The Television Generation Gap

By Larry Teren

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Generation gap is an expression hardly heard anymore. It was the be-all, end-all excuse for why your parents didn’t understand you. How many times did you think to yourself, “man, they don’t know what it’s like being a kid or a teenager.” As if your parents were born in their twenties, huh?

Every era has had its generation gap- which side of the divide you are on determines how you relate to it. I saw a high school buddy the other day that I had rarely chatted with these past forty years. He told me that the only time he gets an honest chance at a temporary project job is when the person doing the hiring appears to be at least fifty years old. He feels negative vibes when he interviews with a younger person. I suggested to him that he get rid of his white beard and dye his hair. He said that he did that a few years ago but prefers to be what he is.

These younger whippersnappers didn’t grow up like we children of the 1950’s and 60’s. We were weaned on tv westerns and variety shows along with the altruistic Drs. Kildare and Casey. Most dramas were morality plays where the good guys usually defeated the bad guys. How many cases did Perry Mason lose anyway? One?

The variety shows consisted of funny, shtick humor with naughty stuff vaguely hinted at. The singers could actually sing instead of just talking or rapping the lyrics. The dancers knew how to collectively step in time and not just do gymnastics. The acrobats flew through the air with the greatest of ease. We were handed good, clean entertainment.

Now we have a generation of kids who have grown up watching shows where comedies have cast characters of questionable and even vague sexual preferences (not that there’s anything wrong with it, right?) and children raised by one parent or the grandparents. Sophisticated dramas often involve characters full of angst and some sort of deviate hangup on shows such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men. But, it’s cool, man, because like everyone smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol as if it is water and does drugs, right?

Back in the 1960’s the Andy Griffith Show had Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts. Don Knotts left the show because he was tired of doing the angst thing on television and hoped to make more money doing it in the movies. More recently Steve Carrell of The Office did the same thing. You want to argue that things don’t change? Fine. But it seems that starting with All In The Family in 1970, all television shows were required to have social relevancy.

In the 1960’s, we had Gilligan’s Island, Batman, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction. We just wanted to see people acting goofy and funny. Game shows on television of the 50’s and 60’s had much smaller prizes. On What’s My Line from 1950-1967, the contestant was glad to win fifty dollars and get five to ten minutes of exposure and water cooler conversational fame. On I’ve Got A Secret, they usually gave the contestant a package of cigarettes or a home beauty care product, gifts from the show’s sponsor. On To Tell The Truth, the slightly larger prize money had to be shared three ways. The prizes increased in value on The Dating and Newlywed Game shows but nothing that was going to help pay the bills. Okay- you could win new appliances or a car on Let’s Make A Deal but you more often than not had to cash it in because the sales and income tax on the were costly.

Game shows now have much more at stake. On Wheel of Fortune, Family Feud it is possible to win ten thousand dollars on a nightly basis and the winner returns for the next evening. It’s all about instant gratification and the opportunity to score. Television viewers over the past twenty years have been indoctrinated to expect big payoffs or lose interest. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Me!

The younger generation is taught that there is nothing wrong with these values. Many of us among the older generation obviously seek instant gratification as well but we also know what it was like when you could buy a very nice car for $4000 or a candy bar for five cents and a bottle of pop for a dime. And don’t tell me that it is all relative because we make that much more to pay for the higher prices of everything. We don’t. Half the people cannot buy a new car unless it is a lease where they give it back a couple of years later, not having to bear the cost of the unused value of the vehicle.

Therein lies some of that generation gap. What you don’t know, you don’t care about. Our parents and grandparents in the 1950’s and 60’s didn’t grow up with air-conditioned houses and cars and could only hear and not see entertainment in their homes. I’m sure they thought we were spoiled rotten but it was their pleasure to do so for us.

What goes around comes around. Spoiling children will continue and in twenty years or so middle aged Americans will pine for the days of quality sitcoms like Two and a Half Men or How I Met Your Mother. Not!

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