Monday, July 23, 2012

Will Your Granddaughter Think Keith Partridge is Groovy?

 Although I own both series on DVD, I sometimes get sucked into watching music clips from The Monkees and The Partridge Family on YouTube. 

One of the reasons I enjoy this is reading the viewer comments on each video. Most of the time it’s the usual mix of people my age talking about how music today sucks compared to the 1960s and ‘70s, and a few angry spammers spouting nonsense. But the comments that warm my heart are those that read, “I’m only 13 and I love this show!” or, “I was born too late. All my friends are into Justin Bieber and I’d rather listen to Davy Jones.”

This type of feedback gives me hope that what I consider classic, comfort television will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come. However, there’s no guarantee this will be the case. 

Think about radio. There's a great book called On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, which I picked up as research for a magazine article.  I wound up reading it cover to cover – 840 pages. I was fascinated to learn about the programs that were national obsessions decades before I was born.

Radio was television before it existed – it was the first medium to introduce nationally broadcast situation comedies, detective shows, variety series, talk shows, adventure serials and soap operas. The golden age of the great radio networks spanned across the 1930s and ‘40s. Millions of Americans would gather round the radio to laugh with Fred Allen or Jack Benny, follow the travails of the lovelorn on Painted Dreams and The Romance of Helen Trent, or hide under the covers to escape the frightening stories on Lights Out and The Shadow.

Today, there’s a niche of vintage radio lovers, but it’s very small. Ask most people about The Great Gildersleeve, or Fibber McGee and Molly, and they’ll have no idea what you’re on about.

Is this the fate that awaits our TV classics? Perhaps. Or perhaps they will share the enduring popularity of motion pictures.

How many kids today love The Wizard of Oz, even though it was released in 1939? People still laugh at Laurel & Hardy, still wonder at the beauty of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, still think the chariot race in Ben Hur is as exciting as anything that’s in the multiplexes now. There are even a surprising number of silent movie fans, even beyond the acknowledged masters like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Those who have never seen their films may still know their names, and we’re 100 years removed from their heydays.

No one knows for certain how our cultural tastes and preferred entertainment media will evolve over the next 100 years. I believe the shows I've discussed in this blog are worthy of being embraced by future generations. But I also realize that people now have access to more television options than ever before, and while the classics are still broadcast daily on newtorks like Antenna and MeTV, they are vulnerable to getting lost in a crowd of Real Housewives, singing competitions and braying Disney tween shows.

When people mention “Lucy” in the year 2112, will the reference still be instantly recognized? Will an anguished cry of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” still be a shorthand expression of the frustrations of sibling rivalry? I don’t know. I hope so.


  1. I realize I'm a little late(!) in responding to this post, but I just discovered your blog late last year and have been perusing the older posts now and then. I believe I can answer your question "Will Your Granddaughter Think Keith Partridge is Groovy?" with a definite YES. I was watching an Adam 12 episode in which a young David Cassidy guest starred, when my 4 year old daughter walked into the room and said "Who is he? He's cute!". I had never heard her say that about anyone before. She is also a Davy Jones fan, thanks to that episode of The Brady Bunch. We were recently at Walt Disney World's Indiana Jones stunt show, and while we were waiting for the show to start, my daughter asked me when Davy Jones was going to come out. I had to tell her it was the Indiana Jones show, not the Davy Jones stunt show. The woman in front of me, who was about my age (I'm mid-40s) turned around laughing and said in an incredulous voice "Davy Jones of the Monkees?" Apparently she was stunned that a girl so young would know who he was. So if my daughter is any indication, today's girls still find 60's and 70's teen idols groovy, if they are exposed to them via classic TV.

  2. Thank you for reading the older pieces! And thank you also for introducing your daughter to the classics of the past. I'm never sure how today's kids and teens will take to 30-40-50 year old shows. If this is any indication, it's certainly good news.