Monday, December 27, 2010

Pop Culture that used to be

So, here's the thing : today is Marlene Dietrich's birthday. I started looking through old files for a certain pic - never did find it. But when I found a still from "Blond Venus", I started to recall a particular Dietrich entrance, and..... hmmmm, wondered if it would be on YouTube and there it was... and here it is:

Now, to continue a conversation Laura and I have been having: Today's kids are sadly lacking in not only general knowledge, but in Culture knowledge as well. For instance, they don't know who Gershwin  was (George or Ira). Or Noel Coward. Or just about anything that dates back more than say, 5 years ago. I'm talking about Pop Culture here, the kind that became the universal subconscious of our nation. The testament of our dreams, fears, and hopes. So, while I was watching the clip above, I realized that today's kids and younger adults weren't really exposed to things: I grew up as TV grew up. As a 5 or 6 year old, I had access to the three major networks as well as the Dumont network (TV tuners at the time only had channels 2 thru 13). Oh, how I loved a show on Dumont - it was 'Sheena, Queen of the Jungle', starring Irish McCalla. I was 5 years old.

Later, as the late 1950's gave way to the early to mid 1960's, UHF broadcasting arrived (channels 14 - 83). In the Philadelphia market we had two, maybe three of these smaller independent channels. Unable to afford much programming, they ran old movies. Oh, the Networks ran old movies too. Late afternoon around 4:30 was the Million Dollar Movie, there was one at 11:30pm opposite or after Steve Allen and/or Johnny Carson, etc. All the movies were in black and white, but then so was everything - color television was just starting to move to the commercial arena. I was in my mid teens before I knew that the Errol Flynn "Adventures of Robin Hood" was supposed to be in color.

At any rate, we got to see all of the old Hollywood product line again and again. We knew the songs, if they had any. We knew the famous lines of dialogue. Just two days ago I was reciting: "The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison...". People seemed to think I had lost my mind.

Most of our popular music was the music of Broadway: "Tonight" from 'West Side Story', "Hello Dolly", "Till there was You" from 'The Music Man'. Etcetera. And the same songs would come around again in a couple of years when they made the movie versions. And Movie Roadshows - good God, a movie palace with a huge screen, advance reserved tickets, souvenir programs, ToddAO, Super Panavision, CinemaScope! Intermissions when you could buy candy or dash to the rest rooms. Music from the movie playing as you waited in your seat for the movie to start or after it ended. Curtains that would open and close in front of the screen (and a second set of curtains which were often painted in the theme of the theatre). (Sigh)

Ocean City, New Jersey
Painted curtain at the Strand.
Just about anybody born after the mid 1970's would have no knowledge, no memories, of this era. And they have no idea what they missed. There may be no real reason for them to know these things, but I find it rather sad that they don't.


Austan said...

Yes, and the flagon with the dragon is the brew that is true.

I was thinking about this, too. In my house, people sang and played instruments. I have one very, very talented brother who plays 23 instruments. That, combined with boredom, led to us singing the pop hits of the time together. Can anyone sit in their living room and sing pop songs with the family anymore? Does anybody have to share a TV, thereby exposing everyone to common experience, and therefore cultural references and all that goes with it? It isn't just the music and movies that have changed, it's how we live. We are an isolated society.

Austan said...

I did tell you Uncle Glenn was La Dietrich's personal aide, didn't I?