WHY CAN’T THE TRUTH BE FUNNY? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There’s a common theme that runs through most sitcom episodes. And it hasn’t changed since sitcoms were first available on the radio. Lying. Humor is far too often based on people lying to one another – usually family members or close friends. The rest of the sitcom plot revolves around the liar trying to keep his lie a secret and the “lie-ees” getting close to discovering the lie.

At the end, the liar is exposed or the liar comes clean and realizes that he or she shouldn’t have lied in the first place. This is the synopsis of most “I Love Lucy” shows, as well as those of “Modern Family” today.

So why can’t anyone remember the lesson that lying doesn’t pay, from one episode to the next? Why can’t the sitcom producers and writers find something else in life and human relationships to laugh about?

I’m concerned about the prevalence of lying on sitcoms because children watch sitcoms. There’s no sex or violence so they’re assumed to be kid-friendly. But I think that it’s toxic to expose children to lying as the preferred way to deal with the people around you. It puzzled me growing up why grown-ups told me how bad it was to lie but then they all did it, every single week on TV.

Telling the truth on sitcoms must be like Kryptonite to TV writers. This gives kids a warped idea about relationships. It tells them lying is the common, accepted way to communicate. It says “Beware of the truth – it will get you in trouble every time!” Worse — the truth isn’t funny.

It reminds children that that the world is a scary and unpredictable place. You can’t trust grown-ups. Chances are they’re not telling you the truth about anything – from the inconsequential small stuff to the important big things. Children need to believe the grown-ups around them can protect and buffer the world for them.

Sometimes it’s not true, but children need to believe it. Like they need to believe in some version of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy at some stage of life. I don’t think it’s healthy for children to absorb mistrust from the comedies they watch. I think this is what happens when sitcom people automatically lie rather than deal with the truth. It is also annoying to watch as it is the same plot repeated through every year of television.

Lying is ubiquitous on TV comedies and therefore I believe, insidious. Today’s kids are already so much more sophisticated, and at younger ages than they were in my generation. So let’s not teach them too early that lying should always be your first choice. Let’s not convince them that truth is to be avoided at all costs. Let them get through childhood before they become dishonest and jaded.

NOTHING’S LIKE IT USED TO BE

A couple of weeks ago, I needed some new nightwear. Nothing fancy. No lingerie. That’s for display, not sleeping. I’m talking about the ubiquitous cotton sleep tee. For years, I bought them from L.L. Bean. They were comfortable, loose, soft. Lightweight in summer, heavier, long-sleeved for winter. Then, L.L.Bean stopped making them and offered only heavy flannel or pajamas. In ugly colors.

bz-panel-09-07-13store

I don’t want elastic while I sleep. I want soft, loose, breathable, comfortable. Priced so I can buy more than one. Colors other than flaccid pink and dainty floral on white.

When L.L. Bean stopped making what I wanted, I switched to Land’s End. I’ve been wearing their sleep tees for more than a decade. But with each passing year, the fabric has gotten rougher, and the cut skimpier. The neckline has gotten tighter to the point where it’s hard to get your head through it. The price keeps going up. I gave up. While the price has risen, the quality has dropped to completely unacceptable. I found quality sleep tees on Amazon. Not as good as the old ones, but at least affordable.

Have you ever tried to find someone to help you in a real store? Shops have cut staffing down so low that there’s no one to help you and they did this long before everyone started shopping on line. They decided they didn’t need to offer help, that we could all fend for ourselves. We did. We just didn’t do it at their shops. When online became available, it was an easy switch.

Then there’s the whole “changing brands” without regard for what people want. Did “new Coke” bring new customers to Coca Cola? Or did they give Pepsi a huge boost? Did Windows 8 improve business at Microsoft … or did it move huge numbers of computer users to Apple?

A while back, I decided to go buy a book and I went to the mall. There’s a huge Barnes & Noble there. Did you know that Barnes & Noble booksellers — their brick and mortar stores — charge 30% more than Barnes & Noble online? For identical merchandise. If you want a discount card, that will cost you more. Even with the “discount,” their stuff still costs more than it would online.

When asked why I should bother to buy at the store, I was told the online and “real” stores aren’t run by the same organization and have different price structures. That’s not an answer.

Original Coke came back. Windows 8 passed into oblivion — to no ones regret. Windows 10 is into its third round of updates and the Windows world has settled down. Amazon is opening its own brick and mortar stores. What goes around apparently comes around. I’m waiting for the same thing to happen with the presidency. Even DiGiorno’s is selling pizza with “original” sauce. Vote with your shopping cart and get out there for the next elections and maybe we’ll get a government we can live with. It worked on Windows, so why not on the federal government?

Yet, I’m pretty sure I’ll never fully trust Microsoft, Barnes & Noble, or the U.S. government. Sometimes, when you break a trust with enough brutality, there’s no going back. You smile when you  meet, but you don’t really mean it.

What’s the price tag on trust?

THE MOST TRUSTED MAN IN AMERICA

“And that’s the way it is” by Rich Paschall


With so many bad sources of news in the world, who do you trust to give you reliable and up to date information?  I know it is tough to decide.  At one time there was radio, television, newspapers and your grandma’s gossip across the back fence.  You may also have had a few barroom buddies who seemed to be pretty up to date on the happenings in the nation and even the world.  Now that there are so many more options, how do you know who to trust and what to believe?

Perhaps you still rely on Aunt Mildred.  She always seems to be well read and has a tidbit of news on everything.  When she shows up at family gatherings she can easily dazzle those who would sit down to listen.  She always shows up early to the parties and is willing to stay until the very end, as long as there are snacks and highballs around.  Her whisky fueled news items show the great recall she has from the supermarket publications she gets regularly.  Sometimes she also gets the Sunday papers, but that is more for the store coupons than the news.

Then there is cousin Billy, also a regular at the family gatherings.  He tries not to get into arguments with Aunt Mildred because her vocabulary is better than his.  However, you just know he is right about his views of America.  His sources may seem a bit murky, but if you can not trust someone you practically grew up with, who can you trust?

cronkite-395Your nephew Chad is probably much more up to date than the others because he is on social media all the time, reading up on the environment, politics and his favorite rock bands.  He often shows you those clever memes that contain some of the best quotes for your education on the latest issues.  If you mention a topic, Chad can find a meme, video or highly respected blog that will educate you on what you need to know.  At least the blogs are highly respected by Chad, and you respect Chad, don’t you? (Chad respects this blog.)

When I was younger (much younger) and staying with my grandparents, dinner had to be finished by 5:30 PM so that my grandfather could get to his favorite chair.  We lived in the Central Time Zone and the CBS Evening news came on early.  It was OK because it fit right into their retirement schedule.  My grandparents had been farmers and were use to early breakfast and lunch, so 5 PM dinner did not seem too early.  Their main source of news was a Monday through Friday evening broadcast.

It was not just that it was a news program.  There were others at that time.  He could have watched the venerable team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.  He could have tuned to Howard K Smith and Harry Reasoner.  But my grandfather only followed the man who came to be known as the most trusted man in America.  Many years of strong and steady broadcasts of news events had led one man to the top of his field.

Solid reporting
Solid reporting

Walter Cronkite Jr. was a broadcast journalist who started his career in 1937 covering major news events around the globe.  Later he covered NASA and brought us all the early successes and some failures of the space program.  You could rely on Walter to describe the event and educate you on space all at the same time.  It was the facts that he brought to a broadcast, not the spin.

In 1962 he became the anchorman of the CBS Evening News and the main face of the news division.  If there was an important story, Walter told us about it.  With a confident and authoritative tone and a grandfatherly face, people came to trust him with the news.  In fact as his tenure on the evening news went on, polls began to show that it was not a politician or entertainer that people trusted most, it was Walter.

In 1963 I recall watching Walter as he told us all about the assassination of President Kennedy and the events that followed.  No I did not see the earliest broadcasts live, I was in grade school.  But I did see all that followed.  I have seen the early footage many times since in documentaries, as Walter had to tell a nation that the President was dead.  To this day that broadcast will evoke tears.

"President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time."
“President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.”

Walter advised us of what was going on in Viet Nam.  Did it help turn a nation against the war?  Walter told us about Watergate extensively.  Did it help lead to the downfall of a President?  If he influenced public opinion, it was not because he twisted the facts or spun their meaning, it was because he reported them.

After 19 years, Walter Cronkite retired from the CBS Evening News.  CBS had a mandatory retirement age of 65 then.  Today they would probably let him go on as long as ratings were good.  He lived to be 92 and remained active for many years after “retirement.”

Are there any broadcasters today that enjoy the trust of American people like Walter Leland Cronkite Jr.?  Yes, I know the answer to that.  Everyone seems to be interpreting rather than just reporting.  They all appear to have a point of view and we may trust them about as much as we trust Aunt Mildred.  Of course, there are a few that trust Aunt Mildred a lot, “and that’s the way it is.”

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

It’s Not A Game, by Rich Paschall

Many game shows are centered around the idea of trust.  Whom do you trust to answer a question correctly or perform a task accurately?  This critical questions is, of course, tied to the winning of money and/or prizes.

In 1956 CBS television introduced a game show called “Do You Trust Your Wife?”  Married couples would answer questions for the chance to win money. The husband got to choose whether he would answer a question on a particular topic or trust his wife to do it.  The idea was to provide entertainment and comedy as much as to hand out small amounts of money.  The show was hosted by ventriloquist and comedian Edgar Bergen, father of Candice Bergen.  It was a vehicle for his famous act.

The show was handed off to a new host in 1957.  Young Johnny Carson got the chance to interview guests and provide comedy.  The show was later changed to “Who Do You Trust?” so that the contestant pair did not have to be a married couple.  After a year Ed McMahon was brought in as announcer for the show.  You probably know what happened to their careers just a few years later.

The game was similar to another popular show of the era, “You Bet Your Life?”  Here the famous member of the Marx brothers, Groucho, was host.  This gave the popular comedian a chance to show off his famous wit as he interviewed the contestants.  Unlike Carson, who frequently participated in stunts and demonstrations with contestants, Marx stay seated and left that to his announcer.  Failure to get a question right might be cause for a wisecrack from the host known for such things.  The show ran for eleven years.

You Bet Your Life
You Bet Your Life

Many game shows that followed are based on trust or at least knowledge of the other person.  The Newlywed Game is based on knowledge of a spouse.  How did he or she answer certain questions?  Family Feud asks the winning family to send one member to the final round.  It is sometimes amazing to viewers which one they trust with the chance to win big money.

There have been many other game shows that rely on an element of trust.  You might have to “Beat the Clock” to complete a task in a certain time.  The task might include your partner get wet or facing broken eggs on his head, depending on how well you did the task.  The little tasks were also meant to provide comedy for the audience.  Trust, competition, money, comedy, entertainment!  What is not to like?  Perhaps you can add more shows to the list in the comments below.

This season there are new game shows and the contestants are not very funny.  In fact, few find them entertaining at all.  There certainly is the famous issue of trust, but in this case it is whether the audience trusts the answers of the contestants.  Like all good game shows, there is a lot of money at stake.  Oddly enough, these contestants will spend a large amount of money (their own as well as others’) trying to win the final prize.  The show is periodic and will last until the Fall.

These shows are called the Democratic Debates and the Republican Debates.  The same contestants appear each time but the ones who have performed poorly in past weeks drop out.  This is so they can combine the shows into one later in the year when just one contestant from each show is left.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “The eight Republican debates so far have drawn significantly higher average viewership than the six Democratic debates.”  That may be because there are more contestants and much more comedy is involved.  When the leading contestant did not show for one of the Republican debates, viewership fell.  This introduced an element of drama into the contest. Higher ratings and more contestants must be the reason for more debates for the Republican teams.  Just like American Idol, we are all waiting for the show to get down to the final two contestants.  Without Ryan Seacrest as host, the debate season seems too long.

Republican debates
Republican debates

Since the object of the debates is to get the viewers to trust them, the show is much like the old “To Tell The Truth.”  In that show the viewers see one person who is supposedly the real person to be identified and the others are imposters.  A series of questions are asked and in the end it comes down to “Who do you believe?”

The problem for the viewers of the current competition is that all of the candidates may not be telling the truth.  The Pulitzer Award winning PolitiFact finds that all of the Republican candidates are wrong on most facts.  Amazingly, the leading candidate on this show is found to be wrong almost all the time!  This does not seem to bother the viewers as he continues to have a wide base of support.  FactCheck.org (A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center) has dubbed the front-runner on the Republican shows “King of Whoppers.”

Can you imagine a show where the contestants consistently get the answers wrong, but win anyway?  That indeed may be what is happening.  For those unaware, this is No Truth and Major Consequences.  It is not a game either.

 

Related: Fact Checking The Eighth GOP Debate, FactCheck.org, Feb. 7, 2016