When I was a kid, we did not have cable, mostly because it did not exist, at least as we understand it. Cable TV existed as far back as the 1950’s, but it was not common and the selection was no different from over the air offerings. It has been a long time, but I recall we had two network channels we could reliably receive over the air and two or three minor channels. UHF channels were local and played mostly re-runs of old shows and some local broadcasting. VHF channels had the national network offerings.
From the vantage point of the 1970’s, “old” TV shows were mostly things from the 1960’s, but old movies from the 40’s and 50’s were common too. In other words, if you wanted to peak back in time to the previous eras of American culture, you could reliably go back a decade and selectively go back a few decades. Bad old TV shows like Get Smart and Star Trek would go into syndication, but bad old movies were just forgotten. The old movies that were shown on TV were usually the good ones that people liked.
What that meant is if you wanted to know what it was like to live in 1945, you had to ask someone who was alive in 1945. You could get a little taste of it from watching old movies on a Saturday afternoon, but that was a stylized version. To really get a feel for the age before color movies and television, you had to rely on the fading memories of grandma and grandpa. Of course, this was true for all of human history until recent. It’s why old people are good at telling stories about the old days. They’re built for it.
Today it is different. I watched The Thomas Crown Affair the other night off the Kodi machine. This was the 1968 version with Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen. There was a remake of this in 1999 with Pierce Bronson. I had seen the remake a few times, but I never saw the original. In fact, I did not know there was an original. That’s a bit of interesting cultural data right there. Just about every movie produced over the last twenty-five years is either a remake or made from a children’s comic book.
What I found remarkable about the movie is something I notice whenever I watch old movies and that is the maturity. A movie about the cat and mouse between a male and female today will have at least half an hour of rutting and humping, along with some explosions and lots of vulgar language. The modern presentation of male-female relations is so crude, that porn makers of the past would have been offended. In the old days, the film maker and audience expected a more sophisticated portrayal of sexual relations.
That is the other thing that turns up in old movies and television. Hollywood made assumptions about the cultural awareness of the audience we don’t see now. In the Thomas Crown Affair, there is a long scene around a chess game. It was supposed to be a stand in for the sexual tension between McQueen and Dunaway. It’s a bit ham-handed, but vastly more sophisticated than anything you would see today. One reason is the typical viewer today knows nothing about chess, so it would be lost on them.
Part of that is due to Hollywood relying on international audiences to make money. You can’t expect to make money in China or India when your film is full of essential references to Anglo-Saxon cultural items. When you make films for the universal culture, you are making movies for a culture that does not exist. That means the goal is to remove cultural references, rather than rely on them to tell a story. There can be no subtlety and nuance without common cultural reference points understood by the audience.
The main thing that jumps out in old movies is the respect people had for themselves. The reason Steve McQueen was a star was because he played a role that was something men could aspire too. He would never have played a homosexual junkie or some other type of degenerate. People knew these sorts of people existed, but they expected them to be on the fringe of their lives and therefore on the fringe of their stories. Watch old movies and you see references to degeneracy, but it is always oblique.
Again, this goes to that respect for the audience. Just as the audience did not require thirty minutes of sex scenes to know the male and female were intimate, the audience did not have to see the gritty details of degeneracy to know it existed. The old movies assumed the viewers were adults who knew about the reality of life. Today’s film makers have to assume the viewers are retarded and need everything explained. Movies in late empire America are made for the recently arrived, provincial barbarians.
Finally, the thing that makes watching old movies worth the time is they offer a window into that long forgotten country of our ancestors. Unlike when I was a kid, young people don’t have to rely on old people telling them stories of the old days. Today, you can watch anything and everything ever made by Hollywood, even the bad stuff. Young people can watch YouTube clips from that country where humor was still legal. Most of it is crap, just as today, but it reveals what it was like in the bad old days.
More important, watching those old movies and TV shows, you can’t help but notice the early signs of poz being introduced. The stuff from the 1970’s is much more degenerate than the stuff from the 1960’s. In the 1980’s, the dumbing down becomes obvious as the makers started courting non-white audiences. It’s a good way to see how where we are now did not happen overnight. It was a long, deliberate war waged with patience and purpose. The fight for freedom will be long and require patience too.