Teenage Fantasies

Scripps-Howard News Service 10.09.02
Balint Vazsonyi

NBC-TV's "American Dreams," the new Sunday evening show about the 1960s, has aired twice to date. If the producers hoped to replicate something like the success "Happy Days" had turned out to be, the news is not good.

Above all else, there is an excessive presence of teenagers. No, I am not speaking of the assorted boys and girls who provide the focal point of the - so far embarrassingly thin - story line. I am speaking of the persons who produce, write and direct this offering. No doubt their biological ages suggest adulthood, but their information base is somewhere around the junior high school scene.

The collaboration of the National Education Association and the Department of History at the University of California/Los Angeles has terminated the teaching of proper history in the United States. But the more optimistic among us have retained the slender hope that some acquaintance with America's ways in the second half of the twentieth century might have survived in the minds and souls of the thirty- and forty somethings.

Apparently not.

"Father knows worst" could well be an alternative title to the series. A more readily certifiable moron would almost be unthinkable, even, in Patricia Ireland's dreams. He is awful to his wife, he is awful to his son, he is awful to his daughter. Oh yes, and he is awful to his son's football coach, a catholic priest who himself is too awful for words. You can just see him accused of having molested his players about, say, three episodes from now. Not since the heyday of the Soviet film industry at the height of Socialist Realism have I seen such cardboard cutouts, reciting dialogue written by the Department for Agitation and Propaganda.

Of course, opposite the oppressor father, we encounter the mother about to awaken to real womanhood. Of course, her husband turns down absolutely everything she asks, suggests, begs. But wait! She has another enemy, the chairman (-woman, -person) of her book circle who runs the outfit Dachau style. Mother wants to read the book she wants to read. The book of her choice has a very, very red cover, naturally, and is being brandished about at every possible turn.

Jewels of human imbecility abound. An assistant producer of American Bandstand - the TV show at the center of all happenings - keeps taking a cigarette out of his pocket, putting it in his mouth, then searching every pocket for a match. The picture cuts away every time before he would find the match, producing an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth whenever we see him. No doubt, the producers wish to remind us of the shameful heresy, the awful habit of smoking, still prevalent in the 1960s. But, clearly, the studio where the series is being shot has a no-smoking rule, so the actor can't actually light up.

Have we run out of space in our insane asylums? (Or is it asyla?)
On a similar note, we hear the priest admonishing the father because the latter's son has "disrespected" the coach. Ladies and Gentlemen of the writing staff: "disrespect" existed as a noun, also as an adjective ("disrespectful"), but never was used as a verb by the educated in the 1960s.

The general background against which these fascinating human fates unfold is supplied by the events of the Fall of 1963. Why that particular time? You guessed it. The assassination of President Kennedy is exploited to provide substance, otherwise totally absent. Alas, the event is discussed in the same inane style as everything else in this program. Clearly, the makers picked Oliver Stone as their source, rather than history. For those of us who had lived through that day, and the ones that followed, such trivialization of the event and its consequences goes beyond the excusable.

Not surprisingly, and crowning this falsehood that pervades our Sunday night, the final ten-or-so minutes of the second episode unfolded over a male singer's chant, to be describable only as primordial throat convulsions. What deceit about an age that was lit up by the elegant, sophisticated, unfailingly artistic presence of a Nat King Cole, and the incomparable magic of an Ella Fitzgerald!

"People are killed when they want something and somebody else wants another thing," thus we are explained how history works. And the much-maligned teenage anti-hero of American Dreams closes the curtain by muttering, "Kennedy wanted something."

By this time it would not have surprised me if Mr. Moron the Father had chimed in, "What? Marilyn Monroe?"