TV, Transitions and New Beginnings

June 26, 2009

I don’t have a TV at home, and the sheer awfulness of most of it gives me no reason to change that. My wife remarked that she had watched a bit of Ellen and was surprised at how the show wasn’t about anything. I have noticed the same thing. Little stories about rescued animals, vapid conversations with celebrities promoting their latest performance, or ordinary people who get a makeover or something….This was an interesting comment, because I suppose even I, who am not in favor of a Lesbian quota for TV, assumed that the “diversity” Ellen adds would include some element of sophistication. I guess not.

The liberal members of my family like Jon Stewart and some of the dramas, but to me both are like the New York Times – possessing a certain sophistication and craftsmanship but spoiled by their flaunting of their liberal agenda, which they assume all viewers share.

Indeed, even at a young age I was aware of the stupidity of many of the programs – something I picked up from my father. I seem to recall being in the habit of making sarcastic comments about shows as we watched them, not necessarily an endearing habit!

But were Charlie’s Angels and Dallas good shows? No, I think it’s safe to say they were more or less…but I try not to be the smart-mouth anymore. They were entertainment. I myself can truly enjoy something like reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard just because it is so innocent and because it conjures up an America that still was a place I could feel comfortable in.

Things like the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon remind us how much has changed (Michael Jackson’s death is sad too, but in a different way). May they rest in peace. Consider this great sketch from the Carol Burnett Show. This was just ordinary entertainment for ordinary people. But it could not be done today. The silly slapstick is a product of a world of white families consisting of married couples with children, people still largely unselfconscious about their ethnic particularity, people not battered with messages of their own guilt and lack of control over their society, people with family-centered values and lives. For them a joke about sex meant a double-entendre that would make the adults laugh while confusing the kids.

For people who reject the current social order, the alienation one feels with much of the current media can be dispiriting. There are several things we can do, though. One is, of course, to go back to books and to the films and movies of the past. The second is to develop a knack for appreciating some selected parts of our current culture, even though this usually requires learning to ignore some objectionable aspect. The third is to begin setting the groundwork for the culture of our future. I have no pretension of being capable of anything grandiose, but one thing I try to do in this blog is to try to sketch out, at least in the imagination, some ideas about what a healthy culture could be like if it existed in America again.

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The Temptation, the Mad Compulsion

June 13, 2009

Billy Bragg, one of my favorite singers once upon a time, had the following lines which came back to me recently:

The temptation
To take the precious things we have apart
To see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again

(“Must I Paint You a Picture”)

He was talking about love affairs – and describing the sort of affair those of my generation experienced so commonly, left on our own with no pressure to make a commitment, and indeed encouraged to “experiment.” I imagine the scenario is no less common today.

Yet the warning applies equally to the reckless stresses we are placing on our society. A conservative thought from Bragg, whose political philosophy was nevertheless precisely that described by Robert Frost in the following lines:*

A Case for Jefferson

Harrison loves my country too,
But wants it all made over new.
He’s Freudian Viennese by night.
By day he’s Marxian Muscovite.
It isn’t because he’s Russian Jew.
He’s Puritan Yankee through and through.
He dotes on Saturday pork and beans.
But his mind is hardly out of his teens:
With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new.

A nice description of the radical impulse! I believe Frost was thinking of the radical 1920s or maybe ’30s here.

The compulsion to destroy seems to rule our society today – though there is now much less of any solid society remaining to be smashed. Let’s hope for a revival of the conservative impulse – to save what we can of what we have left.

*Bragg has continued to struggle with his conservative side, as shown in his book The Progressive Patriot (which I originally learned of from the Oz Conservative, and left a comment).