Saturday, December 18, 2004

MH - The More Things Change...

Here's another item from my TV Guide collection. This is from the issue dated December 27, 1969 - a landmark time. End of a tumultous decade, and a year that saw the Mets win the World Series, man land on the moon, Nixon sworn in as president, Agnew attack the media, and the Smothers Brothers exit network TV. And all that's just on the cover!

Anyway, the editorial in this issue discusses filmmaker Jerome Katzman and his new movie, Angel, Angel, Down We Go, which is described as "a putdown of the Establishment and just about all the cherished mores of Western society. It mocks motherhood, the flag, sexual fidelity, orthodoxy and fatherhood. It wallows in unrepentant murder, corruption, seduction, flagellation and homosexuality. It is, Katzman proposes, a satanic distillation of the latent evil in all people, and it explains - at least to his satisfaction - why fils of putdown, brutality and erotica have become commercial pacemakers." In words that eerily resemble those of Willie Stark, Katzman says, "I think the basic nature of man is not good, but bad...We (have to make films that) satisfy the baser appetites in man in order to have him do the good things that he does."

If you've been to the movies lately, you're probably thinking "what's new in this?" And it does sound a lot like the kind of junk you see at the multiplex. In fact, it's probably tame, campy entertainment compared to what passes for cinema today. However, what got me to thinking was this quote from Katzman - "I feel a strong conviction that pictures today have to throw away all the rules to get people away from the tube." Substitute the word "cable" for "tube," and you have a perfect description of what's happened to television today. Remember a few years ago when Steven Bochco tried to justify the explicitness of NYPD Blue by saying networks had to compete with cable? It's only gotten worse since then. Watch the networks try to copy the success of shows like The Sopranos. Cable TV has won justifiable praise for some of its series, but they're adult programs, in households that (presumably) pay extra to get access to it. The networks, on the other hand, are free, public airwaves. The recent spade of fines by the FCC testifies to the direction network programming is going.

None if this is news. But what I find particularly intersting about editorial is TV Guide's clearly disapproving reaction to all this. The editorial sarcastically concludes: "Man is essentially evil. He gets rid of that evil by watching depraved, revolting Katsman films. What's left is good. Ergo, Jerome Katsman is performing a public service by producing such movies." Would TV Guide say the same thing today? I subscribed to the magazine for over thirty years before I finally got fed up with the soft-core porn covers, the salacious content, the lascivious profiles of the latest scantilly-clad starlet describing her current ground-breaking series noted for its sexual frankness.

Which just goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Movies have stayed the same, television has become the same, and TV Guide just goes along for the ride.

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