Perhaps I am over-reacting, but I was recently horrified. Sometimes conservatives allow their ideology to lead them into places that make it impossible to take them seriously, or to view them as rational and responsible. This is especially true when it comes to the arts.
Yesterday, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham was bemoaning the coarsening of the culture, and the way she feels that television is poisoning the minds of children. She spoke nostalgically about how entertainment in the golden past was family-friendly, and reliably conveyed the values of humor and wit that enriched children’s minds, their taste, and their understanding of “good entertainment.” Those days are no more, Ingraham said. Television is vast slime-pool, and concerned parents can only look to past gems of the comic arts to teach their children “humor and wit.”
So what show did Laura Ingraham, accomplished writer, former Supreme Court law clerk, and author of political satire extol as epitomizing these lost values? What classic TV show’s complete set of DVDs did she reveal that she had given to a colleague so he could save the minds and souls of his children?
I know—Sherwood Schwartz, creator of that show as well as “The Brady Bunch” just died. Still, giving “Gilligan’s Island” to a child to whom you are trying to provide cultural nourishment is like giving a starving African orphan a Frosted Pop Tart. “Gilligan’s Island” was pegged by critics and anyone with a modicum of taste the embodiment of the TV wasteland when it was new. “Gilligan’s Island” makes “The Beverley Hillbillies” look like a Noel Coward play; it makes “Green Acres” seem like Shaw. “Gilligan’s Island” was a Saturday morning kids TV show-quality piece of junk that became a camp icon for some bizarre reason, just like Schwartz’s other hit, “The Brady Bunch”—which Ingraham also praised because of its “values.”
What values? Insipidness? Clichés? Obvious stereotypes? Lowest-common denominator diversions? Dumb scripting? Amateurish acting? “The Brady Bunch” made “The Partridge Family” seem like “The Forsythe Saga.”
Using the term “wit” in connection with either Schwartz show is to render the term meaningless. I feel safe in saying that there was not one moment of genuine wit in either show, and yes, I have watched most episodes of both—and don’t ask me why, because I’ll take the Fifth Amendment. There is more genuine wit in five minutes of the lamest episode of “The Simpsons” ever broadcast (Laura also derided “The Simpsons” as denigrating fathers, which is nonsense) than in the hundreds of hours Schwartz’s creations clogged the air waves.
There have been many, many past comedies that I would happily show to children to have them appreciate genuine wit and humor. Bob Denver, a.k.a. Gilligan, co-starred in one of the best, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” “I Love Lucy,” “M*A*S*H”, “The Honeymooners”, either Bob Newhart show, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” “Taxi”…Heck, even lower breeds like “The Addams Family,” “The Golden Girls,” “Car 54,” and “F Troop” had classic comedy values and clever scripts. “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” are so far above “Gilligan’s Island” in quality that they couldn’t see Ginger’s cleavage with the Hubble telescope.
I would no more give “Gilligan’s island” to a child to improve his sense of humor and wit than I would have him watch “Wipeout” to enrich his sense of drama.
Conservatives like Ingraham don’t do their cause or their credibility any good by praising mediocrity and trash as a desirable alternative to crudeness. They don’t do their children any good either by force-feeding them so-called entertainment that was and will always be the TV equivalent of baloney on Wonder Bread.
Making kids of any age watch “The Brady Bunch” or “Gilligan’s Island” will either imbue them with the sparkling sense of whimsy and satire of Michelle Bachmann, or drive them to “South Park.”
Of those two alternatives, I’d hope for the latter.