When Newton Minow gave a speech...

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2022

...Gilligan's Island responded: Long ago and far away, Newton Minow gave a famous speech.

He spoke on May 9, 1961. He was delivering his first major address since the newly elected President Kennedy made him head of the FCC.

At that time, a basic view was widely held, at least within certain cultural groups. We refer to the widespread belief that American popular culture tended to possibly be a bit dumb.

Needless to say, the question of whether something is dumb always involves matters of judgment. Also, issues of courtesy may arise when popular entertainment, or widely held beliefs, are described as being dumb.

That said, for better or worse, Minow pulled few punches that day. In what became a famous speech, he said the typical contents of American television were unhealthily violent and dumb. 

As Minow spoke, he employed a turn of phrase which became quite famous. Here's part of what he said:

MINOW (5/9/61): When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. 

I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

American television had become "a vast wasteland," Minow famously said. As he continued, he described what you'd see if you were willing to chain yourself to your TV set for a day:

MINOW (continuing directly): You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials—many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it. 

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! Still and all, Minow said it.

We ourselves were just 13 when Minow delivered his speech. That said, the notion that our popular culture was possibly dumb was widespread among many teens of the day. 

Newton Minow took a swing at the TV of the day. Before we make a modern-day point, we'll offer two more observations about his original speech:

First, the speech occasioned some pushback. That said, we have to chuckle when the leading authority on the speech recalls this stinging retort:

The speech was not without detractors, as that lambasting of the state of United States television programming prompted Sherwood Schwartz to name the boat on his television show Gilligan's Island the S. S. Minnow after Newton Minow.

Was commercial television "a vast wasteland?" Aggressively, the fellow who gave us Gilligan's Island decided he had to push back!

Also, there was Minow's sense of who was to blame for what he saw on the tube. Again, we quote the leading authority:

Minow went on to dismiss the idea that public taste was driving the change in programming, stating his firm belief that if television choices were expanded, viewers would gravitate toward higher culture programming.

If television choices were expanded, viewers would gravitate toward higher culture! On balance, we'll guess that Minow was basically wrong in that assessment. 

What makes us think that Minow may have been wrong? We'll cite two relatively recent examples:

First, we'd cite the way modern basic cable channels started out with high-brow aims, then steadily ratcheted their programming downward, presumably in the face of public preferences. 

Bravo "originally focused on programming related to fine arts and film." It now pays its bills thanks to the battles of its fatuous gangs pf "Real Housewives." 

Meanwhile, the History Channel fills its days, and burns away its nights, with silly/dumb UFO shows. The pattern is widely observed among an array of cable channels which started out with high aims.

For a second example, consider the way the Internet was originally expected to serve as "the information superhighway." (Never mind who said it!)

The Internet does provide instant access to astonishing amounts of information. On balance, though, it isn't always used that way, not even by major journalists. 

Instead, the Internet has served as a medium for endless mis- and disinformation, along with lots of puppy videos and rumored boatloads of porn. The information is there for the taking, but we simply don't run on such fuel.

Minow's turn of phrase became famous. The fact remains that public taste may not always turn toward the high-brow, or even the accurate.

Alas! Our "cable news" could perhaps be seen as a type of vast wasteland! Conversations in the medium tilt strongly toward the familiar and scripted. Some basic product tilts toward the insane. Large chunks of the rest tilt toward simple-minded, reassuring and dumb.

What does a person have to do around here to see a good solid discussion? The questions isn't easy to answer. Despite the ways our stars get branded and sold, does Minow's basic point live?

Newton Minow stated his point. Gilligan's Island responded!

Still coming: Can you believe the things you hear? (former vice president edition)


23 comments:

  1. "What does a person have to do around here to see a good solid discussion?"

    Easy. First and foremost, this person needs to be a person, dear Bob, not a brain-dead talking-point-parroting liberal. No dogmas, no idiotic assumptions. That's all.

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  2. "That said, the notion that our popular culture was possibly dumb was widespread among many teens of the day. "

    When Somerby was a lad, teens had their own popular culture. I doubt many teens considered that dumb.

    But Somerby is bound and determined to get us all to consider our current culture unspeakably dumb, even though today's culture is so diverse that it is easy to find engrossing, enlightening and non-dumb things to watch.

    This is the wrong age to be complaining about popular culture. It has never been better.

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    Replies
    1. It's both never been better and never been worse.

      Popular culture is always going to be stuff like Superhero movies and shows, Fail videos with people falling down, silly cat videos, etc. And that content has exploded.

      But it's also true that there is amazing content of all sorts - "engrossing, enlightening and non-dumb things" as you say!

      I guess Somerby yearns for a world where everyday people sample such wares. The few times when that happens is when someone bothers to make a thought-provoking and artistically stimulating movie that also appeals to the masses. But that's hard to pull off, only a few like Spielberg can accomplish that, right?

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    2. I also take issue with the idea that one must watch only uplifting things all the time. People I know enjoy both high culture and "guilty pleasure" shows. There are times when you just don't feel like thinking and just want to relax with something that isn't taxing. I see no harm in that. Sometimes people drink fine wine and sometimes they like cheap beer. Who says it has to be one or the other all the time?

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    3. Somerby shouldn't complain. He listens to the callers on C-Span. That is mind-abuse in my opinion.

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  3. "What does a person have to do around here to see a good solid discussion?"

    There are lots of excellent podcasts that specialize in such discussions. If Somerby cannot find them, that is on him.

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  4. If Somerby cannot find anything uplifting to watch, I suggest that he Google the last Emmy awards and begin with the shows nominated last year.

    Why on earth would Somerby watch History channel or Bravo when there are many excellent dramas, documentaries and comedies streaming on Netflix and Prime, or he can revisit TCM and rewatch Casablanca to see what he got wrong about it.

    Back in the 1950s, there was much less choice than now. Also, both the movie and TV industries have improved greatly and writing and acting are still excellent.

    This is just the wrong time to be calling popular culture a vast wasteland. It is so ludicrous that one has to wonder what is wrong with Somerby.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe Bob’s responding to Biden’s briefing.

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    2. He specifically attacked the The History Channel.

      Reading is a habit just like TV. Try it.

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  5. "Instead, the Internet has served as a medium for endless mis- and disinformation, along with lots of puppy videos and rumored boatloads of porn."

    Somerby is being coy here. He knows about porn.

    How can a man who praises Bob Saget's comedy about rape and incest turn around and pretend that, as a guy, he doesn't know first-hand about porn on the internet? This just makes him sound dishonest. Although, if he is actually just asexual, I will apologize for my assumption about him.

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    Replies
    1. Please read the TDH blog on Saget’s death to see how egregiously it is being misrepresented by Anonymouse5:14pm.

      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2022/01/sometimes-our-values-sound-strange-to.html?m=1

      *****I added the NYT headline that Bob referenced in his piece.

      “All too often, something makes our tribe work very hard to show The Others how remarkably different we are. (We're often so inclined with respect to our high regard for the work of various types of "artists.")

      That headline in the New York Times [The Sublime Beauty of My Friend Bob Saget’s Filthy Comedy] is going to sound rather strange to some of The Others. It's typical fare for the New York Times—but in this case, can anyone say that The Others are necessarily all that wrong?

      Does "sublime beauty" lurk in "filthy jokes?" Except when we're remembering very dear friends, does anybody really believe that? And does anyone think such things but us, over here in our failing tribe?”

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    2. Here is where Somerby says that he agrees with Jillette:

      "Gillette say[s] it wasn't that way with Bob Saget at all. As far as we know, he's entirely right—and we think his kids should listen to what their father says about his dear and departed friend."

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    3. “ We're inclined to say, as a general matter, that Gillette's kids are right to be a bit suspicious of the impulse to give voice to "hard-core jokes about pedophilia and incest." As a general matter, we sometimes find that such impulses overlap with values and impulses which may not be entirely decent, respectful, healthy. Progressive.

      Gillette say it wasn't that way with Bob Saget at all. As far as we know, he's entirely right—and we think his kids should listen to what their father says about his dear and departed friend.

      That said, we don't think Gillette does a very good job explaining that "sublime beauty"—the "sublime beauty" involved in the fact that his friend, onstage and possibly off, "told filthy, disgusting, offensive jokes."’

      Bob wasn’t defending the filthy jokes which explicitly labels as being in opposition the best values and to Progressivism.

      Bob says that Gillette’s children should listen to their father when he tries to explain to them hisfeelongs for Saget.

      They should listen to their father’s point of view, though their isn’t articulate in expressing it.

      It’s amazing that the same people who wanted Bob to not question the circumstances around Saget’s death, lest it hurt his family ( who directly profited from Saget’s routine) think Bob is championing incest jokes because, in the midst of saying liberals say stupid things, Bob also says that Gillette’s kids should try to glean the feelings of their dad.

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    4. Corrected version:


      “ We're inclined to say, as a general matter, that Gillette's kids are right to be a bit suspicious of the impulse to give voice to "hard-core jokes about pedophilia and incest." As a general matter, we sometimes find that such impulses overlap with values and impulses which may not be entirely decent, respectful, healthy. Progressive.

      Gillette says it wasn't that way with Bob Saget at all. As far as we know, he's entirely right—and we think his kids should listen to what their father says about his dear and departed friend.

      That said, we don't think Gillette does a very good job explaining that "sublime beauty"—the "sublime beauty" involved in the fact that his friend, onstage and possibly off, "told filthy, disgusting, offensive jokes."’

      Bob wasn’t defending the filthy jokes which he explicitly labels as being in opposition to the best values and to Progressivism.

      Bob says that Gillette’s children should listen to their father when he tries to explain to them his feelings for Saget.

      They should listen to their father’s point of view, though he isn’t articulate in expressing it.

      It’s amazing that the same people who wanted Bob to not question the circumstances around Saget’s death, lest it hurt his family ( who directly profited from Saget’s routine) think Bob is championing incest jokes because, in the midst of saying liberals say stupid things, Bob also says that Gillette’s kids should try to glean the feelings of their dad.

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    5. Go ahead, Cecilia. Why don’t you and Somerby lecture “us liberals” on “progressive” values, and then, as a foregone conclusion, assume that Saget was known for or made a point of being “progressive” (which he did not), and that, therefore, he and Penn Gillette (also not obviously progressive) show…what? That progressives are ugly hypocrites, based on their being 2 individuals, neither of whom is any spokesman for progressivism. That, and the fact that the coroner has made his ruling, and the family has accepted the findings. Somerby was just pushing unhelpful speculation with that blog post, chastising the media for not going there.

      Also, it’s hugely odd to say that a family “profits” off the father’s income.

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    6. mh, in his piece, Bob was calling out the NYT for the…ode…to Saget that it ran,

      Yeah, I know- the NYT isn’t really progressive either.

      Evidently, based upon the daily self-affirmations the “real” progressives make around here, genuine progressives are people who can’t comprehend what they read.

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    7. I saw a good term for this kind of commenting: shitposty.

      Cecelia hears whatever she wants to in Somerby's posts, then blames others for not hearing the same tune.

      Why would Somerby be "calling out" the NYT for an opinion editorial that he essentially agreed with?

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    8. Anonymouse10:42am, perhaps you could have troubled yourself to click on the link to the actual NYT “opinion editorial” and see that the author never uttered the outlandish sentiment as represented in the headline.

      Delete
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  9. Television is only as good as the people who watch it. There are a lot more choices as to what to watch. You can choose fluff or something more interesting. The fact that 5here is a show called the Bachelor says more about the people who watch it than the people who create it. It's why we don't have a woman President nor the equal rights amendment.

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