The Golden Age
Everyone looks back at the time of their youth and can reflect with nostalgia about some aspect of a “golden age” about it.
Well, err, that’s not exactly true, particularly if one’s youth has been wanting in terms of love or culture or, generally, happy times.
Still, nostalgia is there in spades for me, at the age of 60, particularly in regard to an aspect of my childhood which I had the good fortune to experience growing up: the golden age of music and television.
Being 60 in 2014 means that I was 10 in 1964. Between 1964 and 1974, the world experienced an explosion in rock & roll and pop music of a truly high quality. This aspect of culture is not the subject of this blog; just type in The Beatles at Amazon.ca and you’ll find over 4,600 references and that is in the book section alone. Nevertheless, as a passionate consumer of music, there is still plenty of good music being written today, although you’d never find it on radio stations playing popular music (my apologies, if you’re a fan of Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Rihanna – oops, am I picking on the girls? Sorry).
What I’d like to talk about is television and the golden age we lived through as kids.
My wife and I were just talking it about it last night (um, at 1:30 in the morning, to be precise.) The game shows. Naomi and I have already had a number of conversations about the great sitcoms of that era: The Lucy Show & I Love Lucy, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes, My Favorite Martian, Bewitched, My Three Sons, All in the Family – the list goes on and on. Besides Seinfeld, and the hilarious Curb Your Enthusiasm, sitcoms today are hard to find of a high artistic and comedic level. Oops, let’s not forget Cheers and Friends, two other shows that had great writing and acting.
My wife and I have also discussed the high level of entertainment to be found on the variety shows: Ed Sullivan, The Carol Burnett Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Red Skelton Show, The Jackie Gleason Show (I watched them all…). Nothing today comes close, unless you like to stay up and watch the late shows (I obviously don’t). You can tape them if you want, but the chatter between late night host and guest does not compare to being entertained by comedian, pop or rock group, dance ensemble, etc. that occurred every week for years on the above shows.
I’ve even talked to Naomi about the dramas. What did those old shows have that today’s don’t? Before I try to answer that question since, of all the categories, one can today find top-quality dramas, particularly on cable, let’s look at a few of the old time gems: Perry Mason, The Twilight Show, Bonanza, Have Gun – Will Travel, Mission: Impossible (I loved that one. Sunday nights and Friday nights, with The Wild, Wild, West and Lost in Space were favorites of mine), The Defenders (another favorite), The Fugitive, Marcus Welby, M.D.. Later in life, I became a fan of Star Trek, The Next Generation (with Patrick Stewart as captain, although I did watch the original with William Shatner), L.A. Law, 30 Something and finally, the great drama/comedy Northern Exposure.
I don’t get cable – no HBO, so I unfortunately miss some of the better dramas found there, although I would discount those that rely heavily on violence. I just don’t go there.
Which leaves the basic three main mainstream American stations: CBS, ABC & NBC, along with whatever dramas CBC, CTV and Global television are annually coming up with. A short perusal of these dramas leaves a lot to be desired. Besides the police dramas, there is a preponderance of supernatural-themed shows, with all kinds of characters displaying supernormal powers. You have detectives who can read minds (a criminal who could read minds would be much more interesting…) or who possess super normal powers of memory. There’s a guy who constantly dies and is reborn again to see another day. Even the CI shows have forensic specialists who can accomplish things in their labs that their real-life counterparts would find impossible to do.
It’s like writers and producers and TV executives are afraid of boring viewers with a sense of reality so that they have to wow them with either special effects or super normal abilities. Hey guys, we’re grown up now; we’re no longer weak 12-year-old adolescents fantasizing about how much more fun life would be if we could fly.
The result is that I’m quickly bored with Primetime TV; you’d be lucky to get me watching any show between 8 and 9 pm that wasn’t sports or a really good reality show, which, although highly scripted, at least presents real people, with all their flaws, (we enjoy Survivor).
Anyway, I don’t own a TV at my apartment in Montreal where I live from Monday through Friday morning. Lousy TV makes for an abundance of reading time, and this I happily do every evening Monday to Thursday night.
Last night, Naomi and I talked about the great game shows during the 60’s and 70’s, and this morning, we looked at a few on YouTube: To Tell the Truth, a show where two fakes and one genuine person try to trick a panel of four celebrities who ask questions trying to discern who is the real McCoy; Password, where celebrities partner with regular folk who try to guess a word based on one-word clues. This morning we saw Carol Burnett as one of the celebrities and it was hilarious. The Dating Game, where three bachelors or bachelorettes answer questions from a potential date, both sides hidden from each other, who must choose one based on the answers to his or her questions; and finally, The Newlywed Game, whose show this morning exposed how much values and attitudes have changed since the 70’s regarding the woman’s role, at least in the context of marriage (hint: their job was to clean house, wash the dishes, do the laundry and let the man make the decisions).
Despite the dated aspect of some of the above shows, they still are heads and tails above what we find today. In all four categories, in fact, Comedy, Drama, Variety & Game Shows, the 60’s and 70’s stand way above creatively and entertainment-wise what can be found today on the tube.
Looking back, Naomi and I both admit that we spent a lot of time in front of the television growing up. Just look at how many shows from the past I’m familiar with. Today, it might be TV or video games for children; I don’t know where they spend the bulk of their free time. I doubt, however, that a kid growing up today will look back with the same nostalgia at his or her favorite video game. I see games with tons of repetition, shooting the bad guys over and over, for example.
Still, I may be wrong.