The Many Killers Of The Film Industry: Volume 2 - A Disaster Called Television
from the setting-box-office-records-from-beyond-the-grave...-apparently dept
A Disaster Called Television
Little did Roger Philco and Francois Magnavox know when they assembled the first "magic picture box" that it would change American society as we knew it, mostly for the worse.
There was no indication during its early broadcasts of test patterns, puppet shows and white men in blackface that the daily life of Americans would soon revolve around it. Instead of gathering around the wireless to watch Dad get drunk and curse the Yankees, the whole family would gather around the tiny screen to watch Elvis from the waist up or catch breaking footage from the moon landing set.
The movie industry understood how serious this new threat could be and stepped hastily over the still-cooling corpse of live theater to denounce the new "tele-vision," which would surely destroy their precious industry. They lamented this turn of events, cursing every new box office record and crying into their stacks of $1000 bills.
Representatives of the "dying" industry called on Congress to do "something" about the "talking picturemajig." How can we get people to sit in front of our 42-foot screens, enjoy our Technicolor and Sensurround when they have 3 inches of black and white power at home, all coming to them in deafening mono?
Congress was too busy watching the National League Championship to be bothered by an outdated industry and their rhetorical questions, no matter how many bribes and high-dollar hookers they waved around. Another blow was struck when forward-thinking Dwight Eisenhower announced his bold plan for America: a television in every house, a car in every garage and an epidemic of childhood obesity.
Disaster? Or Powerful, Distracting New Ally?
The movie industry was premature in its panic. Americans soon proved they had the leisure time for both activities, which could easily be squeezed in between backyard barbecues and conceiving the eventual bankrupters of Social Security.
During the early '50s, the average male enjoyed a 25-hour work week, divided between harassing the typing pool, pounding martinis and hitting the golf course. The remaining time they spent watering the lawn, washing the car, pounding martinis and pounding the wife (mostly in a sexual fashion, but often in a physical fashion).
TV grew and grew, becoming the focal point of American family life. Television producers turned the mirror on the public, reflecting life as they knew it in the form of sitcoms, playing up spousal abuse ("I Love Lucy," "The Honeymooners") and sexless marriages (every other sitcom). They also went after more respected institutions with uncanny accuracy. (See also: "The Andy Griffith Show" and its devastating take on inept law enforcement and artistic whistling, or "Bewitched" and its brilliant satire of the advertising world, long before "Mad Men" made it cool to be casually sexist again.)
As its influence grew, television turned its unblinking eye on other "hot button" topics such as the Korean War ("M*A*S*H*"), teen hoodlums ("Happy Days") and greed (every game show). TV devoured everything in its path over the next 50 years, before going all ouroboros and devouring itself, shitting out show after show containing no actors, no script and starring everyday people like Balloon Boy's dad.
As the airwaves were conquered by Joe Gloryhound and his occasionally-swapped wife, the film industry breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that TV's "tapped-outness" would allow them to continue to collect billions of dollars a year cranking out sequel after sequel. Directors such as Michael Bay were allowed to continue trafficking in explosions and recycled punchlines. All was well in the word, until...
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