How Well Do You and Pop Culture Remember Your Favorite TV Season?

by James Wallace Harris, 8/7/21

I recently joined the Facebook group The History of American Television. It has 73.4 thousand members, and I feel many are Baby Boomers. We were the first generation to grow up with a TV. It’s both remarkable and disturbing how many thousands of hours we’ve spent in front of a cathode ray tube. Television imprinted on us like ducklings to their mother. Now that we’re old, we nostalgically remember TV shows, and some of us even rewatch our childhood favorite series time and again. Everyone I know loves TV, but most stick to the new shows. However, a large percentage of my friends if they don’t occasionally rewatch TV from the past, wistfully remember shows from when they were tykes and teens.

My father (1920-1970) and mother (1916-2007) liked TV but they seldom talked about pop culture from their youth, or tried to reexperience it. And my mother’s mother (1881-1972) never talked about pop culture at all to me, and neither did my father’s mother (1898-1981). My generation, the Baby Boomers seems obsessed with remembering TV shows, movies, albums, books, games, sports – everything they loved growing up. That’s quite evident by all the diverse groups on Facebook devoted to wallowing in Oldie Goldie pop culture.

When the TV History Facebook group began discussing the first TV show they remembered I posted a photo from the show Topper (CBS 1953-55). That was the first television series I remembered watching when I was four or five. Up till then I never met anyone who talked about seeing Topper as a kid. I got 7,300 likes and 746 shares. I was amazed that so many people had the same blast from the past.

Like my peers, I’m hung up on memory and pop culture. Individually, we have personal memories, but collectively we have history. Both kinds of recall tend to forget and distort the past, often rewriting it. I’m old enough that every year is the 50th anniversary of a year I remember living, and the media celebrates with a string of significant anniversaries. For younger people it’s only abstract history. But if a kid today grows up watching Star Trek and digging The Beatles, do they have the same experience we had?

I find it enlightening to challenge my memories. Because of this Facebook group, I struggled to recall everything I could about the TV I watched in the 1966/67 season and compare it to how pop culture remembers those shows today. I was 15 and in the 10th grade. A great deal of real history happened during those months, especially regarding the Vietnam war, but I’m only going to focus only on TV shows.

First, my memories without using Google for help. Here are the shows I remember now and believed I tried to watch every week.

  • Star Trek
  • The Time Tunnel
  • The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
  • ABC Stage 67

Of course Star Trek has become a cultural phenomenon and I’ve seen all the first season episodes since, some several times. I’ve also read books about the creation and production of the program, meaning my memories have been reinforced. I do have a memory of watching the very first episode of Star Trek when it premiered, and I have vague memories of liking specific first season episodes that existed before I saw the reruns. I think it came on Thursdays.

My memories of The Time Tunnel are vaguer. In recent years I’ve caught a few episodes shown on MeTV, and I remembered seeing them in 1966 but I couldn’t have recalled them before hand.

I’ve never seen The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. again but I remember it starred Stephanie Powers and Noel Harrison, Rex Harrison’s son. I have seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in reruns, a show I also loved from that time period, but I find them impossible to watch now. I’d love to see The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. again, but I assume it would be just as stupid to me now.

I can only recall one episode from ABC Stage 67, a musical with Ricky Nelson. I think it was called “Yesterday’s Heroes.” I’ve always had fond memories of that episode and even tracked down a copy of the soundtrack years ago.

That’s not much to remember to believe the 1966-1967 television season was my favorite. I can’t watch Star Trek anymore, but I did love it for many years and watched all the sequel series through Voyager. Star Trek has made a huge impact on pop culture, and even young people today know about it. I’ve had dreams over the years where I’m flipping through the TV channels and find an episode of Star Trek I haven’t seen before. I wake up feeling this tremendous sense of nostalgia, and wanting to watch Star Trek again. When I do I’m always disappointed. It’s never as good as my memories.

Now, using help from Wikipedia’s page for the 1966-1967 television schedule. It triggered countless memories I’ve forgotten. And that makes me wonder just how many memories are still recorded in my brain? I can only access them when triggered with an external clue. Could complete ancient episodes be recorded in my brain?

Sunday: I watched Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea by myself, The Ed Sullivan Show with my family, and then my sister Becky and I would fight with my dad over the final hour. He wanted Bonanza and we wanted The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Monday: My sister and I would watch The Monkees and I Dream of Jeannie, then I’d watch The Rat Patrol. I’d skip the rest of the evening, but I think my sister and mom watched The Andy Griffiths Show and Family Affair.

Tuesday: I watched The Girl From U.N.C.L.E, and then the family would watch The Red Skelton Hour (which is probably why I don’t remember The Invaders, a show I would have watched), and then my dad watched The Fugitive. The Fugitive bored me then, but a few years ago I bought the complete season on DVD and got into it.

Wednesday: My mom commandeered the first hour with The Virginian, which meant I usually didn’t get to see Lost in Space. I remember the kids at school loved Batman, but I thought it stupid. The family would watch Green Acres and Gomer Pyle. Sometimes I would stay, but mostly I’d go read science fiction. If I came back out I’d watch ABC Stage 67 or I, Spy, shows no one else in my family liked. I, Spy was my favorite show from the 1965-1966 season.

Thursday: I’d hog the TV on Thursday for Star Trek. Me and Becky would sometimes watch F Troop or That Girl. And my parents like The Dean Martin Show.

Friday: I’d watch The Wild Wild West or Tarzan, and then The Time Tunnel, and then 12 O’Clock High, sometimes with my dad, but usually I was by myself with the TV on Friday nights.

Saturday Night: This wasn’t a big night except for Mission Impossible which I think the whole family enjoyed. However, we often skipped it for Saturday Night at the Movies. That’s the show we watched most as a family.

Before I started these memory excavations I assumed I watched TV every night, and caught every episode of my favorite shows. But when I’ve tried to watch these shows again as reruns, DVDs, or streaming, I seldom found episodes I remember, except for Star Trek or The Time Tunnel.

As I squeeze my brain cells I realize I don’t believe now I watched as much television as I thought I did, and I don’t think we had as many regular family viewings. But I’m not sure. I do remember what I watched, and to a much lesser degree, remember who I watched with.

My mother and father were separated for the first half of that TV season, so we couldn’t have had that many family viewings that year. And once they were reunited, and we were all together again, we did watch TV as a foursome like I describe above, but I’m not sure how often. Once I began remembering TV from 1966-1967 season other memories emerged like digging for fishing worms in cow pies.

On the other hand, most of the shows from the 1966-1967 schedule are still being rerun, streamed, or sold on DVD today. Well, except the variety shows, but even clips and compilations from The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour still show up. Pop culture has a more powerful memory than I do, especially after digitizing it. I could recreate and relive my 1966 days from artifacts off the internet.

These efforts to remember watching television is unearthing all kinds of connected memories. I need to stop here otherwise this blog would turn into a book. But I have one last interesting observation. I no longer like the shows I loved as a kid, but I discovered I now enjoy the shows my parents loved back then. I’ve bought the complete series DVDs of my mother’s favorite show, Perry Mason, and my father’s favorite show, The Fugitive. In the 1960s, both bored the crap out of me. In the 2020s I enjoy them.

JWH

Hopes, Dreams, and Bullshit

by James Wallace Harris, 2/2/21

Rereading the 1984 book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy unearthed long suppressed feelings and ambitions that first emerged in my personality back in the 1960s and 1970s. When I first read Hackers in 1985 it rekindled those formative emotions and desires then as well. I’ll start my seventies this year and I have to wonder when do hopes that I formed in my teens finally fade away? When can I just give up and be here now? When do I stop trying to constantly be who I was? Why don’t hopes have expirations dates? Why are these books so exciting after all these years?

I remember four years ago triggering these same emotions and ambitions when I reread The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. I tried to write about what I felt, but those words don’t capture what I’m trying to say now. One thing about growing older, at least for me, is seeking clarity about my time in reality. Before I die, or my mind fades away, I want eliminate all the bullshit barnacles that encrusts my soul.

My current theory is we acquire our personal dreams and desires from pop culture and subcultures. During my lifetime I’ve belonged to many subcultures, but the two I loved most are science fiction and computers. Both current forms of those subcultures have long past me by, but their initial seduction have left subprograms running within my mind that never stop. Why was I able to deprogram myself of childhood religious programming, but I’ve never been able to escape that cultural programming acquired from age 12-22?

You’d think we’d forget old beliefs as we acquired new insights. Of course, I’m generalizing, assuming all people are the same. Maybe other people do that, but I don’t. Why can’t we emotionally be like historians who rewrite history with new discovers. For example, after rereading Hackers I read A People’s History of Computing in the United States (2018) by Joy Lisi Rankin. Basically, Rankin is saying, hold on there Steven Levy, your history of computer pioneers from MIT and Silicon Valley leave out a lot of middle America computer pioneers. Her book is reshaping my sense of computer history I got from Hackers. Why don’t I do the same things with my personal history?

This is not the book review I sat down to write. I might try again, but let’s go with the flow. These books hit the bullseye of my old computer ambitions. Over the past year I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos about 8-bit computers, especially those from The 8-Bit Guy. David Murray essentially has traveled back in time to work on computers at the point where Hackers ends in 1984. Many other YouTubers have done this too. I’ve wondered if the solution to my problem with all these old hopes and desires is to return to a past point in time and start over. I realize at this moment, that’s exactly what I’ve done with science fiction. I’m reading and collecting what I loved best from 1965-1975. That’s kind of weird when you think about it. But maybe it’s a natural aspect of aging too.

However, I also tell myself I should jettison my past like they were my first and second rocket stages and seek orbit for what I could be in 2021. But could that be me bullshitting myself that I’m not too old to learn new tricks. Of course, maybe one way not to stir up old emotions and desires is to stop consuming old pop culture. Does my library of old books, magazines, movies, and TV shows keep those old subprograms going? Actually, yes.

I have a friend, Anne, who lives so in the present that she hates the past, and even throws away old photographs and mementos when she finds them. I also live in the present by reading books published in 2020 and magazines that are February 2021 current. If I tossed out my old library and read only new books and magazines I would become a different person. I could become a fast nimble speedboat. But because I loved old pop culture, and can’t let go of old ambitions, magazines, and books, I feel the past I carry around has grown to the size of the Titanic. (I wish I had a photo of a guy in a rowboat towing the Titanic on a rope to put right here.)

The current nonfiction books and science fiction magazines I’m reading are about politics, climate change, and all the other dark clouds the horizon of this century. (No wonder I want to return to last century.) If I only read new books and magazines I’d completely reshape my present personality. Reading these three computer histories rekindles the futures I wanted back in the 1970s and 1980s, and they were tremendously more appealing than the futures I envision now. The people profiled in those books had such wonderful dreams about what computers would bring to the 21st century. And their dreams came true beyond anything they imagined or hoped. Yet, I wonder if they could see the downside of their creations, would they have done anything different? And isn’t that what I’m doing now by rereading these old books, second guessing my past decisions?

One of the reasons I can’t let the past go is it feels unfinished. I didn’t get to consume all the pop culture I wanted back then, satisfy all my wants, or achieve all my ambitions. But having lived in the future, it also feels like we took so many wrong turns. I can’t help but want to go back and finish what I started and even try different paths.

There is a whole lot more I want to say about Hackers, but this essay has already gotten too long for chiseling on this stone. Hopefully to be continued on another rock.

JWH

Alleviating My 8-Bit Nostalgia

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, October 15, 2019

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve become obsessed with watching YouTube videos about old 8-bit computers. I’ve even been shopping on eBay looking for old machines in good condition to buy. But I think I’ve cured my 8-bit nostalgia.

October 13th was the 6th anniversary of my retirement. My dream before retiring was to use my work-free years to become a science fiction writer. That hasn’t happened. Instead, I’ve chased the siren call of nostalgia. The other day I read an article about why people stop listening to new music and it gave me a clue about the nature of nostalgia. We keep listening to the music we imprinted on as a teenager because we gave that music a lot of our time. Once we got older we didn’t have that kind of time to devote to new music.

I’m wondering if nostalgia isn’t an attraction for anything we’ve already spent the time learning to love?  Now that I have a lot of free time it’s much easier to pursue old hobbies than learn new ones. This has given me an insight into my affliction. I both delight, relish and resent nostalgia. Nostalgia feels good to indulge in but it makes me also feel guilty that I’m not learning to love new stuff.

I’m nostalgic for two kinds of things. Stuff I once loved that I bought, and stuff I once wanted to do. Writing science fiction is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. But it is much easier to love stuff that we can buy than it is to learn to love to do new things. That article didn’t realize it was saying two things. It was much easier to buy LPs than learn to play the guitar.

That article rings true because I stopped spending time with new music after the 1980s. I believe the new songs I do love are because they sound like old songs. Nostalgia is spending time enjoying things we’ve already spent the time learning to love. And the reason nostalgia was originally considered a psychological defect is because we stop learning to love something new. Over the centuries we’ve stopped considering it a flaw and turned nostalgia into a positive trait. Especially if we’re old.

However, that fits right in with our belief that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. If you indulge in nostalgia you aren’t learning new tricks. Maybe we can learn new stuff when we’re young because we don’t already have a backlog of things we already love to distract us with nostalgia. Of course, kids today seem to put thousands of hours into fun pursuits even before they start school. I now see nostalgia in people in their twenties.

I realize that in the past six years I’ve been cycling through the various periods of my life escaping into my past. Each period has something different I learned to love. I imprinted on TV watching in the 1950s and early 1960s before I became a bookworm. That’s how I got hooked on TV shows and old movies that I now collect. Starting around 1962 I got hooked on science fiction and rock and roll. I write about both. At the beginning of the 1970s, I got into SF fandom and fanzines, which eventually morphed into blogging. I started computer school in 1971 and got my first microcomputer in 1978. The 1980s were the time when I owned several 8-bit and 16-bit computers, and ran a BBS. I also got a job with computers and worked at it for 35 years.

From 1968 to 2013 I tried writing science fiction several times but I never put the needed hours into it. I wrote about thirty short stories, a couple novel first drafts, and attended a bunch of classes, including Clarion West. But it was just a few hundred hours, and for most of that time, I was in my fifties. Was I too old to learn a new trick, or was it because I didn’t put in my 10,000 hours?

So, why haven’t I bought an old 8-bit machine? It’s because I’ve watched dozens of videos by The 8-Bit Guy. Watching him demo all these old machines vicariously gave me all I needed. It reminded me why I owned so many 8-bit and 16-bit machines in the first place. I was always looking for a machine that could do more. My current machine, an Intel NUC with an i7 processor, 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD, and 4K monitor is completely satisfying. It does everything I want. The 8-Bit Guy inflames my nostalgia for old machines but also reminds me why I gave them all to Goodwill.

However, The 8-Bit Guy has also taught me something else, something about nostalgia that I have written here. There is nothing wrong with returning to retro tech, but I do have a choice. I could put those hours into doing something new. Or put them into an old ambition I never achieved. (Is that another kind of nostalgia? Pursuing old dreams.)

For the past six years, I’ve been mass consuming old hobbies. The question is, will I continue to consume nostalgia or learn a new trick? It’s so easy to stick with what we know, and it’s so hard to learn something new. There’s a reason why we have that saying about failing to train old dogs. And there’s something else I’ve learned in my six years of retirement. My energy is draining away. I’m guessing old dogs can learn new tricks but it’s ten times harder than when they were young. Maybe even a hundred.

I could say I’m expending all my dwindling energy on enjoying my old loves. That’s kind of nice (and normal). And maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do when we’re old. But theoretically, I wonder if we can break the nostalgic habit. Instead of watching The 8-Bit Guy before I go to bed I could be watching YouTube videos on the techniques of writing fiction and get up in the morning and apply them.

JWH