Friday, December 21, 2007

Look Now, Pay Later

This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: Look Now, Pay Later.

Edward R. Murrow, Keynote speech
RADIO TELEVISION NEWS DIRECTORS ASSN. convention, Oct 15, 1958

Edward R. Murrow was a serious reporter. He made a choice at some point in his life to stand true to his convictions. This put him at odds with a culture that seemed awash in distractions, concerned more with happiness than values.

I was only six when Murrow gave this speech, but it has been preserved for us in George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck." Like the little boy who exclaimed that the king had no clothes on, or the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, Murrow stood against the tide of history. One hopes that by speaking truth, one can actually make a difference. Too often it feels futile.

Almost five decades later, and our appetite for amusement and diversion seems to continue unabated. For example, the amusement park industry generates more than 24 billion dollars a year in revenue. The average large pask generates one hundred million dollars a year.

The entertainment industry generates more than 30 billion a year, and the mammoth sports industry generates more than 210 billion, not including the quarter trillion dollars spent on sports betting.

Yes, we love our distractions.

This is not an effort to create an eleventh commandment ("Thou shalt not have fun") but it is an effort to encourage us not to forget the less fortunate in our communities and in our world.

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” ~ Eccles. 7:4

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