Monday, February 18, 2013



At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, something has been sticking in my craw.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is a better example of how we have allowed – with about as much discernment and taste as a herd of lemmings –  the medium of television to make fools of us all than it did with the much ballyhooed Super Bowl performance of Beyonce and company.  This tawdry, exaggerated, hip-twisting gyration proudly hit the air noisily as the Super Bowl centerpiece and enjoyed notoriety before, during and after and was all the rage for a while with the on-camera, ex-jock pundits who toiled to find any unused hyperbole with which to extol that spectacle over and over as something America could be proud of.  God help our image around the world, it was not.  It was ridiculous.  As an American, I found the whole thing an embarrassing reflection of emptiness and American bad taste in the rush to charge big bucks for a Super Bowl flash in the pan.  You can say whatever extenuating credits about Beyonce you want: talent, beauty, up from a tough life, etc., etc….  It doesn’t whitewash this thing for me.

Even at my age, I am not un-inured to the charms of women.  If they have beauty, all the better.  Personally, however, I find charm, poise, self-confidence and mystery to be far more captivating and far more beguiling certainly than the in-your-face gyrations of Beyonce’s gyratees, a.k.a. Destiny’s Child.  I remember a time when Ginger Rogers or Rita Hayworth teamed up with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly and created grace and poetry in motion.  A friend of mine is a Hawaiian interpretive dancer whose extraordinary graceful and exotic style is hypnotic and captivating.  She once interpreted the lyrics to a piece of music for us in her home that Sundi chose, ad hoc and a cappella.  It was astonishingly lovely and memorable. 

A lot of high-end Super Bowl television commercials are aimed at as much noise and slam-dunk junk it is possible to cram into the unforgiving minute at the highest cost per-second charges thus far known to man.  Not since that kid noticed the emperor had no clothes have so many people looked up and, no matter what their senses told them, went along with the crowd anyway.  When a thing has the imprimatur of the Super Bowl and all its bells and whistles at whatever cost and unremitting decibels, and all the ooing and awwing of the talking heads, it’s hard for an ordinary guy to have the confidence to look at it and say that it’s simply ridiculous.

If you think back, the native cultural contributions of America were varied and stimulating: Blues and jazz, gospel and spiritual, country and western, brought new species to the cultural scene.  The Negro spiritual is forever embedded in American life.  Composers like Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Joplin and Kern in the last century gave music a resurgence of vitality in American culture for the common man.  Composers of the great musicals like Hammerstein, Rogers and Hart.  Folk singers like Dylan, Baez and Seeger became a part of our cultural history.

There is far more to this story.  More time will have to pass to judge whether or not these perceptions have merit.  As far as I’m concerned, Beyonce and the ubiquitous pop tarts of venues like American Idol, the rap artists and their many imitators are headed for the dust bin and not a moment too soon.  There is such a plethora of schlock media pelting our young audience today, the really good music is being eclipsed and paved over, and never reaches our young people who are missing out by going along with the media whereas true artistry charts its own course.

Edward R. Murrow, one of the greatest television personalities of all time, once had this to say about the television medium:
“… our history will be what we make it.  If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

“We are to a large extent an imitative society.  If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small fraction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure would grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure--exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.

“To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention.  But even if they are right, what have they got to lose?  Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire.  But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.  Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.  There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference.”

Ed died in 1965.