Wednesday, May 09, 2018

WACKY WEDNESDAY: Songs of the Vast Wasteland



On this day 57 years ago, Newton Minow, the nation's new chairman of the federal Communications Commission -- appointed earlier that year by President John F. Kennedy -- gave a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters' convention in which he called commercial television a "vast wasteland."

Though TV still was fairly new back in 1961, that phrase stuck.

Here's what Minow said:

"When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
"But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.



"You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it."

Pretty strong stuff.

Luckily all the broadcasting heavies in the audience paid heed to Minow's words and immediately set out to make sure television truly lived up to its potential.

Just kidding. They didn't.

I don't know whether the musicians whose work is shown below actually listened to Minow's famous speech, but it's obvious they agree with the sentiment.

Let's start with Frank Zappa, who's 1973 album Over-Night Sensation included this little gem called "I'm the Slime."




I've always liked Bruce Springsteen's take on TV from the early '90s -- although the idea of "57 channels" now seems rather quaint.



The late Gil Scott-Heron lampooned the Wasteland in his first hit "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."



Then there was this sardonic ode to the one-eyed God from Black Flag:



But nobody took on TV like the proto-punk wonders Figures of Light. At their debut concert in 1970 at Rutger's University, the band smashed 15 television sets on stage. Unfortunately I couldn't find video, but there is audio of the event.








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