WordPlay

Television: Then and Now

                                     by  Earnest Lee –Guest Columnist

If you, like me, are a member of the post-World War II “baby boom,” maybe you too can remember your family’s first TV. TV sets from those days aren’t easy to forget.

Ah, television… Older boomers like me are the last generation to have known what life was like without it. Afterward, things were never quite the same.

Television was quite different from the old programming on radio. Our new children’s shows like Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse Club were like illustrated daydreams. Imagination was no longer required to “picture” the story.

Mindless entertainment, of course, had a precedent in motion pictures. Unlike the movies, however, now it was suddenly available for free anytime, anywhere at the mere click of a switch.

It all started innocently enough, but television soon proved itself to be rather addictive. From Romper Room in the morning to the test pattern at night, some sets ran incessantly. It wouldn’t be long before we wouldn’t even have to stand up to change channels. At that moment, the concept of couchpotatohood was born, although few realized it at the time.

Gradual declines in reading skills also must have gone either undetected or ignored at first. In 1955 a book called Why Johnny Can’t Read was published, identifying TV as the problem. Once identified, the problem was then largely ignored. Sesame Street, when it finally came along, was perhaps a well-intentioned solution. Sesame Street, however, was based on the fatally flawed premise that children could learn to read by watching even more TV.

By then it was the 1970s. “Stifle yourself, Edith,” Archie Bunker was telling his spouse on “adult” TV. The boomers’ own growth to adulthood, unfortunately, had been stifled long before that. Now it was our kids’ turn for stifling.

“Tune-in, turn-on, drop-out” were the marching orders of the day. We boomers were the marchers, with our kids not far behind. That was just the starting point of the parade.

Since then it’s been all downhill, fellow boomers, and it’s largely been our fault. “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll,” our watchwords of the 1970s, became standard programming for the TV programs our kids watched growing up.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, they say, and the vacuum tube called TV was no exception. As society’s standards continued to decline, so did television. The expanded channels of cable TV only made things worse. “Whatever turns you on,” could now be tuned in on the family TV.

How much worse can things get? Only time will tell. Softer standards for society will almost surely clear the way for more and harder “porn” on TV.

Now it’s our grandkids at stake.

Their generation probably never even heard of the post-World War II “baby boom.” With the way the schools are these days, they may not even have heard of World War II. That’s our fault too, for letting the schools get so bad. For the public schools, at least, it may already be too late.

It’s almost too late for us boomers too. If you don’t believe it, try counting “in memoriums” in your next high school reunion newsletter.

It’s time for us to grow up, belatedly as it may be. We and our few remaining parents are the only ones who remember an un-tuned-in America. Soon it will only be we who remember—if we’re lucky enough not to get Alzheimer’s disease

What exactly can we do? I don’t know for sure. Maybe we should start by acting like grandparents. We’re certainly not babies anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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