By Mitchell Hadley
It's been a while since we've done anything on television, so how about an entire week of TV?
If you saw any of the Jerry Lewis Telethon this weekend, you might have noted - as we did - that celebrity talent isn't what it used to be. That's no slam against Jerry, who's doing the best he can with what's available out there. But it is interesting, isn't it, how stars like Brad and Angelina and Madonna and Babs and the rest all have time to devote to political change and foreign policy and global warming and all the rest, but don't seem to have time even for a walk-on appearance to help some sick kids.
Is that a harsh statement? Probably. And it's not meant to suggest that they're all hypocrites - after all, we can't know what's in their hearts. (Although they sure do like to publicize what they're doing, don't they?) But if you look at the list of celebrities who've appeared on the Telethon over the years, you'll see a lot of people who weren't particularly identified with the fight against muscular dystrophy but certainly had a few minutes to come on camera and show their support for a good cause. Fortunately, as this year's lineup attests, the country-western community isn't afraid to get involved.
We've chosen a long route to get to the point of this clip, but nowhere is the change in today's celebrity culture more apparent than in the death of the variety show. (You youngsters out there can Google the term to see what we're talking about.) Yes, it's true that they don't make 'em like they used to. If you've seen the infomercials for the Dean Martin Show, you'll know what we mean. Jerry's old partner had one of the great variety shows of the 60s and 70s, with some of the biggest stars around - back in the day when celebrities had what we'd refer to today as "crossover appeal." By that, I mean that they were enjoyed by many demographic groups, rather than the fragmentation we see today. And that's too bad, because we'v talked about this before - the increasing lack of shared experiences that we have in today's culture. Everyone has their own thing going for them, and there are so many specializations out there: a cable station for every genre, a radio station for any type of music, and your own iPods and DVD networks in case you don't like what you see or hear elsewhere. Is this a good thing? Somehow, I doubt it.
But - enough of this pontificating. These are all issues that are vast in their implications, and things we should tackle another day. In the meantime, I'll get off my soapbox and give you a very funny clip from Dean's show, staring the brilliant comedian Jonathan Winters. Don't you dare tell me you didn't laugh while you were watching this.