Remembrance of pop culture past

Guest Column

I never thought I’d be one of those people. You know, those grownups given to extolling the glory days of yesteryear when things were simpler and, therefore, better.

As a 32-year-old new parent, however, I must confess to getting a few of those pangs. It’s not quite nostalgia; it’s simply a clear realization of what has changed. In Hollywood, the pangs come quickly as the showbiz landscape relentlessly shifts, rendering obsolete the entertainment experiences once held dear. Yesterday’s double feature is today’s video on demand.

With that in mind, I wanted to put a few things down on paper. I will try not to preach them yet to my daughter, who is only 2 months old and presumably not yet plugged into pop culture. But I have a feeling they could come in handy in about 2018.

Here, then, is a memo to Margot:

1) It used to be rare and even somewhat declasse for film lovers to talk about box office. Sure, the occasional “Star Wars” or “Ishtar” made headlines. But believe it or not, the citizens of Des Moines didn’t always fixate on the opening-night numbers of “The Rundown.” They were too busy fixating on … being in Des Moines.

2) Studios used to think up the movie before the video game.

3) Once you saw a movie in a theater, that was pretty much your only crack at it, unless you happened to be on a cross-county plane trip. Consequently, you would wind up going back five or six times to anything from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Dune.” Never heard of “Dune”? Never mind.

4) Filmmakers used to focus on expressing themselves and hopefully connecting with audiences. Now, thanks to test marketing, audiences express themselves so that they can hopefully connect with films.

5) Commercials did not play in movie theaters — except for that animated one of the popcorn chasing the hot dog.

6) Music was recorded onto large vinyl discs that produced a much richer and more satisfying sound than CDs. Downloading music from the Web used to be a controversial act; people younger than you were sued by the record companies for stealing copies of Britney Spears — that’s right, the one we saw last month at the county fair.

7) Radio stations actually differed from town to town. On a family vacation, your impression of a city you were driving through would be formed by what you heard on the radio.

8) TV shows began with actual theme songs, not 15-second synthesized burps. Entire K-Tel collections are devoted to these old songs. And just to clarify, that K-Tel collection in our den was given to me as a gift.

9) World Series games not only used to start before dusk and end before dawn, but broadcasts of them didn’t feature sports-ignorant TV stars hogging a prime seat to plug their new fall shows. Instead, airtime was used to bring the baseball game, not network ratings, to life.

10) Certain network shows would draw tens of millions of people to their TV sets. And they had actual scripts! “Roots,” the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas” and the last “MASH” were true communal experiences, not glorified game shows.

11) No one used to care what deserted highway in the Florida Panhandle was used in the shooting of “Congo.” With DVD, however, every bit of useless minutiae is golden for studios trying to cash in on the “deluxe edition” of a film whose “special edition” you bought last year. And just to clarify, that copy of “Congo” in our den was a gift.

12) TiVo did not exist. Therefore, if you were up past your bedtime, you had to master the art of the 3-minute commercial-break scramble, brushing your teeth while donning pajamas so as to catch the crucial final minutes of “Emergency!”

That’s all for now. By the time you are old enough to read this list, it could be twice as long. And I just realized one modern accoutrement this memo idea lacks — product placement. I’m going to put in a call to VH-1.



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