I fear for the state of entertainment.
When I was younger, the creation and writing and crafting of films, books, and television was in the hands of the faceless elders. They were a mystic force that would disappear into a room with nothing but an idea and emerge with the very fabric of my childhood. That duty is now being handed over to us and we are given carte blanche to rebuild or destroy the arts, but most of today’s entertainment is not really original or creative; the things we create are merely winkingly referential to the things that we as its creators enjoyed in our own childhood. What made things like Muppets, Nickelodeon, Nintendo, and Disney so prominent in shaping my generation?
First of all, I think there was less of an economic incentive and more of a genuine desire to titillate young imaginations. In the 70s and 80s, the heads and innovators of the entertainment industry were baby-boomers and so grew up connected to a largely youthful society. As many of their social circles had the young out-weighing the old, demographically, they were essentially learning how to entertain each other through entertaining themselves. By the time they grew to be in command, they were in tune with a youthful sensibility and set out to provide the next generation with a level of entertainment that they themselves desired.
A show like The Muppet Show was not intended for children (if you don’t believe me, watch the first season) but instead a challenge for craftsmen to create a bombastic and risque celebrity variety show filtered through the mind-bendingly formalistic use of inanimate puppets. The concept is actually very frightening when you think too hard about it. The removal of realism allows you to disassociate the cast from being actors who may have ulterior motives in performance (earning a check, supporting a family, marketing themselves, snorting their profits) and instead making them into wholly abstract entities designed for the sole purpose of making you, the viewer, satisfied with what you experience.
The next proposed reasoning is simple: Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Creators of our imagination must first indulge in a complete journey through their own imagination. They must have been able to reach way down into the deepest corners of their minds, from the lowest lows to the highest highs, and every step in between. The most creative people in the world have been able to do so through influence of the interior or exterior struggle of the mind. Many of the most fanciful of composers were known to have suffered some sort of mental illness or instability. Many of the greatest writers were drug-addicted or alcoholic. Would Lewis Carroll have been able to concoct Wonderland without temporal lobe epilepsy? One way to pull that deep and dark center of subconscious onto a plane of conscientious creation is to emulate the lunacy of sickness by introduction of a hallucinogen.
Now, I’m not saying that Henson, Miyamoto, and Disney operated a nest of hopped up junkies, coping with their nightly visitations by slapping happy faces on them and inflicting them on the rest of the world. Even if they totally were. What I’m saying is that there was a different cultural mindset, one which allowed puppeteers to enact a Buffalo Springfield protest song with woodland creatures on the run from wily hunters. It was a society where everyone knew a bad trip was like if even through osmosis and so welcomed this enactment of a damn good trip.
Now, in the wake of Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No”, we’ve denied each other and ourselves an experience, safe or unsafe. Let’s face it, we’re a generation of squares, born and bred to syphon through an educational system on the straight and narrow toward an almighty career; and to hell with anyone who strays to indulge in waywardness and substances. We’re raised to create for the sake of recompense and to laugh at poets and dancers for their poor economic decision-making. Yet, we look back with nostalgia on the creators of our own childhood, never realizing that their experiences as wayward experimenters of life shaped the very reason we felt so alive.