“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
You know, I am easily amused. The queer thing about being middle aged is seeing history repeat, and wondering: Doesn’t anybody else get it? When politics repeats it’s grim—too grim for here, today. When “the environment” repeats it’s frustrating—I will touch on it, later. But when TV repeats it’s mostly amusing, and so most of what I will dwell on here is TV.
The other day at the bowling alley, where there are suspended color TV screens, I caught a glimpse of a crime show called The Glades. My mind flashed back to a crime show in black and white, Everglades, that began with the hero wielding a little pistol, taking pot shots, while piloting an airboat in the everglades. I had never seen such a boat. I recall two control rudders and a giant fan at the back of “…a fellow there, who will protect these rights, Lincoln Vail of the everglades, …” This was before Vietnam, before idealism collapsed into cynicism, back when you could still sing about large heroes protecting rights. How sad to think if they ever re-make Daniel Boone there won’t be any larger-than-life song about him.
A floor wax commercial for housewives of the time showed a man in a prone position rapidly firing white bullets (like from my daisy Winchester) at a parked jet, bullets that went bouncing off the transparent canopy, as transparent and tough as floor wax. That was before Vietnam too.
A few years back they made a movie version of 21 Jump Street, another detective show. I feel like I’m the only one who remembers an earlier address, and the sound like snapping fingers, like cool steel fans on snare drums, and the cool refrain, “Seventy seven, Sunset Strip.” One of the characters, Kookie, had a fine head of hair, swept back fifties style, and a pop song of the day went, “Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb.” That was back when TV advertising was real expensive, to be used only for really keen products, like, “Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya.”
You probably know that Hawaii 5-0 is a re-make of the popular 1970’s show, a show that had an excellent montage of pictures under the credits. I can remember a budget black and white show, with an ending sans montage, only a still shot of a wall as credits rolled, a wall filled with Hawaiian masks, “Hawaiian Eye…eye!” (Private eye) I’m sure no one else remembers. And why would they? TV back then was merely a repeat of radio plays, heard by the whole family, now moved from the radio set to the TV set, (only one) merely popular culture full of sound and fury, signifying nothing of lasting value. I suppose now for many people pop culture is culture. They don’t know any better.
As I see it, pop culture is like when a mainstream movie is rated in stars, and you can advise perfect strangers on whether or not they will like it. Culture is like an “art movie” when even for a film with 4/5 stars you just can’t recommend it, not unless you know the person you’re talking with. Because Art requires an attention span: You won’t get it until you are willing to sit with it.
Meanwhile, pop culture keeps pinwheeling along with shows like Whirlybirds, (black and white) Chopper Squad, (in color, at the beach) Chopper One, (in California, where they can search the beach) and, after the Blue Thunder movie, Airwolf. Oh, and at last there was a show where they gave the dragonfly to the hero’s buddy (A Black pilot) instead of the hero: Magnum P.I. It had a beach too, again in Hawaii. And say—talk about being desperate for novelty scripts—I dimly remember Ripchord, a show where the heroes with a fixed wing aircraft would parachute into their adventures. That’s one show that won’t be remade.
Ever since the 1980’s, whenever the latest pop culture figure from, say, comic books arrives on the big screen, and when entertainment reporters note his previous incarnations, I am the only one who remembers they’ve missed things. When I hear the 1980’s Superman movie theme I still half-expect a missing homage to the televised cartoon version, but no else recalls it. Just as when they remade Planet of the Apes: While they remembered there was a TV series, no one recalled the original movie trailers. I might have seen a trailer narrated by Rod Serling as he posed the premise, and showed the actor’s real faces next to their made-up faces. I don’t suppose anyone in Hollywood had kept the old trailer footage, for Tinsel town is very disposable, but darn it, not to me, my childhood is not disposable!
Understandably, I’m in no hurry to buy the latest 3-D TV, in real HD, for I know it will be still the same old shows in “new” and “exciting” and “improved” clothing. Still the same old time-filler… not too bad, I guess, for days when it’s too rainy to get over to my library. And what of the future of television? I don’t suppose westerns will come back—now that we adults have replaced nature with suburbs, our children don’t have wild spaces to play in; while we adults don’t want to historically recall how terrified we were of those who took only short-term captives, not “prisoners…”
I don’t expect to ever see a funny remake of “Car fifty-four, where aa-are you-uuu?” (although they did try an awful movie version) Nope, no slapstick comical weekly police shows, not when our urban environment crime is too grim, too real, and we are all too serious.
Now, let me touch on our natural environment, while history is repeating. My father is the only one to remember a species of commercial fish going extinct. He told me this after a government hullabaloo banning certain commercial fishing indefinitely. But none of the TV news reporters remembered what my old man remembered.
Meanwhile, a few years back there was a nation wide outbreak of deadly listeriosis, traced to a plant where the luncheon meat machines had not been properly cleaned. Dad remembers something reporters don’t know… he remembers telling a meat salesman he could detect garlic. The salesman insisted that no, the meat was garlic-free. Dad agreed, and then explained that he had an allergic sensitivity, which meant the machines had surely not been cleaned properly since their previous meat cycle, a cycle producing meat with garlic. The salesman was energized! He had the machines cleaned up pronto. Father told me crews get lazy, standards slip, and history repeats.
As I see it, the simple reality for nature and politics (and it is perfectly OK to me) is that we mustn't get lazy: we can’t ever cease our efforts at moving back the ever-present four-legged rats, just as we do the two-legged rats. New babies are born every day; history repeats; human nature remains. If we “cop out” to say “let George do it,”—if we say “never mind oversight by citizen and government,” in order to make room for “market fundamentalism,”—if citizen inquiry and participation collapses into a peasant-like “quietism,” then, inevitably, history responds with an increase in the rodent population.
The fifties remains my favorite decade, but—I also like Buffy and Angel and an unbelievably good “art show” remake of Battlestar Galactica. Sometimes, I guess, things do get better.
Beside the big cathode ray tube
In the big box
In the big box
...What do you think?
...What do you think?