So last night we were relaxing. Long couple of weeks. No particular plans, we enjoyed a glass of wine and skipped through the channels to see what might be on. Which, when it comes to television nowadays, probably wouldn’t be much.
Anyway, we came across and old episode of Johnny Carson interviewing Jack Anderson at the height of the Watergate scandal (the pertinent interview begins after the 30:00 mark):
Wow, it was like watching two mature adults discuss an important subject in America’s history. They show restraint. They show respect. They speak of other politicians, like Truman, with respect. They give their opinions and get a few laughs. But on the whole, it was like two mature adults discussing the monumental events with respect and restraint.
Oh, lest anyone say, ‘But that’s an interview Dave, how about the jokes!’, here is a sampler of Carson taking on Watergate five years later:
Compare to the same forty years later (warning, language and content):
Of course I know we had others back then: Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce (passed away a decade earlier, but still cutting edge for his time), George Carlin. But this was the flagship comedy show of the era, and the one most in line with America’s basic character of the day. Like him or hate him, most would have identified with Carson’s ways with the issue. Hence his popularity and influence.
FWIW, I know this is a very subjective observation on my part. I know people will argue down to the minutiae how it was no different in the 70s, or it doesn’t matter, or a Debbie Does Dallas society can still demand an Ozzie and Harriet president. I also get that this is a broad point to hang on a single example. I get that. I simply note an approach to one of the worst political scandals in our country’s history and compare it to how the adults of our country are handling things today. I can’t help but think there is a bigger lesson than the development of comedy in America in the last 50 years.
Others might disagree. But that’s how I see it. I still hold to my sons’ observation that Trump is the president that our modern FB generation deserves. Whether we decide the price is too high to continue as we have, or we decide it just opens up more possibilities to get what we want, remains to be seen. Altogether though, some sad TV viewing for a chilly Derby Day night.