Now You Might Wonder Why I Wanted This

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After I went to bed last night, Tim wrote:

For the generally negative view big-screen productions have always taken of the small screen, see All That Heaven Allows, Putney Swope, The Thrill of It All, and just about every other movie that has ever featured television in the plot.

This is one of those points that ought to be really obvious but apparently isn't. Ever watch A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies? He makes a big deal of what a "subversive" Douglas Sirk was because he slipped an anti-TV message into All That Heaven Allows's soap-opera plot. But it was no more subversive—and no more rare—for a movie to mock television in the 1950s than it is for TV to mock the Internet today.

Whenever I see All That Heaven Allows or A Face in the Crowd or Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? held up as an example of prescient social commentary, I imagine some culture-studies professors in 2036 looking back on some panicky old cop shows from the turn of the century. "Look how subversive CSI and Law & Order were!" they'll exclaim. "They sure were brave to paint video games and the Web as such a menace!"

NEXT: Not a Dry Eye in the House

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  1. Jesse,

    I think that is the result of people having the natural mentality that everyone in the past was a simplton compared to the present. People in the 1950s or the 1250s for that matter were just as sophisticated and intelligent as we are today. Since people tend to forget that, they look back on the movies you mentioned as inciteful social comentary forgetting that the movies were just pointing out what was obvious to the average person.

  2. Back when we had cable, the gf and I would see lots of old movies on AMC and TCM, and we would comment on how often the film or its characters goofed on TV. Maybe it was supposed to be social commentary, but to me it always seemed like Hollywood simply feared that the TV would keep people at home, instead of in the movie theater, and was trying to poison the people’s minds against it. (Though I can’t imagine one could make the “moving picture here good, moving picture there bad” argument very persuasive to anybody.)

  3. to me it always seemed like Hollywood simply feared that the TV would keep people at home, instead of in the movie theater

    Exactly.

  4. Ironic or not, that shot where Jane Wyman is framed, isolated, looking into the blank screen of her gift TV is a brilliant, astounding tearjerker moment. You’d need a heart of stone not to cry, or at least laugh.

  5. “to me it always seemed like Hollywood simply feared that the TV would keep people at home, instead of in the movie theater”

    Wasn’t TV also the reason why Hollywood tried a lot of gimmickry in the 1950s? Stuff like smell-o-vision, the electrified theater seats for “The Tingler” and ultimately wider screens with more rectangular aspect ratios?

  6. And why they sued Sony over the damn betamax!

  7. You’d need a heart of stone not to cry, or at least laugh.

    You owe me royalties, Cavanaugh!

  8. To be fair, CSI: Miami is the show that “took on” video games. The original, and vastly superior, CSI actually is subversive (i.e., generally positive and nonjudgmental) in its portrayals of various cultural subgroups, be they furries or dominatrixes.

  9. Similarly, the Law & Order story I linked to is actually an episode of SVU. The future critics are referring to the franchises, not the original shows, though they might be a little confused as to the difference.

  10. I can’t believe it. Someone else has actually seen Putney Swope. It cured my adolescent fantasies about threesomes with midgets for good.

  11. How many syllables, Mario? How many syllables?

    The local art house used to show Swope frequently before it was converted from repertory to first-run. It blew my little, white suburban mind, man.

    Kevin

  12. Oh, Myron X, you’re my MAN! I dream about you everynight!

    Jes’ don’t send me the laundry bill.

    I could quote for hours.

    — The A-rab

  13. I’ve never seen Swope but I have watched A Face In The Crowda bunch of times. It’s one hell of a good movie.

  14. I have watched A Face In The Crowda bunch of times. It’s one hell of a good movie.

    I think it’s a pretty flawed movie on the script level, but Andy Griffith is so good in it that he makes it work.

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