March 21, 2017
“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 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.”
On May 9, 1961, when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Norman Minow said that in a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, it made a lot of people angry. Because when you criticize what people come home, sit on the couch, and enjoy every night, you’re really criticizing them. In truth, Minow was an elitist, who was saying to the great unwashed masses, if you enjoy this, it just proves how stupid you are.
Kind of like what Hillary Clinton said to the deplorables.
People were not happy with Minow over that speech. Author Ayn Rand criticized Minow for using his government position in an attempt to censor and influence what people watch. And the producers of Gilligan’s Island named the boat that left on a three-hour tour and never returned the S.S. Minnow in a sarcastic tribute to the man. Despite all the controversy over his speech, Minow’s description of a “vast wasteland” became a term that is still remembered more than 55 years later. And since that time the “wasteland” has grown even bigger.
I would say that if Minow weren’t alive today, he would be spinning in his grave, but the truth is, he is still alive – 91-years-old – and still practicing law. And half-a-century later, the wasteland is bigger than ever.
Minow was a politically savvy political operative before he became FCC chairman. He worked on both unsuccessful presidential campaigns of Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, then later on the successful 1960 campaign to elect President John. F. Kennedy president. Kennedy appointed him to lead the FCC.
Minow also backed Barrack Obama when he ran for president in 2008. In fact, it was Minow who hired Obama back in 1988 to work as a summer associate at Minow’s firm, Sidley Austin LLP. And that’s where Obama met his future wife, Michelle Robinson.
I think Minow was right about television. It does cater to the lowest-common-denominator. And the more it does so, the lower the lowest common denominator gets. Now you have shows that feature people of all races and backgrounds, behaving badly and becoming semi-famous for it. And as the lowest common denominator sinks ever lower, society in general follows it down.
We live in mean-spirited times, and I do give TV credit for much of that.
On the other hand, you always have people like Minow going around, telling other people what they should and should not like. What they should read, what they should watch, and how they should feel about things. That’s fine for a private citizen, but when the government starts deciding what people should like and not like, it is overstepping its bounds.
I do think Minow was right about television. But I also think he probably should have just minded his own darn business.
— George Lee Cunningham
A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and fun. This week we are sharing some of our favorite versions of well-known songs about love and booze. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information. You have some favorites? Please share…
The seat of my pants is slick from my barstool, And my hand’s in the shape of a glass
My eyes look like a road-map of Georgia, And it’s a shame I’ve lost my class
One broken heart can do strange things. To a fellow who can’t take pain
But in this hundred proof condition, I’m in no position to take her back again
– Sorrow on the Rocks artist Porter Wagoner
Scotch and soda, mud in your eye,
Baby do I feel high?
Oh me, oh my, Do I feel high?
Dry martini, Jigger of gin,
Oh, what a spell you’ve got me in,
Oh my, Do I feel High
– Scotch and Soda artists The Kingston Trio
But here I am again mixing misery and gin
Sitting with all my friends and talking to myself.
I look like I’m having a good time but any fool can tell
That this honky-tonk heaven really makes you feel, like hell
– Misery and Gin Singer Merle Haggard, Writers John Robert Durrill, Snuff Garrett
March 14, 2017
There are ghosts along the backroads of America – the two-lane blacktops that used to be major highways until they were replaced by today’s broad and busy Interstate speedways. Some of the towns struggle on – gas stations and mini-marts, a Dairy Queen and a coffee shop, gravel parking lots littered with cigarette butts and gum wrappers. But many of the homes along the highway stand empty, year-by-year falling apart in slow motion, the porches sagging and the windows broken out.
You see them and you wonder what the story is. Were they once happy places, full of laughter and love, rural outposts of a kinder and gentler time? That’s what I like to think. But just as likely they were houses of dysfunction, occupied by angry and bitter people, stuck in the backwoods of society, too afraid of the unknown to join the migration of their friends and families to the city. And when they died or finally had to move on, the house they left behind slowly rotted away in place.
There is a mystery and a story behind every such place.
I find myself fascinated by these rural ruins, drawn to them both for their isolation from the main stream and by the lonely and sad mystery of their rise and their fall. Nobody builds a house anticipating that it will one day fall into ruin and be a rotting and weed-infested husk. And I like the vast emptiness surrounding many such structures, often miles of desert or open fields, hills in the distance, mountains behind the hills, the sky above and the gravel and dirt below.
It is not a fascination shared by my spouse.
“You know,” I say to her, one day driving through the desert, “we probably could get one of these old houses dirt cheap, fix it up, prop up the roof, new planking for the front porch, and live out here under the open sky.”
There are times that I know better, that I can feel the tension in the way she sits and see it in her face. She is not amused by the idea, mostly because she knows that even though it’s just talk, part of me wouldn’t mind doing just that.
I continue undaunted.
“You wake up in the morning, you walk out to the front porch, and you can see for miles. No neighbors crowding in on every side, no horns honking or freeway noise, just birds singing and the wind blowing across the plain.”
Her jaws clamped tight. Eyes locked on the road ahead. Silence.
“So what do you think, honey?” I ask, knowing exactly what she thinks, but for some odd reason still wanting to stir things up, to get a reaction. By this time, the silence is killing me. She could say, well I disagree. She could say, the desert is lovely this time of year, but I don’t think I would like to live here in the summer. She could even just tell me to go straight to H-E-double hockey sticks.
But the silence is a killer, and she knows it.
“Honey,” I finally say. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Go ahead,” she snaps back. “You want to live out here in the middle of nowhere, go ahead. But you’re going to be greeting the morning sky and the birds and the flies and the rattlesnakes by yourself, because the dog and I are going to be living someplace else.”
“I didn’t say we should move out here, I just was thinking what if we did?”
“Good, I think you should,” she says. “You only have to drive 35 or 40 miles to get a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, and then you’re going to pay about three times the price that you would at the supermarket in the city. But hey, you love the wide open spaces, so that’s not a problem.
“Just don’t expect the dog and me to live out here with you…”
“Maybe the dog would like it out here,” I joke, trying to relieve some of the tension.
“The dog stays with me.”
“OK honey,” I finally relent. “I think we should cross this off our list.”
Silence for several more miles.
“You’re not funny,” she finally says. “You think you’re being funny, but you’re not.”
“No Ma’am,” I say. “Not funny.”
And now I know – another mystery solved. Why there are houses abandoned out in the middle of nowhere. Because wives don’t like living out in the middle of nowhere.
And men don’t like cooking for themselves.
– George Lee Cunningham
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I don’t mean to be an old grump, but I have made my living for many years as a salesman of words so I think language is important. Language is more than how we communicate. It’s also how we think. We think in language, and if we don’t have proper language skills, our thinking is impaired.
I strongly believe this, but at the same time I know that part of my distress is merely that language keeps changing and I don’t like it.
Gay used to mean happy. There was a time that you could be gay, and still be attracted to girls. Now, not so much.
Gender used to be a grammar term. Words – especially in foreign languages – had gender. People, on the other hand, were distinguished by their sex – male or female.
Discrimination used to be a good word. A man of discriminating taste meant one who appreciated the finer things in life, one who recognized the difference between something of greater and lesser quality.
Collaboration was something cowardly and selfish people did with the enemy. They were collaborators, which meant they befriended and worked with the other side.
Today, collaboration is something we’re all encouraged to do. We sit around in endless meetings collaborating with each other and watering down any new idea that comes along until it becomes mush and is finally acceptable to everybody.
In fact the words have not really changed. It’s how people perceive the words that has changed.
I can still be gay, meaning feeling happy and carefree, and still like girls. But now the meaning of the word has become confused. I have also meet and been friends with queer people, meaning they were a little quirky, no matter what their sexual preference might have been.
Being a cranky dinosaur I will sometimes scratch out gender on written forms and substitute the word sex before putting down male. I do make a distinction – meaning I discriminate – between people I like and admire and people that I don’t. Sometimes those people are Caucasians and sometimes they are not.
I even collaborate, although I admit that I am not very good at it. Even with people I admire and like, my lack of enthusiasm sometimes comes across as a bit stand-offish and disagreeable.
I’m OK with that.
– George Lee Cunningham
A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and fun. This week we are sharing some of our favorite versions of well-known songs. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information. You have some favorites? Please share…
Someday, I wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney top
That’s where you’ll find me
– Over the Rainbow & What a Wonderful World Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Do you remember the night we met
That’s the night I knew you were my pet
I want to tell you how much I love you
But I’m drowning in the sea of love
– Sea of Love Singer Tom Waits, Writers Philip Baptiste and George Khoury
The many ways you speak of love, I’ve heard before, but it sounds so good every time
Please say the part that I love just once more, darling I’m so glad that you’re mine
Talk to me, talk to me, hold me close, whisper low
Talk to me, can’t you see, darling, I … I love you so
– Talk to Me Singer Jimmy Burns, Writer Joe Seneca