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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Oz is On
Thoughts on Community, Color TV, and Cultural Context

“Who rang that bell?” As I write we’re all sitting in the family room watching the Wizard of Oz on TBS. They just arrived at the Emerald City. This is only noteworthy in that we did the same thing last night. (I guess it’s been on every night this weekend.) But last night we were flipping back and forth between the Wizard and the Kansas State football game against #4 Texas. My wife is from Kansas; our nephew Alex is a student at K-State, and my mother-in-law is here from Kansas for the weekend. So as the Wildcats began to rustle the one-loss Longhorns in what would prove to be the fifth upset of a top-ten ranked team of the weekend, we stopped flipping back to the Wizard, which prompted our eleven-year-old daughter to go to bed.

(Not counting the year Bob Dole was running for president ('96), we'd go months without seeing anything about Kansas on TV, and then in one night we faced this difficult choice—what are the odds?)

So we’re watching the Wizard of Oz again tonight. The strange thing is... we own this movie on both videotape and DVD. We could pop it in and watch it anytime…but we don’t. Does this ever happen with videos you own? I wonder if there are studies on it. I’ve never read or heard anything about it. Maybe it would be called the Nielsen Syndrome—the desire to count and be counted.

I think it would be a fascinating thesis. Does it reflect our need for community? Do we enjoy things more when we know hundreds, thousands—perhaps millions—are enjoying them at the same time? A related question: Did the advent of the home VCR end the movie theater industry? Not really. Americans are still willing to pay top dollar for two movie tickets to see a movie with a group that in a few months they will be able to own for less money. What does this say about our need to be "collective," on the same page with those around us? What does it imply about the individual in the context of large gatherings (e.g. corporate worship)?

Will TiVo and DVRs change society's desire to be on the same page? Cable TV brought many more "pages," but I think there will always be a desire for some commonality in TV viewing—especially around the holidays when shows like this are typically aired. The same thing happens when The Sound of Music or some other “classic” like It's a Wonderful Life are on TV. Millions of people who own the video drop what they're doing and sit down and watch it WITH commercial interruptions. Is it because we're still programmed to enjoy programming or that we feel connected to something larger when we do it? I'm just thinking out loud (in type), and I can speak only for myself (and perhaps my generation). Here goes...

When I was a kid—way before there was any way to record or play “video” on TV, and way before we ever heard of “cable.” All families in America pretty much had three channels of black-and-white TV (ABC, CBS, and NBC). [Because we lived across the river from Canada, we also got CBC, but we hardly ever watched it.] There were a couple other UHF channels, depending on how good your “rabbit ears” were. Back then, the networks would compete for market-share during prime time by promoting great shows for weeks.

The Wizard of Oz was made in 1939, the same year Gone with the Wind hit the theaters—these were the first two full-length movies in color. For the next twenty-five years, the only place to see these or any movie in color was at the theater. Then RCA developed a new product and a commercial I can still sing from memory. “Wow! I got a color TV. The most sensational color TV. The most sensational color— Wow! I got a color TV.”

(My brothers and I sang that song whenver we saw it on our black-and-white TV. It would be over ten years before we "got a color TV." My brother Paul bought it with his own money as a gift for my parents.)

The first color TV I ever saw was at my Grandma Spencer’s next-door neighbor’s house. We all called her “Jonesie.” (I never knew her real name.) We’d sometimes watch Bonanza at her house on Sunday night. That show starred, Lorne Green, and his face was in fact green on her TV. The first color TVs were not very good and the color was constantly out of whack, but Jonesie would not let anyone touch her color TV so we just got used to a it. If we were really fortunate, we’d also get to watch Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color.” But this was very rare indeed, because both these shows were on Sunday night, and we were always at Sunday evening church. It was only when we were an hour away at Grandma's in Port Huron for the day that we were exposed to this unforgettable treat.

It was when color TVs were slowly making their way into homes that NBC adopted a new logo--the NBC Peacock we still see today. Back then it only preceded “color” shows. A voice would say, “The following program is brought to you in living color,” and then the peacock would spread its tail feathers. Red Skelton had a weekly one-hour comedy show on CBS that we always watched—but it was still black-and-white. As a spoof to the rival network's peacock, he showed a zebra at the beginning of his show and said, “The following program is brought to you in black-and-white.” It was not until 1966 that NBC became the first network to boast 100% color broadcasting. Evenso, many homes (such as ours) were years away from owning a color TV.

What’s all this color TV talk got to do with the Wizard of Oz? Well, you see it was about this same time that this film made its first television debut. Everyone was talking about it. The only problem for kids who grew up in churches like mine was that the Wizard of Oz ALWAYS aired on Sunday night when we were in church. It wasn’t until sometime in the Seventies that I saw it for the first time—and even then it was on our black-and-white TV. I didn’t know that the land of Oz part of the movie was in color until the late Seventies. I’ll never forget the first time I saw those colorful scenes (cheesy by today’s standards). They were magical and still are.

So you see, for millions of adults this film is more than "a kid's movie." It represents the peak of market-share ("community") family television in the Sixties and Seventies. It takes a generation back to the days when school children talked about a coming “TV special” for weeks before it aired, a time when parents collectively allowed their kids to stay up past bedtime to see the end of the show, a time when nearly all the kids at school (except me and my friends who were at church) talked of flying monkeys and chanted "Oh-ee-oh" while marching on the playground. My generation of adults is very fortunate to have children who enjoy this movie, because I suspect we would sit and watch it with or without them.

Dorothy just clicked the heels of her ruby slippers… now we’re back to the soft sepia hues of Kansas. (The beginning and end scenes of this film are not truly black-and-white.) Thanks for watching this great film with my family and me. Sorry I’ve rambled on so. I’ve been saying lines out loud as I type, but I spared you those details. (This is probably the most unintentionally “memorized” script of all time.)

I'd enjoy reading your thoughts on why you watch movies you own when they come on TV—and which movies are most likely to "grab you" in this way. If you have a friend who would enjoy this discussion, please direct them to this post.

Gotta go. Dorothy is about to say her best line:

"Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home! Home! And this is my room -- and you're all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And...Oh, Auntie Em... There’s no place like home.”

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the song "Somewhere over the Rainbow." I don't remember black and white tv, but I think people go to the movies to see the big screen. It's not the same on TV and there's so many choices that there's not much "special" about tv specials anymore. It seems like only the super bowl does that nowadays.

14/11/06 2:01 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

The big screen is definitely a factor, but have you ever gone to a movie theater that seats 200 and there's only like four other people sitting there to watch? It feels wierd so I think the sense of "community" still plays a part. The Super Bowl is a good comparison. The networks would promote a "television debut" for a long-awaited title on "Friday Night at the Movies" for weeks. Had the Wizard of Oz been aired on a Friday, I would have seen it before I was a teenager. =)

14/11/06 9:20 PM  

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