Opinion > Star Staff
Hi Yo Philo, or things aren't the same as they've ever been
By Ken Byler, Up the Creek
It's hard to walk into a place these days that doesn't have the radio on. At this time of year the constant refrain of the "Little Drummer Boy" and "Twelve Days of Christmas" is driving some folks nuts. No matter where they go, rah pa pa pa and the call of partridges in pear trees seem to follow them.
Whether it's the background noise, a Rush Limbaugh sermon or Mexican hillbilly music on an AM station, radio seems to be an instrument used primarily to irritate folks. That's a sad state for a wonderful medium to come, too.
Next to books, radio was mankind's next-best entertainment invention. Like books, radio let your imagination create the scenery. Your imagination dressed the swashbucklers as they went about the business of buckling swash. The heroine was as beautiful as you imagined her to be, and with the shout of "Hi Yo Silver!" a magnificent steed would gallop into your mind's eye.
In 1939, right at 80 percent of all American households had a radio. By then radio had become a big piece of living room furniture. Radio was informative, entertaining and instantaneous. And it was free. All you had to do was listen to a few words from the sponsors.
Meanwhile, an Idaho farm boy named Philo Farnsworth was inventing a contraption that would take radio's place in the living room.
The English language defined America and every ethnic group listened to the same radio programs. On radio there were nutty professors with German accents, Italians named "Luigi" and Jewish neighbors whose last names always ended in "berg." There was Lum and Abner, Amos and Andy, Abie's Irish Rose, Tonto and Kemo Sabe.
By 1950, Philo Farnsworth's invention had been improved and pictures began to replace words as home entertainment. Jack Benny, who with a measured delivery of words had brought tears of laughter to radio listeners, was replaced by the sight gag of Milton Berle dressed in drag.
It's been said that when pictures began replacing words is when the dumbing down of America began. Would Lady GaGa be a musical star if folks didn't know what she looked like? The invention of the printing press gave the world the Gutenberg Bible, and then finally it gave the world Hustler magazine. Television gave us Lucy and Desi, and finally gave us MTV's Jackass Show.
Some say television is the cause of America becoming a nation woefully short on critical thinking. Those same folks also contend that we've become a populace willing to believe anything as long as we think we're getting something for nothing.
TV watchers are drilled with commercials that scream "But wait!... order now and we'll double the order. The more you buy the more you save. Great deals! Buy one get one free. Hurry before they're gone. Cash back, no payments for a year, everybody approved and 50 percent off the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price."
Television executives and Hollywood producers say that TV sex and violence have no effect on kids. But they'll never tell advertisers that TV ads have no effect on consumers. They'll never tell politicians that their TV ads will have no effect on their opposition.
Angus Jones, star of the Harper family saga on TV's "Two and a Half Men," is the highest-paid teen actor on TV. Newfound Christian values caused Angus to say the show was trash and he urged folks to quit watching TV. It's been said he's doomed himself from further success in the entertainment business.
On the other hand, another star of "Two and a Half Men," Charlie Sheen, who claims to be a warlock and is known to have spent a fortune on prostitutes, had a drug-induced meltdown on the set. Is Charlie doomed? Nope! He was paid millions to go on an "Anger Management" tour sponsored by Mark Cuban, and now he's doing TV commercials for Chrysler Corporation.
That fact oughta make folks wonder about the value of time spent watching TV. But it probably won't.
Ken Byler is a Star Newspapers columnist, author and artist. Email him at email@example.com
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