Monday, May 1, 2017

"We Did And We Didn't"

You say something or hear others say something innumerable times and it eventually becomes “Conventional Wisdom.”

But does that make it right, even if it seemed right on every one of those innumerable occasions?

I’ll stick to television, although I was, in fact, encouraged to write this because I read in the paper today that,
“Scientists have identified one of the earliest known dinosaur relatives – and it doesn’t look anything like they expected.”

So there’s that.  Paleontologists long believed that dinosaur relatives were small and walked on two legs and it turns out they were large and walked on four legs.  Now they have to rethink their entire dinosaur-size-and-leg-walking evolutionary hypothesis, the darker alternative being spiraling into a deep, paleontological funk.
“I’m a terrible paleontologist.  Dead dinosaurs are laughing at me and I cannot look my wife and children in the face.”

Well, at least now they have some serious reevaluating to do, with its comforting consequence of extended job security.

“A paleontologist’s job in never done.  Now it’s “Never done”, plus the thing we got wrong about dinosaurs.  My family will eat!  (Giving “getting things wrong” a paradoxical upside.)

Okay, (more than) enough about that.  In television, there is, I believe, a recognizable parallel in this regard, a longstanding “Truth” which, as the Declaration of Independence intones, is perceived to be “self evident”, like “All men are created equal” – except for slaves, women and white men without property, though at least they were thinking about equality, rather than “Go away, you low-born creature of odiferous insignificance!” making it a noticeable step in the right direction.

Wait.  This is about television!  Although now, by comparison, the issue appears palingly trivial. 

Forging ahead (following an inexplicable, self-inflicted, trivializationalizing blessure)…

How many times have we heard that a contributing factor to the fragmentation of our culture is that once, “We all watched the same shows together” and now we don’t?

“Twenty-seven times.”

That sounds about right.  Although remember how mistaken the paleontologists were about the relatives of dinosaurs, so stay humble.  Now, suppose I propose an alternative observation to that accepted television truism; to wit,

Indisputably, more of us watched the same shows at the same time, as there were substantially fewer viewing alternatives back then and no technological gizmos allowing us to watch those same shows at different times.  (Although there was – and remains today – time zones.)

The question, however, that recently rose to my mind was,

When we were all watching those shows together, were we, in fact, enjoying a unifyingly identical experience?

To which I am beginning to believe,

We were not. 

(My point being that the country was fragmented back then as well.  We just were not consciously aware of it.)

My regular “Go-to example” in this context:

All in the Family

Hugely popular.  But how many viewers, while admittedly watching All in the Family together, sided with conservative Archie Bunker and how many viewers saw the show as a liberal assault against bigotry and ignorance?

Are you getting the concept?

Same show.

Differing perspectives.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Female viewers saw “Mary Richards” as a trailblazing icon of contemporary feminism.  Regular MTM male enthusiasts, on the other hand, saw the show as simply “the smartest comedy on television”, these differing perceptions being so starkly dissimilar, the MTM male enthusiasts, unaware of its groundbreaking significance to female viewers, were known to subsequently query confuse00dly,

“Were we watching the same program?”

Well, yes and no.

Good Times introduced us to “Inner City” scrappiness and burdening difficulties, but as some viewers happily proclaimed, “Finally, a show about us!”, others simply tuned in because Jimmy “J.J.” Walker was “Boom – Dy-no-mite!

Not surprisingly, these shows garnered gargantuan ratings.  But why wouldn’t they?  As with Certs, these massively popular sitcoms attracted “breath mints” and “candy mints” aficionados at the same time, the disparate overlay of support inevitably ballooning their viewership.

An argument can be made – and, in fact, just has been – that, though we were indeed watching those shows together,

We were not seeing the same thing.

Expanding the consideration to “life”, widening its scope while risking charges of insufferable pretentiousness,

Do we ever?

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