By Kevin R. King
So I'm watching TV the other day and some intellectual crumb bum gets on and starts calling television a "vast wasteland" and blaming it for divorce and teen violence and attention deficit whatever and I'm thinking to myself: What a load of bunk! I've watched about 15 hours of television a day my whole life and have never suffered one ill effect. Not one! In fact, I graduated from college without ever reading a single book and now I make a pretty decent living writing about movies, TV and what-not while interviewing all sorts of semi-celebrity types.
Where'd I learn to write so good?
From watching TV! In fact, I've learned everything I know about history, economics, comedy, inter-personal relationships, and feminine hygiene stuff from television. You probably have too!
Check this out.
I must have watched I Love Lucy at least a million times because it's been in continuous re-runs my entire life. After WWII all these chicks didn't appreciate going back to housework after making bombers and submarines and stuff like that. Even dopey broads like Lucille Ball who were married to hack band leaders like Desi Arnaz.
So she was always trying to get out of the house by horning in on his act and causing trouble. Then the cities all went to hell and everybody moved to the suburbs, just like Lucy and Desi when they went to Connecticut. And people started living longer, so old freaks like Fred and Ethel Mertz started tagging along and making life generally miserable for the younger ones. Finally Lucy got fed up with Desi cause he was a boozer and bird dogger so she dumped him, just like half the other married chicks in America did in the sixties.
Then she got her own career going and brought her kids to work with her and they got all screwed up on drugs and what-not and she ended up making incoherent TV appearances all senile and scary, just like our grandparents.
Think about it!
In the sixties you had a cold war between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China, whereas on Star Trek it's between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans. The Enterprise goes around trying to win the hearts and minds of Third World planets, which America used to do when they started revolutions and killed foreign leaders and all that. The Federation's got a "prime directive" not to interfere with these cultures but they always do, like when we sold Coca-Cola and T-shirts and Disneyland to all those losers overseas. The Klingons look like Russians and act like 'em too: bad manners, loud and ruthless. I think they smelled real bad, too. In the sixties nobody ever knew what the Chinese were up to, which people called being "inscrutable," just like the cloaking device that made the Romulans invisible.
The Chinese eat really weird food, so the Romulans had a sort of a noodle dish with live bugs moving around in it. We always had good foreigners helping us in those days, just like Spock (and you know how smart those people are), but at heart they were alien in mind and body, so we never kept too many around.
Then the Soviet Union fell apart and you've got your Next Generation, where the Klingons are still pretty rude and primitive but essentially harmless, while the Romulans got caught up in a Cultural Revolution which put them off the map, and you had your Japanese technocratic-freak culture represented by the Borg.
The Vietnam War was a real drag, what with our boys taking loads of drugs and then trying to shoot really short guys in black pajamas. But at that time society was pretty repressive, so TV had to use a "metaphor" for Vietnam, which means showing one thing but really meaning another. M*A*S*H was a show about Vietnam set in Korea, used doctors instead of soldiers and washed up actors instead of real people.
Like the Vietnam War the show ran a long, long time, started off good but got real screwed up near the end and was re-run so much that nobody can ever forget the damned thing. Since M*A*S*H ran through the '70s it also revealed the changes which racked that turbulent decade. At the beginning the leads, Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John, were a pair of real winners: always getting drunk, chasing girls and messing with authority types.
By the end Trapper was gone and Hawkeye had become a total loser: sensitive, thoughtful and socially aware. In short, a dickless freak; the sort of "New Man" that chicks of that time thought they wanted. In the end they dumped those guys for the asshole types they love to this day, but that was a very weird period called the "Age of Aquariums."
Economics and Sociology
America got real rich in the sixties, what with rebuilding Europe, making a highway system and printing more money. Of course, you still had a lot of poor people out in the sticks, and a ton of rich kids rejected their parents' money and became hippies. On the Beverly Hillbillies you see what happens when poor people get a load of cash: they buy a big mansion and fill it up with animals and all sorts of toothless relatives.
Yet since they're honest and have no pretensions they're constantly foiling the evil plans of the Man; in this case Mr. Drysdale, an uptight crypto-fascist who keeps all his money in a big round sack inside a zoo. Sort of Dick Nixon with less class. In those days hippies all wore old clothes and smelled bad, just like the Clampetts; they took drugs like Grandma drank moonshine and they never worked, just sitting around whittling and shooting guns like Jed.
At that time a lot of your repressed suburban women burned their bras and started screwing everything in sight, much like when Miss Hathaway got a load of Jethro in his tight blue jeans. Of course, the Clampetts avoided a lot of the "bummers" of that time: bad acid, cult killings and progressive rock, but television was very uptight in those days, so you couldn't show the whole picture.
After the many "bad trips" of the sixties people got into softer drugs like valium and quaaludes, which brought about TV shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. People also wondered what happened to many of their favorite stars of the WWII period, so these programs offered a venue for ex-vaudeville stars like Dick Van Dyke and Bert Convy. Older folks went for The Love Boat: it was as boring and predictable as the mash potato platter at Denny's. The captain was white, the cruise director a perky girl and a friendly negro served drinks.
Sort of like a country club only it was owned by Jewish guys. People started reading Carlos Castenada, so Fantasy Island came along, sort of peyote buttons meets thorazine.
With God being dead and priests making it with altar boys, people of that time were searching for religious figures, so you had Ricardo Montalbalm, a god-like figure with a Mexican accent and white suit who greeted visitors to paradise.
This was the beginning of affirmative action, so Ricardo was followed around by a repulsive but exotic dwarven man-servant who had some kind of speech defect. Basically all your infirmities wrapped up in one package.
In the late '70s, America had what Jimmy Carter called a "cultural mayonnaise," which referred to the wildly expensive school lunch programs that still haunt us. Other problems included chicks on the Supreme Court and taxes on personal income. It was a bad time. Yet America knew it had turned the corner with TV shows like The A-Team. People were ready for mindless violence that never seemed to hurt anyone, like those smart bombs with cameras in them, and The A-Team delivered in spades. Average citizens started buying automatic weapons for home protection, so the A-Team showed how to pump off a trillion rounds without hurting anyone.
The Team itself was your classic cross-section of modern America: an overweight leader who smoked cigars and wore black gloves; a ladies' man who looked and acted a little fruity; a crazy demolitions expert who did all sorts of voices like Rich Little; and a really scary, giant African-American who wore about three tons of gold jewelry and couldn't act if his nuts were in a drill press.
It was all about Ronald Reagan and his team of experts who screwed around in Central America and beat the Russians and all that. Later this concept moved to radio with Howard Stern, only he's got a black chick and a stuttering retard.
In the eighties you had a lot of guys making money on the stock market from cash they stole from savings and loans, so people started sympathizing with criminals. They also watched music videos, most of which sucked but many of which were very cool.
Miami Vice took these ideas and ran with them for quite a few seasons until the show got stupid, much like the insider traders. Don Johnson wore pastel suits over T-shirts and a three-day beard, which basically sums up how fashion that used to look good looks really stupid today, except if you're a TV executive. Don also had a pet alligator but it faded away as the series progressed, much like the baby harp seals Norwegians used to club: nobody remembers them anymore.
The villains on this show were cooler than the cops, since they dressed better and lived in beach front mansions. They also screwed a lot of chicks you recognized from music videos, which made sense because the show was really just one long music video with worse acting.
When all the corporate criminals went to jail and the stock market crashed, Miami Vice was cancelled too, but it remains a popular re-run in emerging industrial nations like Korea, Japan and New Jersey.
Even though Europe has lots of culture and good food and old buildings, they don't have many plastic surgeons or fluoridated water, so they've gone nuts over Baywatch, a show where the chicks all have boobs pumped full of silicone and everybody has perfect teeth. After Beethoven and Mozart and those type of guys died off, European music went into the dumper, so they think David Hasselhoff is a good singer, even if he wears a girdle under his bathing suit. Europeans are very gullible: they believe Hollywood is wall-to-wall stars.
They spend their life savings to come overseas and walk around Mann's Chinese Theater looking for Pamela Anderson's giant set of hooters, only to get shot up by the first street punk that comes along because they don't know anything about weapons or self-protection.
By the nineties comedians had moved from jokes about politics and social concerns to ones about the stuff lying around your house. George Carlin pioneered this concept in the '70s with a whole routine about the food in his refrigerator. You also had a lot of Ivy League graduates who decided against helping humanity with their expensive educations and moved to California to make money writing TV shows.
These trends brought about Seinfeld, a show "about nothing" that gets laughs talking about the male/female dynamics of the television remote control. People have become very creepy and self-absorbed, so the main characters are selfish, scheming and shallow. They never read any books, don't have any real friends and move from one empty relationship to another. Yet they are very funny, so the show is a big hit, which basically means if you've got a lot of money nothing else really matters.
I could go on and on about this kind of stuff, only I'm getting pretty bored and I want to watch some TV. The point is that for all their fancy educations and degrees and what not, these high-brow types who rip on television obviously never watch it very much, because these kind of people are always blowing smoke out of their asses about stuff they don't know.
But I gotta go: there's a Mannix re-run coming on where he infiltrates one of those "swinging singles" apartment complexes and it's one of my favorite episodes. Besides being highly educational.
Web exclusive to the Oct. 9-15, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
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