The History of Media – Visual Arts Edition 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 tiny screen and tinny sound. In this followup, we reveal the true killer of the film industry, which is also one of the many pretenders to the throne. Enjoy.]


Early television prototypes often failed to include the only element that would differentiate them from a "really huge-ass radio."

A Disaster Called Television
Little did Roger Philco and Francois Magnavox know when they assembled the first “magic picture box” that it would change American society as we knew it, mostly for the worst. 

There was no indication during its early broadcasts of test patterns, puppet shows and white men in blackface that the daily life of Americans would soon revolve around it. Instead of gathering around the wireless to watch Dad get drunk and curse the Yankees, the whole family would gather around the tiny screen to watch Elvis from the waist up or catch breaking footage from the moon landing set. 

The movie industry understood how serious this new threat could be and stepped hastily over the still-cooling corpse of live theater to denounce the new “tele-vision,” which would surely destroy their precious industry. They lamented this turn of events, cursing every new box office record and crying into their stacks of $1000 bills. 

Representatives of the “dying” industry called on Congress to do “something” about the “talking picture-mabob.” How can we get people to sit in front of our 42-foot screens, enjoy our Technicolor and Sensurround when they have 3 inches of black and white power at home, all coming to them in deafening mono? 

Congress was too busy watching the National League Championship to be bothered by an outdated industry and their rhetorical questions, no matter how many bribes and high-dollar hookers they waved around. Another blow was struck when forward-thinking Dwight Eisenhower announced his bold plan for America: a television in every house, a car in every garage and an epidemic of childhood obesity. 

Still television's longest-running night time drama.

The movie industry was premature in its panic. Americans soon proved they had the leisure time for both activities, which could easily be squeezed in between backyard barbecues and conceiving the eventual bankrupters of Social Security. 

At this point, the average male enjoyed a 25-hour work week, divided between harassing the typing pool, pounding martinis and hitting the golf course. The remaining time they spent watering the lawn, washing the car, pounding martinis and pounding the wife (mostly in a sexual fashion, but often in a physical fashion). 

TV grew and grew, becoming the focal point of American family life. Television producers turned the mirror on the public, reflecting life as they knew it in the form of sitcoms, playing up spousal abuse (I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners) and sexless marriages (every other sitcom). They also went after more respected institutions with uncanny accuracy. (See The Andy Griffith Show and its devastating take on inept law enforcement and artistic whistling or Bewitched and its brilliant satire of the advertising world, long before Mad Men made it cool to be casually sexist again.) 

As its influence grew, television turned its unblinking eye on other “hot button” topics such as the Korean War (M*A*S*H*), teen hoodlums (Happy Days) and greed (every game show/reality show). TV devoured everything in its path over the next 50 years, before going all ouroboros and devouring itself, shitting out show after show containing no actors, no script and starring everyday people like Balloon Boy’s dad. 

As the airwaves were conquered by Joe Gloryhound and his occasionally-swapped wife, the film industry breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that TV’s “tapped-outness” would allow them to continue to collect billions of dollars a year cranking out sequel after sequel. Directors such as Michael Bay were allowed to continue trafficking in explosions and recycled punchlines. All was well in the word, until… 


Coming up next:


  1. Until… Home Viewing Smell-O-Vision? Is it Home Viewing Smell-O-Vision? Please tell me it’s
    Home Viewing Smell-O-Vision. Or is it “Oh, That Jason!” That show saved television for about four seasons as I best recall…

    • Alan!

      How blissfully unexpected! Great to see you! And you’ve brought questions!

      Let’s see… I don’t want to give too much away (mainly because I’m really never sure when I’ll get to the follow-up post), but I can assure you that [spoiler alert] it may involve Home Viewing and [spoiler alert] Smell-O-Vision, but they might not be [spoiler alert] joined together in that order.

      Now “Oh, That Jason!” is another beast entirely. That magnificent show and its lasting impact would have been more than enough to save every industry everywhere, if not for the simple fact that it was aired on Fox for four seasons, and tossed carelessly from timeslot to timeslot, before being abandoned entirely and replaced with “That 80’s Show” (which was kind of like the Jetsons, only with less-mobile actors and scenery).

      Thanks for stopping in, alan. It warms my heart to see you here.

      (Note: if warming continues for more than 4 hours, please consult a physician or Physician’s Desk Reference.)

  2. Hah! Me, I’d choose the Physician’s Desk Reference.

    I have a good feeling about your possible and yet not-so-probable future Smell-O-Vision post. But only because I have the ability to feel smells. I’m lucky that way.

    As for Jason. Well, four seasons gets you syndication. And a writer for a syndicated show gets certain perks. Like all the free fucking cod they can eat in any state or province in North America.

    (Note: Offer only good in Mexico.)

    • Imported fucking cod. That alone makes all the demeaning labor and malfunctioning typewriters worth it.

      Stay tuned, Alan. The ink hasn’t dried yet on the final draft. There may be a way yet to cram in some particularly velvety smells before the post hits the airwaves.

  3. Have you thought about opening a virtual concession stand, CLT? All this amazing entertainment and nothing to munch on. As always, you unfailingly never disappoint in the entertainment arena: an amalgamation of indie, action, adventure, documentary (to include mockumentary), educational, historical, epic, dramedy and musical (still waiting for the spaghetti western),- shot in 8-35 mm and utilizing a breadth and scope of style not since since Orson Welles (that’s one hell of a compliment by the way […the Orson Welles part]). All that’s missing is a huge tub of buttered popcorn and a box of Milk Duds. Dim the lights, please.

    • E3h, as much as I’d like to lie to you and tell you that I have considered opening a fake concession stand, I sadly have not.

      It seems so obvious now, what with the benefit of hindsight. I’ll begin mental construction immediately with the hopes of virtually having it running by the time the next media post hits.

      And Orson Welles? Color me nearly flattered to death. I’m no Welles. At best, I’m a Boorman or Frankenheimer. Possibly a Carpenter. (Odd that they’d all be Johns… and noted for their very sporadic/inconsistent output.)

  4. I’m totally with Elizabeth on the concession stand idea. And since it’ll be virtual, thereby not restricted to the insanely puritanical blue laws of the country you currently inhabit, you could serve beer. Not some little, plastic Dixie cup but a mother fucking glass of beer. I mean I don’t drink, but it’s a cozy thought to know that you serve it. Plus it gave me an opportunity to throw in some Pulp Fiction and you know how I love to do that.

    You have now officially eclipsed Wiki, The History Chanel, and The Google as my go to source for anything that happened before this day….for infinity. “Television. Ha, ah thing like that!” Now I ended with some Mad Men which is really cool because you mentioned them earlier and I can prove that I’m cool because I watch Mad Med AND because I pay attention when my friends write stuff.

    • Scott, you may have all the pretend beer you’d like in whatever size fishbowl you wish to virtually consume it in. The price is right and the hangovers nonexistent. All that’s missing is the buzz. (And I love that you love to throw in some Pulp Fiction, because, god help me, I loves me some Pulp Fiction, and equally, some Pulp Fiction references.)

      You are unquestionably cool, Scott, and I’ll have no one questioning this fact any further or at least not as loud or as often as they have been. Mad Men + paying attention = Joe Cool. (And not just Schultz’ work but the other Joe Cool, who went by the last name Camel.)

      Thanks for the great comment, Scott.

  5. […] Capitalist F. Lion Tamer: Relationship? Friend: Or How to Visit Nigeria on Less than $145 USD/Day and The History of Media – Visual Arts Edition Vol. 2 […]

  6. ‘White men in blackface’ is from the early days of television?! Wow, I wish someone had told us that here “Down Under”, we are always the last to know anything, which probably explains why one of our *comedy* shows
    recently ran such a skit (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/world-covers-hey-hey-its-saturdays-red-face-over-blackface-jackson-jive-skit/story-e6freuy9-1225784097129)

    ….that or the fact that we are a backwater nation full of redneck racists…

    • Ruby –

      Many messages have been sent Down Under, but unless we pin them to the jumpsuits of British prisoners, no one ever seems to get them.

      I doubt it has anything to do with your country being full of backwater racists and British ex-cons. We’ve done this whole “blackface” thing here in the US several times, without the added “benefit” of interloping ex-cons.

      Well, we did get some from Cuba at one point, but that was after we already did our embarrassing blackface. (But before Ted Danson of all fucking people revived it.)

      We’re like two of a kind, Ruby, with a great percentage of our fellow countrymen being either racists or criminals.

      Thanks for the link, though. Very entertaining in a completely wrong sort of way.

  7. Ha! Good stuff, CLT. You have to admit, though, there was a time in the middle somewhere when television was actually an effective learning tool.

    This is what I learned from the following shows:

    Little House on the Prairie- Back in the olden days, people sure had a lame sense of humor

    After School Specials- Drugs are for thugs! (Especially marijuana and extra-strength caffeine pills)

    Sally Jesse Raphael- Hermaphrodites need friends too…

    Degrassi High- Drugs are for thugs! (Especially marijuana and extra-strength caffeine pills)

    Full House- Any misunderstanding can be cleared up with some laugh tracks and a few random Moose Ear-bombs…

    Miami Vice- Guys can wear espadrilles and pastel and not look gay. But only if they’re cops.

    Enlightening as always, CLT. I patiently await the Post-ellipses…

    • I’ll admit it, bschooled, but not in print. Only down here in the comment threads that your average Google searcher will never read.

      You make some very solid points, though. TV used to about drug warnings and hermaphoditic sharecroppers, but not any more.

      Sure, we still have the hermaphrodites and drug problems, but where have all our sharecroppers gone? And why did they take our manly pastels with them?

      Thanks for showing us the brighter side of TV’s wasteland, b.

  8. I’m slower than the other slower kids; where does ‘Charles in Charge’ fit into this?

    • I’m not sure it does. Someone wanted something to bridge the gap between “Happy Days” and “Full House.” Unfortunately, its demographic was mainly slow children and it never lived up to its potential.

  9. […] 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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