Thursday, March 15, 2012

Battle of the Network Inner Termoil

Cars - Gary Numan (mp3)
One Small Year - Shawn Colvin (mp3)

We sat on the couch in the darkness of our living room, the glow of the TV flickering over us, and we were happy.

On the TV, in glorious low-def technicolor, was an episode of Battle of the Network Stars from May of 1982. The unforgettable Howard Cosell called the shots, women wore few undergarments, and men made unflinchingly sexist comments. And we were happy.

We watched all 90 minutes, not daring to change the channel during commercials lest that soothing Nyquil rush of nostalgia be ruined by a 24-hour news network or, even worse, one of the channels that have become better at making nighttime programs than the networks.

Catherine Bach (aka Daisy Duke) taught Joan Collins (aka Dynasty's queen bitch) how to throw a ball for the dunking contest. Douglas Barr and Mark Harmon are considered high-quality hunks and have almost no muscle definition in their pecs or abs. Heather Thomas of "The Fall Guy," donning a headband, looked exactly like Bret Michaels from Poison... but was still hot as ever-lovin’ hell. Nancy McKeon -- “Jo” from “Facts of Life” -- was 16 and catching passes in a 3-on-3 game of touch football.

Simpler times.

I’m not a doomsayer or a Debbie Downer, so I don’t believe times get harder, or meaner, or tougher, necessarily, but they sure as hell get more complicated. Not only does technology continue to send explosions of change like an Independence Day fireworks spectacular across our timelines, but it happens at the same time that we, with each aging year, become less adaptable, less swift of mind. Slower.

If we’re truly on the Information superhighway, then the speed limit is always increasing. If it was in the 30s at the start of my lifetime, we're in the 90mph range now. Meanwhile, I’m getting closer to that age where I have to start putting a pillow on the driver’s seat just to be comfortable because of my achy back and hemorrhoids, and I hunch over the steering wheel and struggle to even approach the speed limit as all those careless damn whipper-snappers roar past me.

Things move ever faster; we get slower; the problem compounds.

But the loss goes deeper. We’ve lost so much of our common language about pop culture, and it dwindles bit by bit every year.

In 1981, DALLAS averaged a 28.4 rating. That was down from “I Love Lucy’s 67.3 average in 1952, down from “All in the Family” in the low 30s during the early ‘70s. But it’s miles ahead of the highest ratings of the 21st Century, where “American Idol” is the best we can do, and it barely breaks a 17. (Have fun playing this game: http://www.sporcle.com/games/g/topratedtv)

In other words, with each generation, the common language of pop culture gets cut in half.

Even if you didn’t watch “The Dukes of Hazzard,” you by God knew who Daisy Duke was, or else you were Amish. But now? You could line up 10 actresses, and most of us couldn’t even name which network they were on, much less which specific show, and the men are hardly any different.

It's not that 1981 was better, but we have lost something precious. We probably traded it for something superior, ultimately. But knowing that my Chevy Traverse is by far the best car we’ve ever owned doesn’t prevent me from missing my first car, that ratty ‘82 Corolla hatchback. Likewise, knowing 2012 is mostly better than 1981 doesn’t keep me from missing that simpler time.

More choices, fewer commonalities. One more reminder of The Paradox of Choice. We have more channels, more really great TV shows, and more ability to record and preserve and watch what we wish, yet something about the simplicity of three channels, three choices, and knowing that if you missed it, you missed it.

In a strange and confusing twist, its awkward to find yourself too heavily immersed in past television, yet it’s completely normal and acceptable -- often cool -- to sink obsessively, even exclusively, into old music.

Gotta go. The Tug of War finale is coming up after the break! And then I've gotta catch up on Laff-A-Lympics...

3 comments:

Daisy said...

What's this about a Chevrolet? I thought you were strictly a Honda man. Times they are a changing indeed!

David Woods said...

Great line , "The unforgettable Howard Cosell called the shots, women wore few undergarments, and men made unflinchingly sexist comments. And we were happy."

troutking said...

Ray Davies would agree with you:

You gotta get away from the complicated life, son,
Life is overrated, life is complicated,
Must alleviate this complicated life.