Normally, when I think about “other people”, what comes to mind are people articulating loudly into their iPhones, invariably for attention – “”I am too good an agent to take the offer currently on the table.” Or they are sitting in front of me in the theater and they’re tall. Without other people, I would always be the first person in line. Also, technically, the last person in line. But who cares? I’m
Occasionally, however, someone who is not me will say something that, though perhaps not a “game changer”, at least gets me thinking in a direction I had previously overlooked. It’s good not to have to depend on yourself for every illuminating insight. For obvious reasons. You eventually – in some cases speedily eventually – run out. My last illuminating insight… if you leave cheese out of the refrigerator for a while, it’ll be softer when you spread it on crackers – does that count?
Okay, it’s hardly “Newtonian.” But if I can’t come up with them myself, at least I am alert to an illuminating insight when I hear one. And I heard this one just recently, although I do not remember from whom. It’s better than way. Less smart people to envy.
I was bloviating at the time on a topic I believe I have mentioned previously in these quarters, about the changing nature of our entertainment, now grimmer and grittier, previously – “previously” traditionally meaning “before the sixties” – lighter and more upbeat.
I wondered, “Why the difference?” Was it merely, “Simpler times, simpler content?”
That’s not precisely what it was about, but if I recount my recollection precisely, this paragraph would start and finish with the words, “I do not entirely remember.”
It was something of that nature. That, or thereabouts.
In our discussion on the matter, the person who I was speaking to then said this. Or, again, thereabouts.
“Back then, the message was controlled.”
I felt like I’d been run over by a “Smart Train.”
“Back then, the message was controlled.”
That is indisputably correct. There was the “Motion Picture Production Code.” Tough “Standards and Practices” regulations in television. Strictly enforced “obscenity” laws in night clubs. (Comedian Lenny Bruce was frequently arrested just for saying stuff.) It wasn’t a choice, making breezier entertainment. The alternatives were “Off Limits.”
Arguably, entertainment was like it was because the message was controlled.
Meaning, what remained in our entertainment, what was permissible, the rest of the apple after you cut away the “bad part”, which then made it, by default, the entire available apple, was relentlessly and without exception…
Optimistic. (With exceptions, of course.)
Inevitably fostering the belief that we lived in a happy, functioning, positive society, and that life as we experienced it was actually quite good.
But was it? Or was it just the stories they were permitted to tell? I mean, if it wasn’t those censorial limitations, if the entertainment simply reflected the times, then
What happened to the times?
Is it really possible to believe that at some discernible juncture our society could have abruptly turned horrible? Can something like that actually happen? Or was it that, when the restrictions were loosened and the opportunities expanded, our entertainment depicted what was always there and we were previously forbidden to see?
I mean think about it. Could “evil” have really originated in 1968?
(A provocative side-question is, “Does a positive message make you generically feel better even though it’s distorted, or does it just make you docile and accepting, impeding your commitment to ameliorating change?” It’s a challenging question, worth mentioning, but here only in brackets.)
Consider two courtroom-based television shows, one on each side of the “Morning In America” – “We’re going to hell in a hand basket” dividing line – Perry Mason and Law & Order (pick a franchise, any franchise.)
Perry Mason, portraying a brilliant defense attorney who got everyone off. And in the coolest possible way. Exposing the murderer, Mason got the wrongly accused defendant acquitted while sending the actual perpetrator to the slammer.
How “pure justice” is that!
Also, on Perry Mason, the murderers had clear and understandable motives – jealousy, avarice, revenge. They were a threat only to their intended victims (and occasionally a witness.) The viewer could thus follow the proceedings, feeling no personal jeopardy whatsoever.
By contrast, in an era after the “content rules” were abolished or at least considerably relaxed, there’s
Law & Order
Mass murderers. Subway bombers. They bump off the wrong person. Radical therapies, medical and psychological, the best of intentions – the patient is dead. You walk your dog, if you’re lucky the dog makes it home.
Mayhem in every direction. And oh yeah. Sometimes, the bad guy gets off.
You see the difference?
Nobody’s safe. And life is not simple.
But what if life itself didn’t change, only our shows did?
They controlled the message. And we felt blissfully secure.
They relax the restrictions…
It feels like Sodom and Gomorrah.
Suggestion: It’s not what’s “out there.” It’s our perception of what’s “out there.”
We long for simpler times.
Which may have existed only in fiction.
Though I wonder, as Fagin sang in Oliver!, if things are really as black as the paint.
Could today’s fiction be equally distorted…
But in the other direction?