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People wax nostalgic when they talk about “the old days” as they remember warm, family celebrations—if such was their good fortune. They rush around or spend hours online purchasing decorations and gifts to bring back those happy moments. But we can’t recreate those celebrations, no matter how hard we try. The other night I happened upon a PBS TV program which reminded me that when I tell young people I’m from another time, I’m not being flip. I am from another time—and not simply one that featured weird phones with party lines that could ring for other people’s houses (we had to share lines) and TV screens that were barely the size of a laptop in consoles that could be as big as a dresser. We had different expectations then.
The PBS program I encountered featured singers Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra singing Christmas carols…period. My family would’ve watched it in black-and-white in 1957 since we didn’t have color TV. There they were—arguably America’s favorite singers—standing and singing. At one point they wore Victorian costumes in a Victorian set with carolers—like the neighbors who once roamed neighborhoods. That was the whole program: two guys wearing suits, staring into the camera, singing with limited accompaniment. Perhaps people were supposed to sing along. SING ALONG WITH MITCH was a TV series that offered lyrics on screen so families could join in. (My family did it!) But as I sat and watched Bing and Frank, I realized I was bored. I couldn’t help thinking of the fantastic bursts of flame and projections as well as the gyrating dancers who accompany singers on THE VOICE. We like shiny things to distract us these days—mass stimulation.
If you enjoy watching vintage TV, you might have noted some other differences we can’t blame solely on technology. One that bothered me even as a child was the elaborate make-up and hair styles women supposedly from the 1800’s wore on TV. They had cement-level hair spray on their teased hair so that neither men nor women were ever inelegantly mussed. “Realism” had to be fashionable. Meanwhile, censors decided too much gore wasn’t good for young minds, so they limited the number of murders that could be crammed into an hour—and how much blood. We weren’t allowed to see people die up close. Violence was a controversy, not a required element, in crime shows and westerns. Our old-time tastes contrast with what we call action today. Too much violence made us feel sick. Now it sells.
People watch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE year after year, but mean old Mr. Potter is more like some of our billionaire role models these days than a pariah. After all, he’s rich. Perhaps we never were as good-hearted as George Bailey and his friends, but we’re still working on it. When James Stewart was in MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, we watched idealism be mocked in Congress—Congressional idealism some today plan to institute in place of cynicism and self-aggrandizement.
In these times of flashing electronic Christmas trees, blow-up plastic characters on the lawn, and Christmas delivered through free shipping from Amazon, we illustrate how our preferences have changed. It’s up to us as we are now to determine if that means we have stronger or weaker core values of love, compassion, and honesty. We can’t stay the same as we were, but we can be better. May whatever you celebrate or commemorate this year bring you joy, love, and fulfillment.