Well I Heard Mister Young Sing About Her

June 27, 2012

Occasionally people have complained that this blog is “too political.”  I generally take that to mean that I have expressed political beliefs with which the complainer does not agree.  I also think it misses the point, in the sense that everything is political, including television.  Obviously The Defenders is political, but so is Gilligan’s Island, in less obvious ways.  It’s not as if I’m hitting the pause button here to endorse a candidate or rant about current events.  Any time I have expressed a political view, it’s been a genuine response to something I’ve seen in a television show.  To elide or avoid expressing that response for fear of offending someone would be a kind of self-censorship that I have no interest in practicing.

And yet some readers are clearly uncomfortable about this, either in a “no politics at the dinner table” way or else because they’re uninterested in experiencing art that expresses (or even seems like it might express) a viewpoint different from their own.

I haven’t spent much time on the Home Theater Forum (whose founder I’m on record as having some issues with) in recent years, but my Herbert Leonard piece from last week was mentioned over there and that led me to spend a little time poking around in some recent threads.  Here are a few comments from a Home Theater Forum thread that got me thinking:

GaryOS (referencing the long-abandoned Television Code):

Most shows seem to encourage the use of profanity; encourage the negative portrayal of family life; encourage irreverence for God and religion; encourage illicit sex, drunkenness and addiction; encourage presentation of cruelty, detailed techniques of crime, and the use of horror for its own sake; and encourage the negative portrayal of law enforcement officials, among others. And most assuredly performers are encouraged to dress and move outside the “bounds of decency”.  And if these things are not out and out encouraged, they are at least certainly on display over and over.

And that is precisely why I prefer classic TV to current television.  Most everything today seems to fall to the lowest common denominator and I find most current programming to be shallow and unimaginative.  Not to mention just flat out vile and repulsive.

Archie Goodwin:

If it weren’t for DVDs I would no longer have necessity for a TV. 99% of what I watch on my TV today comes from DVDs of old TV shows and my intelligence is never insulted, my morals never made fun of, my sense of justice always reinforced, my view of good winning over evil reinforced, Good guys winning in the end reinforced, behaving decently toward one another, the Golden Rule, always being the best policy, reinforced, & honesty winning over lies.

Jack P:

Law and Order is for me, a classic case of a show that in terms of format is something I would ordinarily love, by letting us see the “process” form of drama play out with equal attention to cops and prosecutors. But I have to be hyper-selective in terms of which episodes I watch because this show too often and I mean *too* often has succumbed to the desire to go on soapbox messaging that purposefully caters to one narrow end of the spectrum only. By contrast, a *good* show with a winning format in an earlier era was something I could feel comfortable watching 99% of the episodes of, and that is one thing that has been lost in the last couple decades.

I sense closed-mindedness, even fear, in these remarks, as if any new idea or image (or, worse, a familiar but unappealing one) sends some spectators rushing to cover their eyes and start chanting to drown out the noise from the TV set.   I don’t get that.  Why would one’s personal values need align with the point of view expressed by a television show, a television character, or a television creator?  My own values apply to my life, not to the content of art or entertainment.

For instance: I found 24 morally offensive in certain ways, and yet it never occurred to me not to watch it.  24 was a well-directed action show with a number of showy performances from important actors.  I didn’t want to miss out on any of that.  More importantly, engaging with its dismaying politics made for an interesting intellectual exercise.  I thought about it, probably more than it deserved; argued about it; wrote about it; had fun with it.  My only criteria for skipping a television series are if it’s dull or stupid.  (“Stupid” as in insulting to the intelligence; e.g., reality shows that clumsily stage events and ask the audience to accept them as spontaneous.)

I bring this up not to tweak these specific folks from the Home Theater Forum (although, yes, I would like to give a couple of them a good shake), but because it’s relevant to my work in a specific way.  I sense that a lot of early television enthusiasts are essentially nostalgists.  They like old television because it’s old.  It evokes ambered childhood memories (if you’re a baby boomer) or it constructs a world that existed before one’s own birth (if you’re my age).  (These are two separate cravings, which I don’t have room to parse at the moment, but look at in terms of Rod Serling characters: you have your Martin Sloan, who longs to escape into his own past, and you have your Gart Williams, who yearns for an idealized nineteenth century.)  Nostalgia even has its own convention now – not just science fiction or vinyl or movie posters or radio, but everything musty and old, I guess.  They’ve actually built Willoughby.  This year it’s in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Well, have at it.  A stop at Willoughby is a chill down my spine, because my mission here isn’t to wallow in the past.  It’s to excavate interesting stuff from a variety of time periods, including the present day, and to write about it in a way that’s modern and relevant.  I was tempted to call this post “Fuck Nostalgia,” but I think I’m saving that title for something more substantial.

To a certain extent – and correct me if I have this wrong – I suspect that a strong personal or cultural identification with the good old days may may overlap with a reactionary political stance.  (“Reactionary” can have a neutral meaning – someone whose values are old-fashioned – and a pejorative one – a hatemongering lunatic.  I’m not sure which applies here.)  I think it’s obvious by now that I have no truck with that stance.  But I’m not sure what to do with my conservative constituency (assuming I still have one), or even the apolitical nostalgists who get bent out of shape when I describe Donna Reed as an emasculating wraith.  Should I mock or ignore or engage with them?  Is it a fool’s errand to think that I can write what I want and somehow not alienate that segment of classic TV enthusiasts?  I mentioned a couple of Twilight Zone episodes above and I’ll bet everyone who’s still reading this got the references, so there is a common language that we’re all speaking.

So: discuss.  If you have a different way of looking at things, please elaborate on it.  You can call me a dick if you feel like it (a freedom of speech not enjoyed by Mr. Epstein’s acolytes).  Apparently some of those Home Theater Forum regulars think I’m a snob, but I’m genuinely interested in the ways that people choose what they watch, and how they use those shows in their actual lives.

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30 Responses to “Well I Heard Mister Young Sing About Her”

  1. MDH Says:

    Well said. I’m perplexed by people who treat classic TV like a private portal back to a past that never existed (and fantasy and selective memory are really what nostalgia is all about). Personally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many of the shows I watched as a kid, teenager, and young adult *don’t* cater to that impulse when I revisit them now, including a few I never would’ve guessed; it’s what I love about them and seek out.

    The shows that do press the nostalgia button — that have nothing to offer beyond a bland, politically neutered, impossibly vanilla world view — leave me cold. Seeking them out precisely because they don’t pose a challenge or generate any friction or upset an understanding of how things used to be strikes me as a little sad, and even disrespectful of the form. And just not much fun, either.

  2. Patrick Murtha Says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little nostalgia (an “ache in the heart,” remember Don Draper’s Kodak pitch?), and I have my Willoughby moments and can enjoy shows that appeal to those (“All Creatures Great and Small” is a good example). But the sort of reactionary responses you quoted, I view as delusional more than nostalgic. My policy is to never engage with people like that unless I’m absolutely forced to. I have all the time in the world for intelligent Burkean conservatism, but not for the dim-wittedness that characterizes the reactionary elements in American life today. I’ve been living abroad for a couple of years, in Korea and Mexico, and have not encountered anything like that strain of thought, which seems sadly peculiar to the U.S.

    You write a great blog that will tend to attract readers who understand what you’re doing.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      That Kodak pitch scene is great, and in fact I have a vague memory that I’d toyed with using it as a jumping-off point for a post similar to this one. Certainly, it gets to the heart of the matter, as Mad Men so often does.

  3. Lee Says:

    I’ve been over there too, and it can be quite an eye-opener. I don’t see older television shows as nostalgic, but a lot of people do. It does seem to sell the good old shows short and lend unearned status to the bad old shows, but whatever makes them happy is fine, I suppose. There is a kind of intellectual limitation to it, though. “That show is good because my kids won’t hear bad words” isn’t much of an endorsement. Personally, nostalgia is good for about two episodes with me. After that, it bores me and I want to watch something good. (Hence my He-Man sampler disc.)

    I don’t think you should change your views or their presentation here. At most, you could acknowledge that some of your readers may feel the opposite way, and that’s their privilege.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Yeah. “It’s clean enough for my kids” is something that I can’t engage with it all. I guess it’s relevant if you have kids … although I myself am sometimes tempted to procreate just so I can show the little tyke everything I watch, up to and including Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS, just as a sort of science experiment.

      I should add though that two of the people I quoted are at least pretty articulate (only the middle one is a raving loon) … and probably reiterate that if the Home Theater Forum comes across as kinda stoopid sometimes, it’s because Epstein’s draconian “you vill obey” school of moderation has driven away most of the people with something interesting to say.

  4. Neville Ross Says:

    Great post, Stephen.

    BTW, I was the one who posted the comment that got the whole ball of wax in motion at the Home Theater Forum board. I’m the only one there who, although I respect older TV shows, don’t want to see them elevated over newer ones, and I’ve commented words to that effect. Of course, because I’ve done so, I’ve been called a ‘troll’ for saying what I’ve said, and have even had my comments banned off of the site during a previous posting in a older thread a while back.

    I think that the people quoted, to be frank, are raving loony religious fundamentalist Tea Party members and Obama haters who support the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, and don’t really give a care about any social advance that’s happened in the last twenty years or so. They want to roll back the clock on anything they consider a threat to their white middle class American existence (and to their white privilege in general) and any TV shows that reminds them thy’re living in the 21st century is therefore bad and must be resisted with every fiber of their being. Why I ever go on that section of HTF board, I’ll never know; I should stay away completely, because arguing with these people and their selective memories about the past is just a losing game no matter how articulate in writing a viewpoint one might be.

  5. bobby J. Says:

    Fascinating topic.
    I think if you are going to talk to that spectrum of the right, you will have to articulate the politics of the show in your work, sometimes – at least. For instance, three great TV shows that were the pinnacles of their police genre for their eras: ‘Dragnet’, ‘Naked City’ and ‘Hill Street Blues’. The first one is morally conservative – it doesn’t pry into the real motivations of the criminals, they do the crime because they are criminals (this is from memory). The cops don’t have any problems, no domestic strife, no psychological issues, no bias or prejudices. The cops are emblems of virtue. It is really no more than a recruiting show for LAPD. The show works because of laconic spareness, the sunlit ambiance of California, it’s subtle musical cues (riffed off Miklós Rózsa – who sued if I remember correctly), but even then it must have seemed off-kilter after a decade of noir in the cinema.
    ‘The Naked City’ on the other hand, had criminals who had reasons, it reminds me of a quote – “everyone has their reasons” – and the show dug into them, almost functioning as an anthology show. It’s what really made the show exceptional.
    With the ‘Hill Street Blues’ and ‘Police Story’ brought in a complexity on the side of the cops, who had myraid of issues, from corruption to family life breakdowns and personality dysfunction.

    So I think, as you are addressing the shows, you may have to compare and contrast them. These right-wing folks, and to be honest, some left of centre folks have fossilised or have never outgrown the limiting influence of the parents and cultural social scene. Rather like Shirley Jackson’s ‘The lottery’, they live in a closed loop of ideas.
    But there is another pervasive element that must be addressed and what they might be reacting to. The extreme of what is on our screens today. For instance, ‘Con Air’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Dexter’. The first ‘Psycho’ makes, for me, part of a classic trilogy with psychological terror films with ‘The Night of the Hunter’ and Wyler’s ‘The Collector’. The last ends on a bleak note, where the bad guy is free. But the audience knows who the villian is in all three films. Let’s compare that with ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ which ends on a note where the central psychopath is free and off to eat the prison warden who had earlier in the film been made to look and be a crummy scumball, a line played for laughter. Or a scene in ‘Con Air’ in which the camera cuts away from a child in the presence of psychopath, leaving the audience preturbed. And now ‘Dexter’ – a hero serial killer, it’s ok because he kills only other more dangerous killers. As phoney a scenario as could be imagined. This is the darkest of the morals debate. I’ve come to understand this trend, but it took a lot of curiosity and piecing the puzzle together. Take some immature Tarantino-type Schlock-meisters and allow them full play in a world run by profit-hungry corporations, who according to one of the finest half dozen documentaries I’ve seen ‘The Corporation’, have the pathology of psychopathsa and it’s easy to see why people get stuck to the past. It’s the documentary that made me understand why Welles was cast out of Hollywood, why they cut ‘Night Gallery’ to ribbons, why TV shows are cancelled (even beyond the human dramas of the creatives versus the executives) and how the Jim Abubrey, the “Smiling Cobra” could thrive and prosper, whilst the Stefanos and Serlings got cast aside.

    So, I think there are shades of grey. Nostalgia as an escape from the perpetual listing of disasters that is the news, film amorality or sickening violence, even some of sex scenes in the second season of ‘Game of thrones’ that led to a terrifically spot-on SNL skit.

    Or nostalgia as a way of never growing up, seeing the beautiful textured complexity of issues and instead viewing things in the childish way of black and white of simple abstractions.

    The first is understandable, the second is unworthy.

    References:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-the-tragedy-of-tarantino-he-has-proved-his-critics-right-1777147.html

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Dragnet, and all of Jack Webb’s shows, are much more interesting in terms of form than content (and I say that as a fan of Webb’s Bressonian minimalism).

      I’m mixed on Tarantino but I would agree that his toneless, puerile insertions of gore can be a problem even in his strongest works (e.g., the killing of Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, which is a great idea but kind of silly in the, er, execution).

      I did laugh when Marvin got his head blown off, though.


  6. Stephen, I think you are giving these commentators more consideration than they deserve, to be honest with you, as I don’t think anyone could seriously defend the intellectual rigor of their arguments, but I get your larger point about nostalgics. I call this the Lou Pascal Syndrome, after the Burt Lancaster character in Atlantic City, and in fact am coincidentally addressing this very point in a post that will run not next week but the week after on the Paley Center blog site (http://www.paleycenter.org/b-bushman), specifically with respect to politically themed shows (forgive the self-promotion).

    I would suggest that there is an important distinction between the way you respond to television — as a student and historian — and the way most people do, strictly as consumers. In a sense it would almost be delinquent of you to turn away from a show like 24 simply because you were opposed to the politics, considering that it was ground-breaking both formally and conceptually (featuring arguably the most morally compromised hero in the history of television entertainment). However, here too I see your point: that while you had serious issues with the show’s politics, they didn’t prevent you from continuing to experience the show or appreciate its contributions to the medium. My own thoughts about 24 are very similar to yours, although I eventually wound up pulling the plug — not because of the politics, but because of the Groundhog Day experience of seeing the same thing over and over and over.

    Bobby J. makes some exceptional points in his comments above, and I am reminded by his citation of Dexter that I found the maiden episode so distasteful that I have never been able to return to the show. Perhaps I am the one missing out. I know many people whose opinions I respect who have great admiration for it.

    This may be slightly off topic, but your post also made me think of programs that triggered widespread boycotts, like Amos ‘n’ Andy. Was it wrong for African-Americans to protest that the show was racist, or for CBS to cave in by pulling it from the air (never mind whether the show was in fact racist, which has of course since become a serious point of contention even within the African-American community)? If you or I believed the show was racist, would we (or should we) have continued watching? If CBS was right to pull the show, was it wrong for ABC to refuse to air the episode of Nothing Sacred centering on a Catholic priest who contracted AIDS from a homosexual encounter after Catholics protested?

    Just food for thought.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      David, to address your first sentence, it’s not just the HTF regulars that I get this vibe from; I plucked those comments to represent (perhaps crudely) a spectrum of reactions that I get here or see in related corners of the internet.

      I, too, found Dexter to be totally repugnant — clueless postmodernism is a dreadful thing to behold — and I even tried the damn thing twice, because friends I trust like it and because of some of the actors (e.g. Keith Carradine) who had thankless roles therein. So as much as I might advocate for totally amoral television I guess I’m not there in principle.

      (Someone on the HTF suggested I’d like True Blood, and that turns out to be putrid, too, although I admired its unabashed emphasis on eroticism. Sex and nudity, fuck yeah!)

      I loved the few Nothing Sacred episodes I saw and I wish I had a full set of them. That banned episode is a particular sore point, since Howard Rosenberg (the former LA Times TV critic) screened it in his class at USC the semester I took it. It was wonderful, and when I realized it wouldn’t air, I asked him for a copy, but he’d already donated it someplace. He did slip me rough cuts of a couple of unaired episodes, though, which are jewels amid my modest library.

  7. michael Says:

    One of the appeals of nostalgia is you can pick what to remember. You can remember the past favorites and forget the hundreds more you hated then and hate now. You can forget the complaints of too much sex and violence on television from those golden eras. T and A went beyond just two innocent letters and had a special meaning during 70s television.

    How can the present (in anything) compete with the bias memories of the past, in this case sixty four years of television (starting with networks birth in 1948)?

  8. ken Says:

    Well, at least we will always have Eddie Haskell to remind us that things aren’t always as they appear to be. And who can forget that radical fellow Ward Cleaver, who once said to Beaver…”Beaver, this may be hard for you to believe, but life isn’t exactly like television.”

  9. Roger L Says:

    Hello, Stephen,

    Great topic and not one worth getting your hands too dirty with (to paraphrase David Bushman above). The commentators you site can deny that old tv is “political” and they can try to prevent themselves from seeing depictions of the real world (Heavens, sex? Heavens, crime?), but that does not mean those commentators have managed to figure anything out, only hide from it.

    Nostalgia is a complicated topic – it involves the human heart, regrets and muddy and faded memories. It also places a filter on content that new shows don’t enjoy – how will we view “Game of Thrones” in 25 years (if at all)? The 2012 “filter” on “Mad Men” (and the Tarantino “filter” on grindhouse ’70s fodder for that matter) is what makes them more interesting than if they were presented to us pure as artifacts from their own time.

    Keep up the good work,

    R


  10. I agree that this is a great topic, Stephen. As someone who does a good amount of research reading TV Guides of the 50s and 60s, I can vouch that not every show in those listings is worth watching regularly. For some, there’s the simple attraction of holding an old TV Guide and sharing the same experience of the person who held it in their hands 40 or 50 years ago. I’ve checked out DVDs of a number of shows based simply on having seen them in a TV Guide. Some of them (“Brenner”) were pretty good. Some of them (“Loretta Young”) were pretty awful. (My opinion only.)

    But I’m not sorry about any of them, because if someone’s interested in the interaction between television and the formation of American culture, then it’s essential to know and understand what was on. And there are certain elements to TV from the 50s and 60s that I personally find interesting – for example, I’m much more intrigued by the BBC’s 1969 taping of “Peter Grimes” in a television studio than I am the Met’s HD production of the same opera from a few years ago.

    And while I’ll admit to sipping from the Nostalgia kool-aid from time to time, and as one who does feel that TV in many ways was better “back in the day,” I also appreciate that if TV were still that way, I wouldn’t have “Top Gear (UK)” to watch. Maybe I’m not a fan of “CSI” or “NCIS” but that doesn’t mean that I unreservedly embrace “Highway Patrol” or “Dragnet”. Sure, they’re fun to watch, but as drama they can leave things to be desired.

    I probably go for old TV more than most, but one can’t elevate the old simply because it’s old, any more than one can sanctify the new simply because it’s new.

    (Footnote: although we may well be on differing sides of the political spectrum, I don’t think politics should be off limits. I’m a political creature, and it occasionally creeps into my analysis of a particular subject, and I hate like hell when I start fearing that I have to self-censor what I write because I’m afraid I might offend someone.)

  11. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Well, paraphrasing a friend with whom I was just discussing this, “I like some bad TV shows — but I know they’re bad.” As opposed to others who seem to be undiscriminating, or reductive: old = good, bad = new. They’re the inverse of people who won’t watch movies that are in black and white, but no less self-limiting.

    If people mainline old TV shows just to plunge themselves back into the past, as a kind of sixteen-millimeter shrine (sorry, couldn’t resist!), that strikes me as a brutal misappropriation of art. And yet … and yet … I enjoy some popular music but have at best a layman’s knowledge of it, and I confess to sometimes using 80s rock quite deliberately as a tool to unlock lost sensations of my childhood. So I’m guilty of the same thing there that drives me nuts here. To a certain extent I feel I have to step back and respect it when people are engaging with a text, EVEN IF THEY’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG, DAMMIT.

  12. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Oh, and then there are the collectors: “Oh, I hate that show, but of course I have it on my shelf anyway.” Good grief.

  13. Mike Doran Says:

    One of the hazards of running a site such as yours has to be the socio-political baggage that readers bring to it.

    Today, the news broke that Don Grady of “My Three Sons” died, age 68.

    The reactions on various blogs are about what you’d expect, but the right-wing political sites are truly outdoing themselves.
    In their view, “My Three Sons” is an epitome of American Conservative Ideals.
    MEtv runs it every morning here in Chicago, and I’ll be gosh-darned if I can find any politics at all in there.
    I mean in the show itself; It’s square as all get-out, but if any of the cast members were putting out a political message, I’m obviously missing it. (Yes, I’m watching it, mainly for Bill Demarest.)

    About “Nothing Sacred”:
    Catholics weren’t the ones who were protesting against it.
    Bill Donohue’s bogus “Catholic League”, with a major assist from Brent Bozell’s equally bogus “Parents Television Council”, was doing the protesting against any portrayal of “progressive” Catholicism. Bozell and Donohue trotted out the old Hartnett-Johnson playbook, and targeted advertisers with a barrage of falsehoods about “Nothing Sacred”‘s content, thus scaring them off and forcing ABC’s hand.
    Actual Catholic people who saw the show liked it; my mother, for one.
    Fr. Andrew Greeley, the best-selling author, championed “Nothing Sacred” in his newspaper column, as did James Brieg, the entertainment columnist for Chicago’s archdiocesan paper The New World.
    After Bill & Brent crowed about their anti “NS” crusade in a trade publication, about a hundred or so priests and nuns paid for an ad in the same publication (Advertising Age, as I recall; correction welcomed), calling on ABC to give the show another chance.
    But in the end, Bozell and Donohue won, with a “boycott” that wasn’t really much more than their manipulated mailing list.

    Most of the so-called “boycotts” that TV has been threatened with over the years are just like this: a small group (sometimes as small as one tetchy guy) whips up a frenzy over whatever they don’t like, and through clever self-promotion becomes an “army” of protest to smite the offenders down.
    Can you imagine how much more damage Hartnett & Johnson could have done if there had been an Internet in the ’50s?

    • ken Says:

      I see that MeTV is having a tribute segment of My Three Sons episodes for Don Grady in the near future. It’s nice to see this. They also did the same thing when Harry Morgan passed away.

  14. D.B. McWeeberton Says:

    I’ve always “liked old stuff”, but I’ve never (except maybe in aesthetic senses, like clothing and design) felt like the past was “a better place” for most people, except for entitled white men. For me, one of the things that makes 50s-70s TV so fascinating is thinking about the cultural attitudes, some of which I find more positive than now (a sort of “new frontier” post-war liberalism/rationalism mixture) and some of which are big negatives (racism/sexism/conformity). If you’ve got an interest in history, you can learn so much about what was going on at the time (as long as you understand that it’s not starightforward “reality”).

    So visiting the HTF can be a frustrating experience, because there’s a LOT of low-wattage discussion about “swear words” and so much addled and unsophisticated rambling about how nice everything use to be. It’s like reading the Amazon.com reviews of DVDs of classic 30S screwball comedies that say “I LIKED THIS BECAUSE OF THERE WAS NO DIRTY WORDS IN IT AND I COULD WATCH IT WITH MY GRANDKIDS”.

    • Neville Ross Says:

      Half of this bullcrap about ‘swear words’ isn’t even true when it pertains to network TV (most of the time, swearing on the reality TV shows is bleeped out), so I don’t know where the frelling hezama they get the idea that its widespread (the Disney sitcoms don’t even have any swearing that I can see; Hawaii Five-0 doesn’t have any swearing, nor do a couple of other network shows.) It seems that they think everybody watches HBO or Showtime exclusively, or they have faulty memories and believe bullcrap statements from Donald Wildmon and his silly organization.

      • Stephen Bowie Says:

        Netflix customer reviews also seem to be mostly concerned with how many swears are in a given movie. I’m tempted to procreate just so I can teach the little tyke to curse like Al Swearengen.

  15. Stephen Bowie Says:

    If anyone’s interested in their side, the HTF folks are jumping all over me, starting toward the bottom of this page:

    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/t/317650/is-the-b-w-era-of-tv-on-dvd-slowly-coming-to-an-end/780

    Some of the comments are worth a look. “Slaves to the narrow world our parents brought us up in” is a line I wish I’d written.

  16. Gary Says:

    We all eventually get there. Please post the following in 30 years:

    These shows from 2042 are just AWFUL! Not like the great stuff I watched in 2012, when I still had hopes and dreams.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      No kidding, man. You look at all the critics who were great in their prime and then fell out of touch, and worry that it’ll happen to you! Lately I can’t deal with all these newfangled movies that are like 90% CGI. That’s the first step to obsolescence, right there…!

  17. Bert Says:

    Why is it always deemed nostalgia? The hefty majority of old shows I prefer were never even a part of my childhood or youth. Why do I watch older shows? Well, from Chuck Connors in “Rifleman” to Horace MacMahon in “Naked City” to Fred MacMurray in “My Three Sons” … I just bloomin’ LIKE the characters. Not only that, I IDENTIFY with them. From the way the characters comport themselves to the way they, as protagonists, confront adversity. I no longer give much of a damn about aesthetics, and the arguments over what constitutes quality. After over 4000 movies and endless tv-shows, all that has become rather moot. I’ll zip around from bootlegs of “The New Breed” to “Sky King” to “Trials of O’Brien” to “Empire” and hundreds of others, and relish every minute. Their worldview, the aspirations they represent, their sheer groundedness. There’s a gut-level connection there, which both energizes my spirits and even provides fleeting moments of optimism towards humanity. That’s all I particularly want from a viewing experience.

    Modern television? With all the whiney, self-absorbed characters? The fashion-plate drama actors who ‘pose’ for the cameras and deliver a snarky, sarcastic line before the fade-out to each commercial break? The hyperkinetic camerawork that is so self-conscious that it becomes impossible to get into the storyline? The putrid sitcoms and their stunted, morally degenerate characters? That whole prism of “detached irony” that pervades them all? Where every other line has either some moronic hipster subtext or boorish sexual innuendo? I hate that crap with a fiery passion. Not only do I NOT like nor identify with such characters who represent all this, I derive abject revulsion from them. And that extends out to the pathetic exhibitionalism of reality-show nonsense to the loathesome, cretinous scumbags of late-night talk shows.

    To add a further layer, it’s seethingly obvious that just about all of this modern-tv product has on display a genuine contempt for everything I value and believe in. Television went from a welcome visitor to whom I’d invite into my den, and would spin some entertaining stories and serve up the news of the day… to a smug, condescending bastard who got his jollies antagonizing and belittling me. After so many increasing years of this, I’ve kicked him out (only watch dvd’s of older fare nowadays), and rightfully regard modern television and its producers the same way they have viewed me… as an enemy.

    • patrickmurtha Says:

      Well, I may not agree with your point of view, but that is an articulate rant; you put the case well. Whatever you do, do not watch any episodes of “Nip/Tuck,” which would push all your buttons at once and might kill you.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      Agreed with Patrick, that this is a well-considered response. But I notice that you mention a number of specific 50s-60s shows but only speak generally about what’s on now. So I’m wondering, which modern TV series turned you off? I almost feel like this is a challenge to recommend something contemporary that you might like.

      • Neville Ross Says:

        Sadly, Stephen, you’d lose, since it’s clear he’s already made his mind up about what he feels current day TV is like and won’t budge an inch from his belief.

        On this whole topic, I’d like to add a great blog post/article about nostalgia and how differently people view the past (especially as it pertains to TV shows):

        Nostalgia: a Sport for the Privileged

  18. Stephen Bowie Says:

    Yeah, Neville, thanks for pointing out that post. Nostalgia for the good old days is indeed a white male pastime (something that Mad Men is well aware of, even as it gorges itself on bygone fashion and design). Any time I start to think about how nice it’d be to teleport back into the past, I remind myself how much I like air conditioning.


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