Or maybe an on-going 120 part series called The Sins of Roy Butler. Readings from Herman Hesse accompanied by flashing lights! A chemical analysis of the decadent banana with bibliography! Giving birth standing up! As is characteristic of moralists and also of theorists of the alternate culture, there everyone else. Relating to television, the first assumption is that commercial TV is garbage. Nicholas Johnson is one of the few who can be credited with spending any effort on explaining why \(it sells “a philosophy of life” which includes the idea that one’s level of consumption of products just assume it. If Johnson’s book \(Test fits neatly between Love Story and I’m OK, You’re OK on the shelves, it still represents an effort and an enormous gesture of good will. The point where good will becomes coercive \(“we have to educate others start out. I can’t help but notice, additionally, that nothing is required of the viewer past the first simple judgment: commercial TV is garbage. No intelligence, no imagination, no grace the judge might as well be a brick. The process involved is akin to strangling a cat because it doesn’t spit silver dollars. Each judge, of course, strangles in his own way and so the strangulation is a tremendous personal expression. No one considers whether strangling was the only way to deal with the cat; no one noticed that, while he didn’t spit silver dollars, he was an accomplished juggler and grand prix driver and could sing Nadine in four languages. Now the cat strangler/television critic will tell you that he appreciates all this, that he recognizes the evils of “linear” thinking \(he doesn’t recognize its abhors moralism and avoids making “value judgments,” that he detests propaganda, that he despises coercion, that he only seeks personhood and freedom for all. Do will tell you they know things that they do not know, or have not adequately dealt with. A boy goes to these meetings and feels like he is being asked to board the bus which is going to drive across the bay suggesting that buses don’t float is met with derision “We know that” you are told, just before everyone drowns. WHAT ED AND THESE others ask television to provide, then, is a sort of the way to personhood \(heaven, utopia, “entertainment” is limited to comedy and slapstick. He can like Carol Burnett; he accepts his baser nature. For other types of programming he is compelled to find a a passive recipient of wisdom, but in the case of television, he’ll condescend, and take information. Ed explains the failure of Kung Fu and the criteria for success: We like inside information, cram courses in other people’s social reality, institutional lowdown, the mechanics of a situation. \(“So that’s the basic appeal of the few flourishing popular fiction forms today: detective novels, science-fiction novels, pornography and Arthur Hailey. Ed has apparently never heard of dictionaries, almanacs, trade papers, encyclopedias, collections of letters, memoirs, a two volume series called The Way Things Work, documents, in fact, of any type, or looking out the window. Maybe he lives in New York, and doesn’t have any windows. His feeling for information or data is open to question. Give me, for instance, someone who has “night-school notions of Buddha” before someone who tries to tell me that the basic appeal of pornography is that we like “cram courses in other people’s social reality.” This kind of falsification of data is insidious and implies the moral imperative, the compulsion to it make everything fit into a pre-arranged scheme. Let me suggest that the appeal of detective novels, s c i ence-fiction, pornography and Arthur Hailey as well as many good films and most good television is sex, violence, accessibility and vicarious emotion. They also have a low-grade order order is pleasant and reassuring. It is also simple enough that we assume it, and are then free to get to the emotion, sex, and violence, and to appreciate the grace \(or One of the conventions of television is that it is required to make extensive gestures in the direction of the triumph of moral man, fair play, evil getting its own reward, sex in love the only good kind and all the other official party-line moral certainties the accumulated wisdom of F. W. Woolworth. These certainties do have a degree of attractiveness; most of us would like to believe for 60 minutes that evil guys eventually get it, even if we reserve the right to define “evil” the way we please. At the same time, commercial TV has become very adroit in minimizing these gestures. Most just use them as a structural device so that people screw and consume and kill throughout the show and get nailed at the end. A sop is thrown to official morality so that they can get to what we want to watch. The amount of grace with which these pieties are included adds ,.an extra critereon for judging the production. KUNG FU in particular takes these values \(or variants principles tend them. It is an incredible synthesis in which morality creates a superman: James Bond. This little irony does a lot toward energizing the show. And like James Bond, like Sam McCloud, Kwai Chang Caine is a heavily stylized hero you tend to respond because of the stylization. The earlier shows of the series are less wonderful than the later ones because in them this quality is less pronounced. But you know, when Caine approaches an enraged, rearing, no-one-else-canhandle-him horse, that pretty quick that horse’ll find inner peace. And when the six creeps start out to stomp Caine to death, it’s only a question of which hand he’s going to use the pleasure is in watching him do it. There is a basic similarity between McCloud saying “I guess that means we’re on opposite sides of the barb wahr” and Caine noting that “To the flea, the grasshopper sounds as thunder.” If the one is New York’s idea of New Mexico and the other is Los Angeles’ idea of China and neither is exactly profound, the pretense is still not coercive. Contrast the pretense of Erich Fromm, quoted in Nicholas Johnson’s book: Why is it that we, having everything one could wish, are unhappy, lonely, and anxious? \(from Is it necessary to point out that Erich, aside from the gigantic diagnosis, is sadly deficient in the wishing department? I mean, I looked all over, the closets, under the sink, and there was no Veruschka anywhere. Intelligent conversation still comes from the same six people \(“Don’t call during The ’66 Continental with the Ruidoso Jockey Club sticker on the windshield still down at the Gulf station. The fact of the matter is that we have created a concept of profundity to protect us from what it intends to describe. Whether the concept is used viciously as in the Fromm quote or frivolously as in the other two gets to be a key question. While Sam McCloud and Caine would allow you to read Erich Fromm, it is doubtful whether Erich Fromm would allow you to watch McCloud or Kung Fu. And you can as freely about either as you can about things like: “Why is it that we, having everything one could . . . etc.” because thinking is something you do yourself, if you feel like it. S.B. March 30, 1973 23
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