Scripps-Howard News Service 10.09.02
NBC-TV's "American Dreams," the new Sunday evening show
about the 1960s, has aired twice to date. If the producers hoped
to replicate something like the success "Happy Days" had
turned out to be, the news is not good.
Above all else, there is an excessive presence of teenagers. No,
I am not speaking of the assorted boys and girls who provide the
focal point of the - so far embarrassingly thin - story line. I
am speaking of the persons who produce, write and direct this offering.
No doubt their biological ages suggest adulthood, but their information
base is somewhere around the junior high school scene.
The collaboration of the National Education Association and the
Department of History at the University of California/Los Angeles
has terminated the teaching of proper history in the United States.
But the more optimistic among us have retained the slender hope
that some acquaintance with America's ways in the second half of
the twentieth century might have survived in the minds and souls
of the thirty- and forty somethings.
"Father knows worst" could well be an alternative title
to the series. A more readily certifiable moron would almost be
unthinkable, even, in Patricia Ireland's dreams. He is awful to
his wife, he is awful to his son, he is awful to his daughter. Oh
yes, and he is awful to his son's football coach, a catholic priest
who himself is too awful for words. You can just see him accused
of having molested his players about, say, three episodes from now.
Not since the heyday of the Soviet film industry at the height of
Socialist Realism have I seen such cardboard cutouts, reciting dialogue
written by the Department for Agitation and Propaganda.
Of course, opposite the oppressor father, we encounter the mother
about to awaken to real womanhood. Of course, her husband turns
down absolutely everything she asks, suggests, begs. But wait! She
has another enemy, the chairman (-woman, -person) of her book circle
who runs the outfit Dachau style. Mother wants to read the book
she wants to read. The book of her choice has a very, very red cover,
naturally, and is being brandished about at every possible turn.
Jewels of human imbecility abound. An assistant producer of American
Bandstand - the TV show at the center of all happenings - keeps
taking a cigarette out of his pocket, putting it in his mouth, then
searching every pocket for a match. The picture cuts away every
time before he would find the match, producing an unlit cigarette
dangling from his mouth whenever we see him. No doubt, the producers
wish to remind us of the shameful heresy, the awful habit of smoking,
still prevalent in the 1960s. But, clearly, the studio where the
series is being shot has a no-smoking rule, so the actor can't actually
Have we run out of space in our insane asylums? (Or is it asyla?)
On a similar note, we hear the priest admonishing the father because
the latter's son has "disrespected" the coach. Ladies
and Gentlemen of the writing staff: "disrespect" existed
as a noun, also as an adjective ("disrespectful"), but
never was used as a verb by the educated in the 1960s.
The general background against which these fascinating human fates
unfold is supplied by the events of the Fall of 1963. Why that particular
time? You guessed it. The assassination of President Kennedy is
exploited to provide substance, otherwise totally absent. Alas,
the event is discussed in the same inane style as everything else
in this program. Clearly, the makers picked Oliver Stone as their
source, rather than history. For those of us who had lived through
that day, and the ones that followed, such trivialization of the
event and its consequences goes beyond the excusable.
Not surprisingly, and crowning this falsehood that pervades our
Sunday night, the final ten-or-so minutes of the second episode
unfolded over a male singer's chant, to be describable only as primordial
throat convulsions. What deceit about an age that was lit up by
the elegant, sophisticated, unfailingly artistic presence of a Nat
King Cole, and the incomparable magic of an Ella Fitzgerald!
"People are killed when they want something and somebody else
wants another thing," thus we are explained how history works.
And the much-maligned teenage anti-hero of American Dreams closes
the curtain by muttering, "Kennedy wanted something."
By this time it would not have surprised me if Mr. Moron the Father
had chimed in, "What? Marilyn Monroe?"