those who speak English?

It’s fear.  They fear diversity, they fear a country in which soon over half the population will not be white, and an ever growing hispanic minority gains political and cultural clout.  The fear globalization, they fear change, they fear the inevitable.  They are scared little children, grasping at something that is already slipping away.

Fear drives the worst in our nature.   People afraid lash out angrily.   They hurt others, thinking that the damage is justified.  They rationalize heinous acts, believing them defensive.  They lose the capacity to see just how absurd and bizarre their claims are.  Rational thought is the first victim of fear.

Do they forget that America is made up of immigrants - about 80% come from families who originally did not speak English!

Do they forget that America is made up of immigrants – about 80% come from families who originally did not speak English!

Glenn Beck demonstrates this by being unable to separate homage to American diversity from everyday politics:

“It’s an in your face — and if you don’t like, if you’re offended by it, then you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration, you’re for progress. That’s all this is, is to divide people.”

Uh, no.  It doesn’t say a thing about immigration.  And why on earth would one be offended by it?  Oh wait, I know!  FEAR.  Glenn Beck is very scared man – he recently thought that Kenmore was in a liberal plot to change America because it calls some of its dishwashers and vacuum cleaners “progressive.”

Sigh.   They are right on one thing – America is changing, and they can’t stop it.   Just as America in 1985 was fundamentally different than America in 1935, so it will be profoundly different in 2035.   Change is the American way, and increases in diversity and the impact of globalization can’t be stopped.  It is inevitable that they will lose the strange “English only” fantasy of what they think America should be.    They are fearing the inevitable.

Yet it floors me that they don’t realize how pathetic and whiny their reactions sound.   They are humiliating themselves, making themselves laughingstocks, and they don’t even know it!



Disgusting Islamophobia

TLC is doing a reality show called American Muslim,  following five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan.   The show follows average Muslims living every day lives as cops, coaches and consumers — typical Americans.

Not for the Islamophobes!   Islamophobia is similar to the anti-semitism of the Nazi party in Germany before World War II.  It wants to posit Muslims as a different kind of people, not truly American – just as Jews were not truly German to the anti-semites.   They want to spread myths about Islam, making it sound like Sharia law is always some kind of horrific set of barbarian practices, that women are treated horribly, and every Muslim secretly wants the Taliban to come to power.

Not everyone who is concerned about Islamic extremism is an Islamophobe.   Islamophobia is defined as an irrational fear of Islam, usually present when people become convinced that Islam is an inherently anti-western anti-modern religion that can never co-exist with Western values.   Such a view is absurd when taking into account the history of Islam and the reality of Islam in America (or Europe).     Yes, there are extremist and irrational Muslims too — and it’s right to oppose them, and when a filmmaker is killed in the Netherlands or a terror act occurs in London, the religious element has to be dealt with openly and clearly.

However, true Islamophobia is as dangerous as anti-semitism was in Germany in the 20s and 30s and must be fought just as fervently as any of us would fight anti-semitism if we were transported to Germany in 1930.   It is the stuff of vile bigotry, a kind of evil that is fundamentally anti-American and ignorant.   Alas, it still has clout.

The big retail chain Lowe’s caved to pressure from an Nazi Islamophobic organization called “The Florida Family Association.”    Like the Nazis, this group’s irrational fear and hatred is not limited to Muslims, they are also homophobic, warning of a gay and Muslim “agenda”.  From their website:   “TLC’s “All-American Muslim” is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values. ”

Get that – seeing Muslims as average Americans is dangerous because it hides the “Islamic agenda.”   Just like how the Jewish agenda in Germany was put forth when Jews were seen as normal shopkeepers, scientists and artists.   It is morally equivalent and Lowe’s is doing the moral equivalent of caving to Nazi pressure.   According to the neo-fascist website for the Florida Family Association, Sweet-n-Low is also withholding sponsorship, as is Home Depot.

One might be tempted to cut them some slack because they are a Christian organization.  But the world view they espouse does not differ much from any fascist world view.   Hitler said he was fighting to save Germany from anti-German elements — not just Jews, but liberals, socialists, pacifists, internationalists and homosexuals, all of whom stood against traditional German values.   Fascists portray themselves as promoting strength, virtue, and wholesomeness.   They defend their violence as saying it is the true strong German (or, in the case of this group they’d say American or Christian) is unafraid to speak the truth about threats to society and willing to do what is necessary to counter them.  Violence and intolerance is to them a virtue.

For Hitler the battle in the 20s was a culture war for Germany’s soul, promoting fear of the diversity emerging in the 20th Century in order to get people to embrace what was sold as a return to strong German values.   The world view of this “Florida Family Association” is similar.  They want to protect American culture from Muslims, gays, liberals, and secular humanists.   The core of their ideology is fear of difference, and even though they are not yet espousing violence, once a group is defined as a danger to society and something different and even evil, the line to violence is much easier to cross.

But even if it doesn’t go as far as Nazism did, such fear-based bigotry is fundamentally anti-American and enables discrimination, prejudice and abuse against others.  It is fear of people based on the essence of who they are — their faith, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity.  As such it’s an anti-human ideology, one that must be countered.

The best way to do that is to contact Lowes, Home Depot, and Sweet and Low — and whoever else refuses to advertise on that show.   Tell them that their support of an anti-American boycott is despicable and unless their policy changes you’ll shop elsewhere.  Moreover, one should speak out and condemn this kind of organization and the fear that underlies its mode of operation.  Having studied German history in the 20s and 30s, I know that apathy — or a belief ‘well, they’re a bit extreme but they have a point’ — is extremely dangerous.   Finally, watch the TLC show and support advertisers who don’t cave to extremist pressure.

Most importantly, however, is in our every day life to support tolerance and mutual respect for all people.   Disrespect and opposition should be based on actions people take, not who they are or even what they believe.   This includes groups like the Florida Family Association.

One has to focus on the specific actions taken by that group, and not use their actions as an excuse to be bigoted against Christians or even those whose personal belief system is one that does not support Islam, gay marriage or homosexuality.  There is room for all kinds of beliefs in this country, and we can’t respond to bigotry with bigotry in return — that simply reinforces and deepens the intensity of bigotry.   Instead the focus has to be on countering their message and offering a positive alternative.

We have come a long way in ten years.   The country understands and accepts Islam far better now than it did then, and groups like this are on the periphery.   Let’s keep it that way.


Pan Am: Surreal yet Compelling

This post contains spoilers from the first three episodes of Pan Am (ABC – Sunday 10:00 PM EST)

I’ve broken from my usual writing about politics and world affairs to comment on music, today I’ll wade into the territory of network television.

Set in the early 1960s, the new ABC series Pan Am follows the lives of a group of stewardesses (not flight attendants yet) traveling the globe on one of Pan Am’s top of the line international jets.   But the story gets complicated, one stewardess, Kate, works for the CIA.  She’s not a full blown agent, but recruited to run errands — make deliveries, exchange messages and the like.   Yet she is a vehicle for a lot of cold war intrigue, bringing politics and the Cold War at its height back into American living rooms.

So you have gorgeous women (each with their own personality quirks), hot shot pilots, jealousy, romance, rivalry and espionage set in the early sixties.  Isn’t that enough to get you to check it out!?   But it’s more than that.   The series does something that is very difficult to pull off — it uses a kind of soft surrealism to blend together an unlikely mix of characters and situations into a compelling and very entertaining show.

Two of the women, Kate and Laura, are sisters.  Laura left her would be husband at the alter to ultimately join Kate in her career, with her drop dead beauty earning her a cover of Life magazine.    Their mom, who has already appeared (bringing the would be groom to Paris to try to win Laura back) finds this life style dangerous and strange.    Done wrong, that kind of story line would be corny — oh yeah, she leaves the groom at the alter, becomes a stewardess with her sister and gets on Time?   But within the surreal framework of the show it’s perfect.   It works.

Collette, from France, is an intriguing and very likable woman seems to have a kind of ‘old world’ wisdom and perspective that plays off the brimming optimism and idealism of the Americans.    She already was confronted by the wife of a man she had slept with (without knowing he was married), in episode three we learn of her past.    Set in Berlin Germany as the crew took reporters to see John F. Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner speech, it’s revealed her parents were killed in the war and she can’t get over her hatred of the Germans.    In a surreal scene at an embassy party for the President (who had left by then) she starts making accusatory statements to Germans she meets.   She then apologizes, says she’ll make up for it and asks to the pianist to play the German national anthem and sings in perfect German “Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles.”    She isn’t trying to honor the Germans by doing this!

Maggie and Kate

It’s surreal because a pianist would not have played it, especially once the words of the “forbidden” first verse were sung.  She would have been stopped and kicked out.   Yet somehow they pull it off; in the context of this show, it works.   Another stewardess, Maggie (a free thinking woman with drive and courage), has a crush on the President and spends the whole show trying to get to meet him.  She finally sees Air Force One and tells Laura that she can’t make the return flight and to tell the crew she’s sick.    She gets to the tarmac and when stopped she pleads for a chance to shake the President’s hand.   When that doesn’t work she informs the Secret Service that she has a box of Cuban cigars as a gift for Kennedy.

Impressed by the cigars the agent tells her to wait, and heads to the plane.   The President appears atop the plane’s entrance, somewhat in the distance (it’s dark we can’t see features) and waves at her — close to what she wanted, and she’s enthralled.

Gender issues of the early 60s (before ‘women’s lib’) will clearly be covered by this show.  Maggie’s already gotten in trouble for mocking the “weigh ins” required of stewardesses  (can’t have any chubby unattractive women serving Pan Am!) and even stabbing with a fork a first class passenger who tried to assault her.   He backs off, but it’s clear that if he complains Maggie will lose her job (while he risked nothing for what would now be considered a crime).    The pilot settles him down with some expensive scotch and an apology, but instead of being thankful that her job is not in danger, Maggie steams over the injustice of it all.

Dean (the captain of the airplane) and Collette as he notices she's not herself at the embassy party.

The show is only three episodes old.  So far more emphasis is placed on the women — who are the stars — but the Captain (Dean) and first officer (Ted) are integral parts of the story lines as well.   We’ll see how it develops, but at this point it’s got me hooked.

Pan Am started regular transatlantic flights in 1958, and the show is set in that golden era of flight when service was a premium, especially on international flights.   Given the historical allusions — we’ve already had the Bay of Pigs and JFK’s Berlin speech — those of us who enjoy Cold War history will find that part of the show interesting.   This week Maggie helped an East German spy defect, though it got her in some trouble.   It also clearly shows the Machiavellian nature of Cold War intrigue — the key is to combat the Soviets without risking a ‘hot’ war.  One reviewer suggests that this is “TV for old people,” and being 50 it might well be that there is a nostalgic allure to it.   I’m OK with that!  Anyway, I’ve always liked airline movies (I keep waiting for George Kennedy to show up to do mechanical work).

Another complaint is that it’s “too happy.”  So far the dramas are not the kind of tragedies that hit shows like “Desperate Housewives” (another rather surreal hit that preceeds it on ABC), but that’s OK.  It’s a fun show, and it captures the optimism of the era just before Kennedy’s assassination and the subsequent horrors of Vietnam.    So for the first time in a long time I’ve found an hour long network drama that I plan to watch regularly!

Pan Am suffered financial collapse in early December, 1991 — the same month that the Cold War would end with Mikhail Gorbachev’s announcement that the Soviet Union was breaking up.   In that sense the subject matter is doubly fitting: the Cold War era was Pan Am’s era.

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There’s an old Polish proverb that says when your mind is in the past, listen to the sound of a watch being wound.

Well, that one was never on Banacek, but there a number of them listed here.  Or watch them:

Before he was Colonel Hannibal Smith of the A-Team but after enjoying Breakfast at Tiffanys with Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard played Thomas Banacek in a two year 16 episode series in 1972-73 (the same time Styx was making those Wooden Nickel albums).   I just purchased the DVD collection of the series and find it as enjoyable as I remember, one of my favorite series of all time, even if it had such a short run.

Peppard played millionaire free lance insurance investigator Thomas Banacek, a sauve and sophisticated puzzle solver of Polish descent (despite an oddly Czech sounding last name, pronounced Banachek).   The show, set in Boston, always started with an impossible crime.   Something got stolen when protection was tight, when there was no conceivable way a thief could have made the heist.    During the show as you watch Banacek investigate, you’re also trying to figure out just how it was done.

Boston, circa 1972

I think what makes the show is the personality Peppard gives Banacek.  He’s a tad arrogant and smug, but always in a pleasant way.  He keeps his cool, has a good sense of humor, luck with the ladies, and he irritates the insurance investigators who inevitably are angry that Banacek is on the case.   As a freelancer he gets 10% of what the insurance companies would have had to pay out (sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — and that’s 1972 dollars!) if he solves it, while the insurance guys slave for a salary.

There is of course always a beautiful woman involved in some way.   But what makes Banacek so appealing (and a role model when I watched the show — not in its original run but a few years later on re-runs) is his calm self confidence, amusement at the follies going on around him, and his refusal to work for anyone but himself.   He guarded his independence quite fiercely, even with the ladies.

It was mostly a cerebral show.  Banacek got in fights but they were brief and usually he used wits over braun to come out ahead.  In one scene the guy who would later play “Jaws” in the James Bond movies is trying to beat him up, and Banacek doesn’t have a chance.   He manages to briefly elude “Jaws” and then puts his billfold with $100 bills hanging out in the engine of a junked car.  When the crook, thinking Banacek gone, reaches in to get it, he slams down the hood and is able to knock out “Jaws.”  He then calmly takes his billfold back and walks away.   The show was about the puzzle, the bad guys were often insiders manipulating the situation.

Banacek had a chauffeur, a likable Sicilian named Jay Drury, played by Ralph Manza.  He helped provide humor — and the show had a lot of subtle dry humor (another reason I love it).   Banacek also had a friend who was owner of a bookstore that specialized in rare books, played by Murray Matheson.   He would do research for Banacek, and again added humorous banter.   A very short example:

Banacek, being wealthy, had a telephone in his car.  He’d have to call the mobile operator to connect him and his cars were vintage models.  It all demonstrated that he had fine taste, wealth and knew how to live.

I also like how he was fundamentally moral and ethical (unless you’re one of those who thinks a single man shouldn’t mess with women before marriage) yet also didn’t make it emotional.   He might smile when a villain says or does something bad, not in a happy way but in a bemused “that guy’s got a problem” manner.   He’d talk to them in a friendly, respectful way, even if he despised them and was plotting their arrest.  It was as if he were above it all, amused by the spectacle and the fact that he could make lots of money solving puzzles that others could not.

Almost always the plots involved personality flaws of the villains (or even the victims) which Banacek would see through and manipulate to his advantage.   The psychological twists add to the mystery and the humor to make a thoroughly delightful show.

Still, the core was Banacek, affable, smiling, never losing his cool and always having a witty (if at times smug) come back to insults and efforts to put him down (such as how the investigators from the insurance companies would purposefully mispronounce his name).   When someone mentions the hostility from the company’s investigator is reply is always the same: such hostility is an “occupational hazard.”   It was agreat show — and worth purchasing on DVD!  If you want some samples, here is a scene where he encounters Margot Kidder, who would later go on to play Lois Lane (with a Superman reference six years before she’d get that role):

Here’s another clip: enjoy!

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American Idol

Last year my wife watched the American Idol show every week, ending up angry that the one she wanted to win, named Adam, lost to someone she thought inferior, named Kris.  At the time, a friend of hers bought 14 tickets to the American Idol concert in Portland Maine.   My wife bought two for the September 12th concert.

I said she should bring a friend and I could watch the kids so we didn’t have to spend money on a babysitter.  But ultimately she wanted me to go (reminding me of how I dragged her to see the Canadian band Rush in Quebec back in 2002), so I went to a concert where I recognized only a few songs, didn’t know anything about the performers, and stood on the floor surrounded by screaming fans, disproportionately females under 18.   Now, from this description you might think I didn’t like the experience, but that would be a wrong guess.  While the music and performances were often bland and boring, I found it an interesting piece of American culture.

First, I thought I got permanent ear drum damage from two girls behind us who screamed louder than I thought possible every time Adam’s picture was on the screen.  It was the first time I’d been to a large concert where there was not even the smallest wiff of pot in the air.  Not being a pot smoker, concerts are usually my only opportunity to try to achieve a second hand smoke high.   No, here it was Aquafresh mineral water and soda.   Yet the fans were interesting.  Mostly female, but a wide variety of ages.  From the women aged 50 something who were standing and dancing the whole show, to the older woman behind us who held up a sign, “Adam – A Shame U R Not My Son,” to the parents there with younger children, it was diverse.

Some older couples were there — fans of the show no doubt, who wanted to see the talent live — and the crowd was extremely active and energetic.   It was all as poppish as the show — choreographed, clean, and commercial.

To the show itself.  Contestants 6 through 10 were not very good.  Each sang a couple songs, and none of them really showed the strength of voice or stage presence to even hope to manage keeping the interest of an audience for a full concert.   They’d no doubt do good performing live music at a local bar, but even with massive production help they were utterly forgettable.

Contestant 5, whose name was Matt, was one of the two I could imagine being a solo success.  He had a personality that connected to the audiences, was funny, and seemed versatile enough that I could imagine him doing a concert and keeping the people interested.  The only other one I could see that from was the one I would have made the winner if it were up to me (based only on Saturday night’s show): Allison, who was number 4.   She had fun out there, with a personality that mixed the band Heart (she did do Barracuda) with Janis Joplin.  Her voice was unique, but very strong, with an impressive range.

I was surprised at how boring number 3, Danny, was.  (My wife teased me for talking about them only by numbers after the show — but I had forgotten the names).   I guess he had a compelling story in that his wife had just died a month before the contest.  I’d have stuck him down around number 8.    Like number 6 (Anoop?), Danny was boring, but with a decent and pleasant voice.

The first two were interesting.   Neither struck me as obviously better than the other (and I saw both as weaker than 4 and 5 — Allison and Matt), but they had absolutely different styles.   Number 2, Adam, had a Freddie Mercury – David Bowie thing going, which was intriguing and clearly very popular.  He went for an androgynous look  and the closest hints to suggestive gestures that this youth oriented concert provided.   He was charismatic, but didn’t show the real personality that Allison and Matt had.  I think he’d be very good in a band, perhaps a lead singer in a band that had the style he displayed.   Kris, the winner, was of the wholesome boy band look.   Attractive, youthful, charming, and a solid singer, he made up for a lack of pizazz by playing various instruments and having fun on stage.   Again, his personality lacked some depth, he’d be better as part of something bigger.

We snuck out as the concert was ending, a rousing rendition by the entire “cast” of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”   Most of the others ducking out a bit early appeared to be parents with children — willing to go to the show, but unwilling to wait the long period of time the building would take to clear out, or the traffic jams that would ensue.  We had a drive of over an hour and a half ahead, we bugged out early.   (To be sure, Natasha had us leave the Rush concert in 2002 a bit early too).

In all, an interesting evening.  Perhaps I’d have gotten into it more if I had watched the show, but it seemed very shallow and contrived, clearly more marketing than music.   Yet the people there had fun.   Whole families could share this night of rock music without drugs or alcohol (save a couple people I saw who had snuck something in to spike up their Pepsi).   Who am I to dismiss this as “shallow” when clearly it’s a fun night.   And as I celebrate my Vikings winning their opening against Cleveland, with Brett Favre successful and Adrian Peterson gaining 180 yards, can I really call someone else’s entertainment shallow and contrived?

I realize this blog entry is bland, with nothing profound or interesting standing out.   American Idol is clearly no Father Roy Bourgeois! But bland seems appropriate, since that is exactly what I thought about the concert.


The End of the Television Era

Thanks to a post from Mookie, I’ve been thinking about TV and how it has changed.   (And Mookie’s a young guy, he probably doesn’t even remember the launching of MTV in 1981!)

Back when I was young I was told in a high school psychology class that most people dream in Black and White.   I thought that was an odd thing for the teacher to claim, since I was pretty sure I dreamed in color.   When I next had a vividly colored dream I reported it to the teacher, wondering if perhaps I had a special sort of mind that broke through the color barrier.   Turns out that my Psych teacher was part of a unique generation — the black and white TV generation.   People born in the early era of TV somehow learned to dream in black and white, like TV shows.

On a morning in 1968, I was spared that fate.  The telephone rang and my Grandma told me and my sister to go down to the TV room.  That room (which later that year would become my bedroom after my second sister was born) was where we got together as a family to watch shows like Batman, Lost in Space, or a movie like PT109 (about JFK in WWII).   It was a Saturday morning, cartoon time, so we wasted no time running downstairs.    I still remember stopping as my jaw dropped in amazement as the cartoon version of “The Lone Ranger” was on.   IN COLOR!  My Grandma had bought us a color TV.

My Grandma lived in Mankato, MN, in an apartment over a men’s clothing store.   She worked at a store called Buttreys as a manager, and we thought she had the best of all worlds.   A cool downtown apartment (with a great metal staircase going up the side of the building), lots of nice neighbors who would give us ice cream, and a color TV.   When we visited, we’d rush to watch whatever was on, often Johnny Carson late at night.  I still recall the jingle for Channel 11 out of Minneapolis “Metromedia television, 11, 11, 11….”   In those days the color shows had a “C” in the TV Guide next to them.  My Grandma also had something rare — cable television.  Rural areas were experimenting with ways to expand the number of stations received, and Mankato happened to have an early cable system in the mid-sixties (she got about nine stations, I believe).

It was in Mankato where I saw Johnny Carson have Raquel Welch as a guest.   She came out with a cat, and she said, “would you like to pet my pussy,” and he replied, “sure, if you move that damn cat.”   Google this incident and it’s listed as an urban legend that didn’t happen.   There are no tapes from many of those episodes, what was on live dissipated as soon as the image flashed on the screen, there is no record.   As far as history is concerned, Carson and Welch managed to get that scene categorized as “never having happened.”   But I saw it.  I know.   I also remember when Heidi, a movie about a Swiss girl, interrupted an exciting football playoff game — you know that wouldn’t happen now.

Sioux Falls didn’t get cable until 1974, but we enjoyed having a real color TV.   After school I’d watch shows like Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hogan’s Heroes.   The TV moved to our basement rec room after the TV room became my bedroom.   I had the only downstairs bedroom, though, so I could sneak out and watch shows like Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock, the Twilight Zone, and Johnny Carson.  And, of course, with only a few stations, everyone watched the same shows.    All the school kids watched Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer the one night it was on, or my favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.   By high school we were talking every Monday about 60 Minutes, and the way they caught some corrupt person red handed.

Television changed the country.   I recall watching All in the Family from the start in 1970, and despite being so young, appreciating that it was a new kind of sitcom — reflecting the times.   Maude, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and that great sitcom with Valerie Bertenelli  (mom and two daughters, handman Schneider…can’t recall the name of the show, MacKenzie Phillips was the other daughter).  After I got over my crush on Marcia from The Brady Bunch, I was in love with Valerie.   Television was our pop culture, it reflected changing values, especially as my all time favorite show, MASH pushed the boundaries of how to deal with issues like war and patriotism.   But perhaps my favorite were the mystery movies — Columbo, Banacek, Macmillan and Wife. Banacek (George Peppard) was really cool, he had a phone in his car!

The 80s saw a continuation of the TV era…St. Elsewhere, Hillstreet Blues, Cheers, The Cosby Show (Thursday night was the original Must See TV on NBC)…but yet, change was afoot.  Suddenly the cable systems were offering 50 or more channels, with a “cable box” (since TVs only went to channel 13).   A 24 hour news station, CNN, was introduced, with swift and surprising success.   MTV came out when I was 21, and I soon found myself addicted to watching that cool new art form, the music video.   For a brief time, this fragmentation co-existed with a solid core of heavily watched network TV.

By the 90s cable was into the hundreds of stations.   People had been buying satellite dishes — huge expensive pieces of equipment to tap into satellites.   For awhile, this brought the few who could afford such a thing a massive amount of TV — until stations started to scramble their signals.   Soon mini-dishes with services like Dishnet and Direct TV took over.   Now with DVRs, programming is so fragmented that TV rarely offers that cultural window that it did in the past.  It is to the current generation what radio was to mine — useful at times, but not primary.

It was the internet, combining with massive fragmentation, that altered television forever.   The era of television ended sometime in the mid-nineties, as the internet started to take over.    The “Tuesday Night Movie” that might be watched by a good chunk of the country — a TV release of last year’s theater favorite — became irrelevant as DVD rentals and now video on demand via computer allowed one to watch films uncensored for TV, and without commercials.   The Saturday morning cartoon ritual became replaced by multiple cartoon stations repeating the same shows over and over, all day long.  Even young kids are shifting from TV to the internet.

I enjoyed the television era.  From the classic commercials (“I Can’t Believe I ate the whole thing…”) to 80% of the country tuning in to Walter Cronkite to get the thirty minutes of evening news, it was a charming and culturally significant part of Americana.    Of course television, like radio before, isn’t going to disappear.  Radio found its niches — music, talk radio, sports, morning weather reports, etc. — and television will continue to have its niche appeal.   Parents won’t worry about kids watching too much TV, they’ll monitor internet time.    Kids will watch old shows at time for fun, laughing at of Star Trek episodes, so politically incorrect according to today’s sensibilities, but groundbreakingly progressive in the mid-sixties.

Robert Plant’s 1980s song “Little by Little, everything changes” jumps in my head a lot these days.   Back in the 80s it seemed that TV would be the entertainment mode of the future, and all technological advances would go via the television.   Now, it has been pushed aside by a digital mass media age that changes everything about how people entertain themselves, network, communicate and interact.   And, while it’s tempting to decry the change, I remember days in high school, bored at home at night…watching TV, writing stories, reading…what I wouldn’t have given to be able to go on line and connect!