The History of Media – Visual Arts Edition V. 1

April 28, 2010
[We had a lot of fun with the audio half of this presentation, in which many stereotypes were dismantled and just as many new ones, um, mantled. Now it’s time to turn away from our ears and start listening with our eyes, as we explore the visual media.]

The amazing display of showmanship and rudimentary arithmatic that is the live theater.

Before the advent of motion pictures, there was live theater. Performed live by live actors and actresses (but more frequently by actors in wigs), live theater enthralled thousands with its over-emoted lines, bellowed by all manner of waiters, maitre’ds and pool boys.

While kings and queens encouraged young playwrights to sell out, the general public was amused by bawdy puppet shows and other lowbrow works, including the bawdiest of puppet shows: finger puppets. (You know what I’m talking about.) [Ed. – No one knows what you’re talking about. Ever.] It had something for everybody and this “something” was usually expositionary songs and minimal sets.

Live theater flourished for centuries, becoming the common man’s escape from crushing reality and taking him to places previously only glimpsed in his fevered (and Black Plagued) imagination. Whether it came in the form of Greek dramedy or Shakespearean sitcom, theater was the only game in town.

The lively art expanded and mutated, bringing forth several new artistic forms, both legitimate (opera, musical, kabuki) and illegitimate (off-Broadway, mime, pro wrestling). Others operated at the fringe, trafficking in dubious artistic merit and collecting money no one else would touch (LARPing, cosplay, Samuel Beckett).

Just when it appeared that nothing would loosen theater’s stranglehold on the public’s entertainment dollar, something loosened theater’s stranglehold on the public’s entertainment dollar.

Buy two large popcorns and get 8 minutes of your favorite Uwe Boll flick!

Motion Pictures
Little did Lumiere realize when he debuted his first “moving picture” that his new invention would revolutionize the entertainment industry, mainly by killing off most of it and homogenizing the rest.

Proponents of the established live entertainment industry noted that the proliferation of “movie” houses would adversely affect their business, what with better entertainment being provided at half the price. They staged protests at major theaters, waving placards bearing slogans like “Motion Pictures Are Killing the Theater Industry” and (once the first concession stand was in place) “They’re Also Killing Dinner Theater.” Their battle was also carried to citizens of developing nations via propaganda stating that the “motion picture camera” was capable of “stealing over 30 souls per second.”

The first movies were a spectacle of sight and sound, though most of the sound was nothing more than the projector running or a drunken former cabaret piano player banging away lustily at his instrument and most of the spectacle was of, like, a horse running or something.

With the advent of sound, motion pictures were now on par with live theater’s use of voices, sound effects and coughing audiences. The sky was the limit! With Al Jolson’s game-changing, blackfaced The Jazz Singer, Hollywood knew it had a hit on its hands. An audible hit. With racist overtones.

Soon every Tom Screenwriter, Dick Producer and Harry Director were jamming their movies full of chattering heads, cramming every free space in the film with nonstop, fast-paced talking. Even the dames got into the act, see? No wisecrack was left uncracked. No song was left unsung. No woman ever walked sultrily into a detective’s poorly lit office unnarrated.

This addition of sound proved to be a deathblow for the theater. With the live-r of the lively arts effectively bleeding out (except for pockets of resistance both on and off-Broadway) movie going became America’s favorite pastime, supplanting the wireless, baseball and beating Irishmen.

A new breed of heart-throb rose from Hollywood and spread throughout the nation, taking advantage of swooning women and non-existent paternity laws. The motion picture industry rushed through its Bronze and Silver Ages, riding the crest of fast-paced dialogue and cries of “What a dame!” But no sooner had the triumphant industry kicked up its feet and rested it head on its laurels, then disaster struck.

A disaster called television.

Coming up next:
Volume 2: A Disaster Called Television



  1. Wonderful history lesson CLT.

    Too many historians ignore the many fine shakespearean sitcoms. “Who’s Thy Boss?” for instance was a wonderful piece of work and very daring for its time.

    And let’s not forget “Moors Behaving Badly” or “The Merry Wives of Windsor Love Chachi.” Both are top notch entertainment.

    I look forward to the next edition.

    • Thanks for the compliments, Don. I’m sure I fall in with those many historians who ignore the fine Shakespearean sitcoms. I don’t know what it is about us historians. Some sort of highbrow blinders, I suppose.

      My guilty pleasure has always been “The Merry Wives of Windsor Love Chachi.” If only Sir Henry Winkler had been able to skew younger…

      Thanks for the uproarious comment (that’s a fine Shakespearean word), Don.

  2. Their battle was also carried to citizens of developing nations via propaganda stating that the “motion picture camera” was capable of “stealing over 30 souls per second.”

    Now I know what happened to mine. Stupid parents and their insistence on filming Christmas mornings.

    • Ha! Look, another sweater! Quick, honey. Zoom in and capture the disappointment in his eyes!

  3. I couldn’t be happier that History is back in vogue and brought to us by you!

    As the great sitcomer himself once said, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This was even the case with the prehistoric, theatrical production of Joanie Loves Chachi.

    I loved this post, the only thing I have to take umbrage with is your claims against The Jazz Singer. I saw the movie and although Neil Diamond exercised some poor taste with clothes and women, I don’t believe he was racist at all.

    By the way, I think that murder has been cool ever since Cain first picked up that rock with a non-sister related lust in his eyes, and it has been cool ever since.

    I can’t wait for TV!

    • While we’re all glad that the past has come back to haunt us (especially those of us in the very-exclusive Radio Shack Battery Club), I’m even happier that you’ve returned to be buried under misinformation.

      You may have a very good point about Neil Diamond. While he does have many faults, he is most likely too spineless to ever be considered a racist. Or an -ist of any kind.

      Hahaha!!! Murder is cool. Just ask anyone. Like me. Or you. Or anyone else who actually reads the tags.

      I can’t wait for television, either. That’s the kind of tech curve we in the Battery Club enjoy. I’m off to fire up my wireless!

  4. I read this with great interest, it was really enjoyable and also reminded me of a workshop I once went to run by an old anarchist couple that talked about this history of theatre, how it was ‘common’ and ‘for the people by the people’ etc, and was kind of hijacked over time by high society, becoming inaccessible to the vast majority etc despite its lowbrow beginnings…. Well, something like that anyway, I’m sure they made much stronger and more astute points, but it was a long time ago, and my feeble brain is currently distracted by the disaster that is TV!

    • So many people over the years tried to teach us all some important stuff, but in the end it’s always their biases that stick with us.

      As inaccessible as theater/re is, at least they haven’t taken away our movies and television. Not that there’s really anything highbrow going on there, but at least it’s still ours. Just $10-12 per ticket, plus $8 for popcorn and $4 sodas. No wonder [spoiler alert] that television wipes the floor with the movie industry.

      Or not.

      Thanks for the righteous comment, ruby. Remember kids, stay in something something!

  5. I feel like I’m in college again and I rather like it (especially since I am no longer hung-over). You could offer a class on the IRC (Internal Revenue Code) and I would be on the edge of my seat, in the front row, wearing glasses and having you acutely aware of my myopia since I would be focusing so intensely on the presentation. I would have left your class muttering to a friend, “damn, I never would have thought that could be so interesting!” Funny you should post this topic because I was thinking of my theatre professor the other day. She was the liveliest of all my professors and I will never forget her. Naturally, she was quite dramatic, histrionic and engaging. She was adamant that if we remembered nothing else, we were to remember the Golden Age of Greece: 5th century BC (BCE if you’re Jewish). I’ve never been an artsy person, but I found myself immersed in this class and fascinated by the characters she introduced: Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, et al and even more fascinated by the cleverness and emotional complexity of the plays.

    There seems to be a theme to your non-comedic posts, CLT: evolution. I appreciate your holistic and visionary approach to your subject matter. I suppose holographic cinema is next and after that, who knows? It will probably involve some interactive aspect. Better yet, how do you think it may/could unfold over the next thousand years?

    • Well, e3h, I’m glad that even the IRC could be interesting in my hands (or mind). I’ll keep that in the “To Do” file in case it comes to that. The IRS is certainly boring and officious, just the sort of jumping off point I need to do my thing.

      I am, however, slightly dismayed that this was considered to be “non-comedic.” I’ll try harder next time, even if it means using more of the ever-popular penis jokes and broad stereotypes.

      Thanks for the wonderful comment, e3h. You make me want to go back to school and get that teaching degree (or whatever) that I never knew I actually wanted.

    • Did I say “non-comedic?” Allow me to issue a sheepish mea culpa and explain. Just so you know I GREATLY appreciate your wonderful sense of humor (and that my ‘final fuse’ is still intact and processing current) here are a few things I found funny in this post:

      1) “dismantled…mantled”
      2) “start listening with our eyes”
      3) “bellowed by all manner of waiters, maitre’ds and pool boys”
      4) your ‘editor’s’ note
      5) “Just when it appeared that nothing would loosen theater’s stranglehold on the public’s entertainment dollar, something loosened theater’s stranglehold on the public’s entertainment dollar”
      6) “See?” (This one word alone evoked images of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart)

      I can’t explain myself other than to say that I drift in and out of consciousness like someone who has suffered a significant brain injury after being bopped on the head by an Aeorema (crane) during an ancient Greek play. Much of what you write is poetic, CLT (make that comedic-poetry).

    • Ah. That’s better.

      With my confidence properly reset back to “healthily gargantuan,” I will now join the blog’s comment thread, already in progress.

  6. I happen to hate history, but I’m a homeschooler so I have to do something. I’ve decided I will use this series as our sole historical resource through high school. Anything that makes fun of Beckett (for whom I named my third child) is alright in my book.

    Let me know when you make the testing materials available.

    • BKT!

      It’s been awhile since I’ve seen those feet. Thanks for stopping by!

      If you would like to use these posts (there should be more of them, being released whenever I get around to it) for curriculum, you’ll probably have to dodge whatever state rep will be looking for a complete educational experience.

      I will make some testing materials available post-haste. Rest assured, there will be plenty of off-handed Beckett slams contained therein, in accordance with bylaw 112.2.(a) “Reaching Great Heights by Aiming Low.”

      Thanks for the comment and reappearance, BKT. Always good to see you.

  7. I have avoided this site like a bad case of psorisis, but since I see you made a reference to finger puppets I may have to give you a second chance. Don’t consider yourself off-the-hook just yet.

    • Thanks for the right-handed compliments, Harmony. It’s good to see your quasi-face again and hear your dulcet screeching.

      So, are the rumours true? If you sit on your hand for like 30 seconds, it feels like someone else is performing the puppet show?

    • Just remember Harmony, one man’s bad case of psoriasis is another man’s “old ball and chain”.

      (Whatever that means.)

  8. CLT,

    You had me at the photo of “Sesame Street In The Projects” (Kid- “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” Stranger- “Trust me kid, you don’t want to go there.”), but you probably already knew that.

    Seeing as I spent six-months of my high-school life being a serious “Drama Geek”, I find this series particularly fascinating. Not many people know this, but I was actually in a Kabuki production once. I only had one line, but it was quite the doozy.


    (Loosely translated to English, it meant, “Good afternoon. My name is Moon.”)

    I have no idea what my point was, but regardless, I look forward to your next “History of Media” installment with dramatically-baited breath.

    Nobody edumacates like you edumacate, CLT. For realz.

    • Bschooled –

      It’s interesting that my humour/less bashing of the theater/re has led to so many fond memories of those whose pasts had intertwined with the maligned art, like so many drunken interpretive dancers. Still, it’s great to hear from a Kabuki player(?), seeing as I always thought it was just a Japanese form of mime, only with more talking.

      Speaking of which, that’s a hell of a line. I would imagine your utterance brought the house down. Or would have, if a.) the audience wasn’t so emotionless thanks to years of cultural self-suppression or b.) there was actually a house to bring down.

      Thanks for the fantastic(k) comment, b. Your words always inspire me to my most parenthetical.

  9. *it means

    (As far as I know, the translation hasn’t changed)

    • It hasn’t, as far as I’m interested in researching it. Thx for the heads-up, though.

  10. Bravo!

    I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have happened across your site and this absolutely first class history of theatre and motion pictures.

    Thank God for Google and the Clive Cussler search term that brought me here.

    By way of explanation, I am a talent agent who specializes in celebrity look-alikes. My firm “Almost Real Celebrities – Where You’re a Star Just Because You Look Like One” currently represents over 300 average people who, by the grace of genetics and small amounts of plastic surgery, are able to make a better than minimum wage living performing in commercials, showing up at office parties and attending bar mitzvahs.

    This morning I received a call from a small mid-western book club that was hoping I could arrange for a Clive Cussler-alike to attend the Buck and Doe wedding shower of one of its members. Being unfamiliar with Mr. Cussler, I was searching for photos in order to see if perhaps one of my Justin Biebers, Ryan Seacrests or Tony Orlandos might be a passable substitute. While I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to meet the needs of the book club, I’m delighted to have found your weblog.

    I enjoyed my time here immensely and look forward to reading the next instalment.


    Peter Barneski
    Almost Real Celebrities

    p.s. If, and I realize this is a long shot, you happen to resemble Clive Cussler please contact me immediately. Our current fiction-author look-alike compensation package begins at $11 an hour and includes a lunch allowance and return bus fare. (I’m also currently looking for people who resemble Carrot Top, Danny Devito, Orson Bean, Lyle Waggoner and the cast of the Blair Witch Project).

    • Don’t do it unless he ups it to $12 an hour and pays your bus fare in both directions. Stay strong, CLT!

    • Welcome, Peter!

      Thanks for the warm words and highly circuitous route you took to get here. I’m well known by Clive Cussler’s fan base, thanks to my ill-natured bashing and incorrect vehicle labelling.

      I would like to take a shot as an “Almost Real Celebrity.” I imagine myself to have the looks of a young Albert Brooks combined with the cutting wit of Shia Lebouf. Where this fits in to the whole scheme of things, I have no idea.

      If you’re looking for a replacement Clive, you could do worse than slapping a white fright wig and 40 lbs onto his closest offspring, a relatively well-known brainstem operator that bears the unlikely name of Dirk Cussler. He is willing to work for upskirt photos and Skittles.

      Thanks for your immaculate comment, Peter and I look forward to your return visit.

      p.s. (I would be interested in “faking a Cussler,” if the offer is still open. However, I would agree with young Ulysses below and only be willing to undertake this charade at the rate of $12/hr. Canadian. I would, however, be willing to pay my own way home in exchange for a handful of postcards and a pre-arranged knife fight in the terminal. I own a great deal of ostentatious watches. Please advise. Contact me at 2timegrime@gmail.com.)

    • Dear Mr. Barneski,

      If you ever hear of a “retelling” of the 1966 Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette, classic “The Ugly Dachshund” please be advised that I would kill and/or maul for an opportunity to audition for the role of prize winning dachshund, Danke.

      In fact, I’m so committed to taking on this role of a lifetime that I’m willing to change my sex for the part. And, I’m also prepared to do any other unseemly and debasing casting couch audition performances – but only because this is the role I was born to play.

      Spread the word to the Hollywood big shots!

      Nice to meet you, sir. Like I said, tell them all about me. I’m Alan. And I’m easy, empty, and flexible. I’m also mostly drug free, usually sober until around 11am and I work on the cheap. Oh, and I can fetch, sit and heel on command!

      Thanking you in advance,


    • Alan!

      Wonderful to see you! And you’re looking more flexible than ever!

      If you can’t get a true stud like myself, Peter, please keep in mind that Alan is highly recommended, if for no other reason than he has all the information you’d ever need on obscure poetry rhyme schemes. (My apologies on that, I’m really not sure of the correct term…)

      If I’m not mistaken, he is also in possession of a great deal of free time, what with his day job having given him an open-ended sabbatical and his night job involves nothing more strenuous than giggling while wearing leather pants.

      In fact, I insist that you take this dog. He’s a faithful companion and works well under extreme duress.

  11. No mention of Eric Lynch…maybe that’s a good thing. Dude, you should add movie reviews to your repertoire. Nicely done.

    • You ask, FJ and it will be done. I’ll start cranking those out as soon as I get a handle on all the abandoned side projects and alter egos.

      Thanks for the compliments, FJ. Great to see you.

  12. […] Capitalist F. Lion Tamer: The History of Media – Visual Arts Edition V. 1 […]

  13. I can’t believe you’d refer to “rasslin'” as illegitimate! That’s some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen. I’d like to see Keanu take an elbow from the top rope or Ben Affleck on the receiving end of a vicious suplex.
    Did you know that when theatre began the stage was at an angle and the audience was flat? This is where the terms “upstage” and “downstage” come from. Why are you giving me the finger?

    • You know what, RR? I’d like to see Keanu take an elbow from the top rope. Among other things.

      Hahaha!!! Nicely played on the back half of your comment, RR. If I had known you were going to say that, I would have held off posting until I could steal it.

      (I give everyone the finger. It’s just my way.)

  14. Just add it to volume two.

  15. […] Vol. 2 May 14, 2010 [Those of you following along will remember the cliffhanger ending of Volume 1, in which it was revealed that "something" would come along and destroy the movie industry with its […]

  16. […] Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films – Vol. 1 May 26, 2010 Following up on Fundamental Jelly’s dare from a few weeks back, it’s the first volume of our guide to the American Film […]

  17. […] most likely end in yet another ellipsis. If you're just joining us, be sure and check out Volumes One and Two, which had blazed a bloody, but dignified, trail up to this point.] The VCR's patented […]

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