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TV’s ‘vast wasteland’ getting more desolate

Nearly 50 years ago Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow gave us a description of television as a “vast wasteland.”

It was in a 1961 speech at a National Association of Broadcasters convention, and of course people in the industry didn’t take too kindly to his slam on commercial television. In fact, the S.S. Minnow boat of “Gilligan’s Island” infamy was named after him.

Minow said that when television was good, nothing in communications could be better, but by and large commercial television was a culturally desolate landscape.

How about today’s TV? It’s more of a vast wasteland than Minow could ever have imagined.

Television these days is inhabited by reality shows that celebrate how mean we can be to each other, too many comedy shows that aren’t really funny, talk shows that say nothing meaningful, or religious programs that would earn the righteous wrath of Jesus.

Last year, for example, I heard an audio clip of televangelist John Hagee saying if somebody doesn’t work they don’t deserve his or your help. “Go ahead and starve! I don’t care!” he thundered from his opulent church down in San Antonio. As I see it, Jesus was intolerant of hypocritical fat cats, not the poor and helpless.

The late-night cable schedule is awash in “paid programming” that sells us new bodies via the latest exotic exercise contraptions, lotions and potions that promise women eternal youth, pills that will magically return virile vigor to ED-afflicted males, ways to get rich without breaking a sweat, or pills to eliminate the poisons in our digestive system, to name a few.

What’s odd to me is that we’ve seen this before. We’ve resurrected the snake-oil salesmen of yesteryear who promised the same things mentioned above. Newspaper advertising was loaded with similar assurances of miracle cures from questionable products before Congress stepped in and passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. People were dying or getting addicted to drug-laden substances, even babies.

At the moment, we don’t have scandals reported on people dying or getting addicted to detoxifying agents, skin regenerators or natural male enhancements. But stay tuned. I’m sure someone out there will get hurt, sue and knock that smirk off Smilin’ Bob’s face.

To contact Jake Jacobs, call 923-6199, extension 305.

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