ABC, NBC, CBS. That was pretty much it. In the morning: Rocky and Bullwinkle, Howdy Doody, Crusader Rabbit and Rags after a local farm show. At night, or afternoon Lawrence Welk, Twilight Zone, Firing Line, Red Skelton, The Wonderful World of Disney, Outer Limits, The Bullwinkle Show, Bonanza and Smother Brothers.
Local papers were mostly local news, but more national than some “national” papers these days. There were far fewer ads and the news was current… not something we were already talking about. Unless you lived near a mega metropolis like NYC, occasionally you’d might be able to glance at one of the more national papers like The New York Times, but local sufficed because they were truly “news” papers. Objectivity was never completely achieved, for everyone knew that impossible. But the attempt was expected.
This was the programming we all watched, the papers we read. This was the state of media and entertainment when I grew up.
You may notice; some programming more leftward, some programming more rightward: yet all of it programming many different folks might appreciate. We sat together and my parents still laughed, despite the obvious political skew behind The Smothers Brothers. Though I’m still not a Lawrence Welk fan: too many fake, plastic, smiles, I think watching it I learned to appreciate my parents generation. Some traditional, some programming promoted thinking and creative thought.
It was family time. Even though there were coffins coming back from Nam on the news, every story wasn’t an opportunity for loud lectures and rants from parents. It was a time to listen, to watch. We were expected to wait until supper time, or at least for the ads, better: when the program was over. And discussion did follow, occasionally quite contentious.
In the morning Mr. Carman, and his neighbor Mr. Setzer, commuted to the city and argued politics. They stayed friends, despite one being more left, one more right.
I am assuming, for most of you who are in your 20s, or younger, all of this might seem like some foreign land, or alien landscape in another, alternate, universe.
This is no “yesterday was perfect” screed. There was plenty wrong: separate but equal which was anything but “equal,” civil rights workers murdered, a sniper in a Texas college tower, corpses coming home from a war that seemed a bottomless pit, assassination after assassination, riots…
Certainly there’s plenty we have now I appreciate, like hundreds of channels, the ability to do things once reserved for TV and recording studios, being able to talk with people all across the globe: something once reserved for ham radio operators like my father. Oh, and now we have the “blessing” of having our own personal media, suited to almost any personal skew.
But are we better off?
In some ways, yes, some ways, no.
You would think with more choices, more options, more complicated: yet refined, tech, we’d be in that perfect future and interpersonal communication would approach us being able to, with empathy, read each other’s thoughts, sense each other’s feelings. Hardly. Instead of true discussion, we are chained by our partisan-specific designed media sources that have little pretense of even attempting “objectivity.” Facebook has become a land populated by too many rhetorical snipers who get upset when someone turns the tables on them, and people who think everyone has to be subjected to their every religious and political skew, but get offended when the other side appears on their page.
Seems the more ways we invent and create to communicate the less we actually do communicate.
Facebook hasn’t stopped political correctness, it has magnified it.
I admit that I’m part of the problem. Maybe it’s just my dislike for bullies and smarmy people who lecture others. Yes, I will readily fire back rather than let them snicker and slam me with prewritten, partisan, catch phrases.
But I not so secretly long for Facebook to become more a home for what it does well: sharing lives, passions, but with less cynical sniping. Yes, I “not so secretly” wish we could treat it more like the family TV, enjoy our differences. Then use debate sites for the more down, and dirty, if we must. Facebook does short sentences, thoughts and concepts well. Nuance? Not so well.
I always laugh when people who sneer at the very concept of “nuance” get all nuance-y if you challenge them on obvious contradictions.
And I definitely wish for a time when we were getting news, and information, from something other than opinion-based news programs, comedy-based and outright propaganda. It was never perfect, but a damn sight better than this House of Babel the right, the left and other factions with not much more than agendas have built.
Entertainment has become humiliating callers to talk shows, gotcha opinion-based “news” programs and unreal “reality” programming, often encouraging, promoting, the worst in all of us and our kids. A cursing, abusive, chef, firing “employees…” Really? What’s next; the worldwide broadcast of the return of the “games” to the Coliseum, complete with wild beasts and, this time, atheists, agnostics and theologically incorrect Christians? Bet that would get grand ratings. After all, if it makes money, must be good, right? How dare we suggest anyone stand in the way of “free” enterprise?
But the question remains: are we better off with hundreds of channels, maybe trillions of websites designed specifically to suit whatever sane, or absolutely maniac moose drool crazy, beliefs we have?
No, not really. Society is seriously fractured, and filled with sometimes dangerous, perpetually pissed off, partisans: people too damn smug about their righteousness because all they have to do is toddle back to whatever site suits their emotional needs. Whatever you believe, whatever you think, there’s what amounts to millions of internet, or mass media, based rhetorical cults out there that keep partisans submerged in self righteousness, encouraging them to be rhetorical snipers.
And, sometimes, not so “rhetorical.” Yes, there are crazies out there inspired to kill by such.
Issues we should be having respectful, intellectual, thoughtful discussions about have become so predictable. Every time there’s a Ferguson, a Katrina, a Zimmerman, I think most of us can predict what side many folks are going to be on.
In an environment with less personal partisan Nirvanas it’s harder to go so far off the reservation that people become convinced the moon landing was faked. When we share stories it’s harder to come to the conclusions George Zimmerman or Bill Cosby are absolutely innocent of anything, harder to believe anyone on “our side” must be a victim no matter what. And, of course, more personal partisan Nirvanas helps us believe those we disagree with must always have purely selfish, even evil, motives.
Our public discourse these days resembles choosing a side for football, or baseball, without even the conceit that teams from our hometown actually represent our hometowns.
Our media and our internet have helped make society far less sane than the questionable sanity it may have had in the past.
We have scrapped generalized media, meant to inform us, for media that supports knee jerk-ism. We have taken a chance for sharing our lives with others and attempted to promote hate and fear instead.
If we continue to follow the trail we walk, and in the future invent the tech to read each other’s thoughts, sense each other’s feelings, the cynic in me says society will merely use it as entertainment, like the original American Idol or Gong Show: “use it” to humiliate each other. Or find some way to fake results to have people taken away we personally don’t like, or agree with. One can hope not, but one must admit it likely.
Is there a solution? I doubt equal time would ever come back. “Fair and balanced” has become an excuse to be as unbalanced, as unfair, as we can. Oh, and to target those whom audience, the base, likes to be targeted: kind of like the Christians and the wild beasts. It’s all a bit too much like special effects in a Michael Bay movie: always seeking the bigger bang, more explosive boom. And that “bang,” that “boom,” is usually in the form of humiliation, kicks to the groin, punches to the head to those easiest to frame as to blame for everything we think is wrong. Even if who actually is to blame might be those most eager for there to be more hate, more violence.
Is there a solution? I doubt equal time would ever come back. “Fair and balanced” has become an excuse to be unbalanced.
Joseph Goebbels would be jealous.
So I ask again: is there a solution?
I don’t have one.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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