Monday, August 17, 2009
PBS decelebrates '50s pop in pledge week special
When I saw a promo for "Magic Moments: The Best of 50s Pop," I knew it had to be pledge week. It's the kind of programming our tax money/foundation grant/begging–supported public TV network would schedule only because they thought it would pay. Pop music from the '50s, after all, mostly appeals to a demographic otherwise ignored by the brainrot box. The PBS development squad no doubt figured that people who were nostalgic for long-ago idols would be too, too thrilled to send in their contribution.
I'm not of that generation, but I like some pre-rock '50s music and tuned in. The show was spectacularly depressing.
Not for the reason you might think, to wit, seeing once-youthful "Lads" and "-ettes" now old and past their prime. Actually, most of them looked well maintained (of course, survivorship bias influenced the sample on view). Debbie Reynolds and the McGuire Sisters still had their looks.
No, what was depressing was the cynicism of PBS's presentation. And it wasn't just the interminable pledge breaks, offering '50s greatest hits CD sets in return for substantial contribution pledges, although the salesmanship was like late-night commercials on cable TV telling you to order now, and we'll include a free lunchbox for your dog, and that's not all!
PBS's crassness was in its attitude toward the music and performers they were supposedly celebrating. One of the pitchmen was Nick Clooney, presumably a relative (son?) of Rosemary Clooney, to whom an alleged tribute was dedicated.
The conventional wisdom about Rosemary Clooney is that she was forced by the record marketers to sing pop material, but as her initial stardom faded she finally became the great jazz vocalist she was always meant to be. I think this is dead backward. Clooney was a fine pop talent who later turned into a conscientiously dull jazz performer.
In either case, Nick Clooney did her no favors. Introducing film clips of her in '50s hits like "Mambo Italiano," he delivered an insulting line of nonsense. I didn't write down the actual words, but they can be paraphrased accurately: "Rosemary Clooney sang about a wonderful time and country that didn't really exist, but everyone wanted to believe in it, so they believed in her."
That, of course, is exactly the attitude of the leftist dimwits in the saddle at PBS. A few years ago they produced a series about the 1950s which I deliberately didn't watch, knowing what to expect, and which was confirmed by accounts I read. The period (according to the show) was all about dreary conformity, middle class narrow mindedness, tailfinned cars, and racism. Its only redeeming events were the birth of rock and roll and teenage rebellion plus, naturally, the civil rights movement.
Well, my memories of the time are the memories of a child and adolescent, and so incomplete, but from what I recall it was neither the era of goofy innocence it's now generally taken for (not in my schools) nor was there an all-around starched blandness. For most people — no, not for oppressed blacks — it was a pretty happy time, and popular music reflected that.
One other thing about "Magic Moments." The sound recording was disgraceful; at any volume level above mezzo forte, the tape was saturated and the sound broke up. Did the producer (who was introduced on stage and given great plaudits for bringing this music back) hire some kid who didn't know how to do a sound check or read a VU meter as the engineer? What was he thinking? I'll bet it was something like, "Ah, it's just a bunch of old people watching. They won't be able to hear it very well anyway."
PBS often botches even productions it believes in. This show illustrated the depths it can sink to when it programs what it considers junk to meet a fund raising quota.