Broadcasting the Bicentennial Birthday Bash – Christine Becker

, , Leave a comment

>>[Peter Holland] It’s my pleasure to introduce
the speakers for the Saturday Scholars. I most particularly enjoy when the speaker
is a member of my own department—Film, Television, and Theater. But just before I introduce Chris, let me
just remind you or inform you of ones coming up. For the Stanford game, which of course is
a night game so the Saturday Scholars will be at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We have a talk on Flood in the Desert: Faith-based
[inaudible]. Then the Miami game when we’re back to normal
times, Jason Ruiz is coming to talk about Representing Latinos in Television’s New
Golden Age. And the last game, Virginia Tech, Fr. Monk Malloy is coming to talk about “The
Monk’s Tale: Presidential Years.” Even I think when for the last game, you know,
people get cold [inaudible] stay awake, it will be worth coming in to hear him. As it’s worth being here today to listen
to Chris Becker. Chris did her Ph.D. work at Wisconsin Madison,
and has been with Film, Television and Theater ever since. Her book on 1950s television, “It’s the
Pictures That Got Small: Hollywood Film Stars in 1950s Television,” came out in 2009 and
it won the 2011 IAM History Michael Nelson prize for work in media and history. She’s currently working on a big research
project comparing contemporary American and British television, and believe you me, I
notice the difference whenever I go back to the UK, you wouldn’t know it was the same
medium—and thinking about both production and programming in her research. And she is the online editor of Cinema Journal,
and runs the News for TV blog. She’s also run Notre Dame, has run for now
15 years, the Notre Dame Film Society which chooses, the students choose a movie each
week to watch together and talk about, create that wonderful experience of sharing film
culture. Today she’s sharing something very different,
and I can’t wait for the clips—Broadcasting the Bicentennial Birthday Bash. You will notice the careful alliteration in
the title. Please welcome Chris Becker. [applause]
>>[Becker] Thank you all for coming. Alright. You’ll note you didn’t hear anything about
the Bicentennial in my bio up there. That’s because this research isn’t part
of my standard work. This is just a one-off research project I
was lucky enough to undertake. So I want to explain that part first, where
this is coming from. A little over one year ago I was invited down
to the University of Georgia by the Director of the Peabody awards. These are awards for electronic media that
started in 1941 as an award for radio, then television came along and now they include
awards for the internet, digital content. We knew, and most of them now go to television. When you hear TV awards, you probably think
of the Emmys. But winning a Peabody is thought to be even
more prestigious than the Emmys because these are awarded not for entertainment value but
essentially for public service value. Excellence on its own terms is one of the
Peabody’s mottos. The Peabodys just celebrated its 75th anniversary,
so if you’ve never heard of the Peabody organization or the Peabody awards, I wanted
to show you a video. This is a promo video they recently released
for their 75th anniversary, and this will give you the gist of what the Peabodys are
about.>> Walter Cronkite once said,
you count your Emmys, you cherish your Peabodys. That’s the way it is. No award in the world of storytelling is more
revered, more coveted. A Peabody is like an Oscar wrapped in an Emmy
inside of a Pulitzer. There are stories, then there are stories
that matter. The kind that change our world, or at least
the way that we see it. The kind that bring tears, sorry, laughter. The Peabodys began in the birthplace of American
public higher education. The place that [inaudible] A dream that depends
upon the whole of American society, a moment of inspiration, a legacy frozen in time for
the world to cherish. Mrs. Kennedy has been showing us the White
House. Stories about our nation, and our world. [inaudible] to us, with its blemishes — the
industrial system employed children as young as six and seven—and its [inaudible]—the
Eagle has landed—From the beginning, Peabody has been about more than excellence. Stories that address issues and ideas in a
thoughtful manner, stories that challenge the mind and broke new ground. That tradition continues, evidenced by recent
winners of the [inaudible] opened our eyes and our hearts. My name is [inaudible], I’m not like other
people. And now, Mr. Peabody’s turned 75. We look back on those who’ve inspired us. We wait, we listen, we watch, to see who will
be next to give us a story that matters.>>[Becker] Alright. So that is the Peabody award, and that is
the Peabody archive. You briefly saw there a shot of the archive. I took this shot when I was at the archive. And this to me is the most important function
of the Peabody awards, and that’s archiving TV. So any network senior producer that wants
their show to be considered for a Peabody, they submit a copy—if it’s a series, a
single episode, a copy of a single episode—if it’s a standalone is a difficult thing. They submit that to the Peabody awards and
then they archive that. So they have television going back to the
1950s that has been archived. Most importantly to me, most of the collection
is made up of local content, local radio, local television, the likes of which no one
but [inaudible] the story would think is, you know, worth spending the time or money
on to archive. But as that indicated, these are our stories,
right? Our country’s stories from one city to the
next across the nation. The new director of the Peabody archives,
Jeffrey Jones, he started in 2013, he lamented that not only not enough people but not even
enough TV historians knew about the Peabody archives and its holdings. So he came up with the idea of bringing a
bunch of TV historians to the Peabody archive to see what the collection has and to inspire
them to do work on it. And so I was honored to be one of about 15
to 20 TV historians invited to the Peabody archives, and this is last November. And we spent the whole weekend watching TV. It sounds like easy work, but these were six-hour
sessions of days where we would watch curated clips from the archives, and then sit at a round table
and discuss what we just saw. And I have to tell you, we were all blown
away. All of us, seated at this table [inaudible]
some of the, you know, most accomplished TV historians in the field, and we were all blown
away. And especially by the local content, particularly
from the sixties and seventies. We watched contentious round tables on the
civil rights movement, we watched a newscast hosted and reported by 12-year-olds in Washington,
DC, about how kids relate to news. We watched an Oregon town hall, a town that
had made gun ownership mandatory so there was a town hall debate about it. We watched a locally produced sit-com in Boston
about a local bar—this was before Cheers ever existed. So we were just really amazed at the level
of creativity and even some provocative material from this. So after the weekend we were all given homework
assignments. We had to each then develop a research project
oriented around something in the Peabody archive, and then were going to reconvene at the end
of next month to present all this material to each other. So that’s how I developed the project on
bicentennial TV, which has virtually nothing to do with my other research. But I was so impressed by the complexity of
this 1970s material that I got curious about how 1976 television looked, the bicentennial. Because I presumed there was certainly plenty
of celebratory patriotic content, but especially given the boldness of some of the content
I saw, I wondered if there was also anything that pushed back, put on more complexity or
nuance in the kind of thing television isn’t thought to be very good at. So I was curious about that. So that’s what I want to turn to next. I first want to give you sort of the general
set-up of the bicentennial celebration in general, and then turn to television. And it’s sort of curious to think about
the timing here. 1976 didn’t seem like the best time for
a big national birthday party. So two years earlier Richard Nixon, of course,
had vacated the presidency. 1975 brought the fall of Saigon and the withdrawal
of US troops from Vietnam. You had following social upheavals of the
sixties, the country heavily fractured along generational, gender, racial, class lines. There were economic crises, there were Cold
War fears. Gerald Ford even said in his 1975 State of
the Union address, “the state of our union is not good.” So to have a birthday party that admits that
kind of fracturing posed an interesting question. So do you have this delightfully ostentatious
national celebration, or, you know, what is the challenge then? If you’ve got innumerable questions about
the state of the country. Now, symbolizing that complicated state, the
celebration planning got off to a pretty rocky start. So an organization of, a government organization
called The American Revolution Bicentennial Commission was formed by an order of Lyndon
Johnson in 1966 with the intent of having a full decade of planning to celebrate this
national birthday party. But the commission floundered from a variety
of things. There were disagreements over direction, there
were funding problems. By the early seventies there was even suspicion
over its motives, because there was as thought that the ARBC was being used as an arm of
the Nixon administration to basically prepare for a celebration of Nixon and not a celebration
of the country. There were actually congressional hearings
into this, which pretty much affirmed that this was going on. So the result was it being replaced by the
American Revolution Bicentennial Administration. And I know it’s ridiculous and it sounds
like a stupid government thing where you just change the name and it will be the same thing. But it was actually a substantial change in
what this body was. So the Commission had had 50 members, the
Administration only had 8 and it was run by John Horner, who was the Secretary of the
Navy during the Vietnam war. The Commission had had on the table at one
point a plan for a $1.5 billion dollar celebration, a world’s fair kind of celebration playing
in just one city, Philadelphia or Boston. So that plan got scrapped entirely with the
Administration. And in fact, as did the very idea of a nationally
centralized celebration. The ARBA instead advocated a decentralized
celebration that would especially encourage local participation across the country. So John Warner repeatedly [inaudible] speeches
said “The Bicentennial celebration truly belongs to the people, not the ARBA.” Now ARBA did develop some themes that they
wanted celebrations across the country to kind of all fuse together around. So we had Heritage ’76, that would reflect
on our founding fathers and founding documents of 1770. You had Festival USA, which was essentially
meant to celebrate diversity, especially immigration. There was a lot of programming that relates
to immigration issues. And then finally Horizon ’76, which is looking
forward, so planning for a better tomorrow, making America even better. So those three themes helped create a common
framework that bicentennial celebrations across the country could all work together in concert,
at least in theory.>>Now I would throw in, there was probably
also a fourth theme, Colors ’76, add in to that a couple of examples of that. It was a heavily commercialized celebration
which was good for the ARBA because they had a lot of money just from licensing the logo
alone. Once you saw the start of nearly $40 million
in revenue came from licensing that logo to over 250 companies. And then every national to local company did
tie-ins, so my favorite is this one here, celebrating the bicentennial A&P with a sale
that says it all, right? Two rolls of paper towels for 76 cents! You don’t need to know much more about that. And in fact there was growing cynicism about
this as early as 1974, there was this phrase, you BUY centennial and then you SELLebration. So this was a mocking editorial about that. But there were plenty of what you might consider
the more altruistic celebrations, and the one that I’m assuming some people in this
room remember, the American Freedom Train. So this was filled with over 500 precious
treasures of Americana. So there was George Washington’s original
copy of the Constitution, there was the original Louisiana Purchase, Martin Luther King’s
pulpit and robes. This traveled across all 48 contiguous states
from April 1975 to December 1976. It passed through South Bend in July 1975. There were also local civic projects sponsored
by the ARBA, so the South Bend fire plugs got all painted as Revolutionary War soldiers. And in fact, for some reason out of all 50
states Indiana had the most of these ARBA-sponsored projects. They had 937 separate projects. For comparison, Georgia, one of the original
13 colonies, had eight. So Indiana was all over it. And one thing to know, these projects didn’t
have to be directly related to the Bicentennial, especially under the umbrella of the Horizons
’76 idea. Anything that you could say was bettering
your community for the future could count. So there were literally like parking lots
paved in the name of the Bicentennial. And apparently a lot more in Indiana. But one key thing to consider this to set
us up for TV is the importance of the ARBA advocating for decentralized local celebrations
rather than this one big birthday party in Philadelphia, for instance. And I think this is especially intriguing
to consider with television then, because of the investments of local television. So not just network television, you know,
something produced in New York and sent instantly across the country, but local pockets, local
producers producing content on the Bicentennial. So that’s what I want to turn to next, and
I’ll start with a caveat. There are about 80 hours of Bicentennial-related
TV in the Peabody archives, and I have not watched all of that, I’m still working through
a lot of that. I started mostly with the news and documentaries
so there’s a lot of bio stuff to watch and so forth. So I’m only kind of scratching the surface
here. But I want to pick out some of the things
I found most interesting so far in what I’ve been looking at. So that’s what we’re going to finish up
and get to the part you guys are all here for, which is the great clips. So let’s turn to that now.>>I wanted to start by taking you to the
very first, this is on the very morning of July 4, 1976. All three networks, major networks—ABC,
CBS, NBC—did Day One programming for July 4. And all of them, it’s intriguing, all three
of the openings say that they’re going to take you across the country from big towns
to small towns, but especially I think that local notion is really important. The one I’m going to show you is from CBS. This is Walter Cronkite who spent 14 hours
at the network desk, he spent the entire day anchoring the Bicentennial celebrations basically
from morning to fireworks. And here’s how then this started:
>>[Cronkite clip] Up, up, up everybody, it’s your birthday! Good morning, and happy birthday. I’m Walter Cronkite, CBS News. Happy birthday to all 250 million of us, the
people of the United States of America on this, the 200th anniversary of our nation. We’re going to broadcast the Bicentennial
events from all over the United States and overseas too. Our broadcast will literally have a cast of
millions parading, dancing, singing, the ceremonies, the celebrations that will be, well, zany,
brassy, corny probably, and also undoubtedly moving. The name of our broadcast is “In Celebration
of Us.” It will be the biggest broadcast we’ve had
here at CBS News since man landed on the moon in 1969. Our correspondents and crews, hundreds of
people altogether, will report the events in big cities from Boston to San Francisco,
and small towns from New Hampshire to Iowa. We’ll see the President of the United States,
and watch thousands of aliens become citizens. We’ll see events in sacred national shrines. We’ll go on an Indian pow-wow and visit
ethnic neighborhoods. We’ll see the greatest parade of sailing
ships assembled in our lifetime. Symphony orchestras, Dixieland bands, the
Mormon Tabernacle Choir, they’re all part of this day, all part of our coverage. We’ll hear Gospel singing and country fiddling,
and fireworks exploding in the night skies. And when night does come, some special friends
will be with me here in this control room—Danny Kaye, Beverly Sills, Valerie Harper. Most of our reports will be live, but we will
have some film stories too about our people and our country. We’ll hear the reflections of outstanding
Americans, and we’ll have some history lessons, fact and fiction, designed to amuse we hope
as well as inform. So come along for this day and night to celebration.>>[Becker] And I should add, there were 14
hours that followed that was submitted to the Peabody with only one hour, a one-hour
compilation, and that’s very common for a very lengthy presentation. But I think one thing about it is, I think
at least television maybe represents an exception to this idea that the Bicentennial wasn’t
necessarily a national, coordinated nationally. In fact, a number of you might remember another
thing that showed up on national network TV a lot, this would be Bicentennial Minutes. These were one-minute segments that aired
every night on CBS just before 9 o’clock, from 1974 to 1976. And Shell Oil was the sole sponsor, they spent
$10 million to sponsor this which sounds like a lot, but then about 32 million Americans
it was estimated saw one of these each night, so money well spent. The minutes were hosted by well-known public
figures from movie stars to politicians, and they described events from 200 years prior
to that very day. They were openly patriotic, proud, they reiterated
common stories and myths of the day. Whether or not they were all true is another
story. I’ve seen only about 25 of these, Peabody’s
has about 25. There were I think 732, so there are a lot
of them. It would be great to see at some point that
compiled on a DVD, if they do still exist. I’m just going to show you one of them,
it’s my favorite for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is presented by Jessica Tandy
who is British, so I like the idea that she’s a Brit, and especially given the story she
tells.>>[Tandy clip] This is Jessica Tandy. 200 years ago today British work gangs were
stripping Boston bare of wood, piling up firewood for the winter ahead. The giant elm that for 120 years shaded the
corner of Washington and Essex Streets was gone. The elm had been Boston’s Liberty Tree. For ten years patriots met there to denounce
British tyranny. Then the British came with axes to chop the
living symbol down. An onlooker described their glee. He said, “After a long spell of laughing
and malice, they cut down the tree because it bore the name of Liberty.” The Liberty Tree yielded 14 cords of wood,
but one redcoat hacking away at a high branch slipped and fell to his death. The Liberty Tree downed, but not without a
struggle. I am Jessica Tandy, and that’s the way it
was.>>[clip announcer] These historic minutes
are sponsored each night by Shell.>>[Becker] And it’s not, it’s never been
confirmed that someone actually died in the tree. There are multiple stories that a redcoat
fell from the tree or a branch limb fell on him. But the idea that basically the tree was part
of the fight, right? The tree participated in the Revolutionary
War, I think is a fascinating minute to have described there. Bicentennial Minutes did not win a Peabody
award, so from ’75 to ’77 which was where most of all the Bicentennial programming was,
eight Bicentennial-related shows won awards out of about 60 shows total that won. So the CBS all-day programming won a Peabody. Another one went to a January 1976 ABC news
program documentary called “Suddenly an Eagle,” a very unique documentary. It’s about events that led up to the very
first shot fired in the Revolutionary War. And it’s just a two-man show. It’s Lee J. Cobb playing the American narrator,
with Kenneth Griffith as the British narrator. And they stand in famous Boston and London
landmarks as they describe what happened on that very ground. I think they start in the 1750s leading up
until the Revolutionary War. So I’m going to show you a clip that has
the section on the Boston Massacre, so you’ll see Kenneth Griffith speaking on behalf of
Britain describing the British troops who had come to Boston to collect duties. And they were all over Boston and the friction
between the British troops and the colonists exploded.>>[Griffith] [inaudible] and once again the
merchants and manufacturers got upset. But this time they were not alone. In January 1770, thousands of workers unemployed
because of the American boycott stood in these streets and hissed and booed when King George
III arrived to open Parliament.>>[Cobb] Here in Boston there was certainly
something more ominous than hissing. On the evening of March 5, there where the
Customs House stood, an apprentice taunted a soldier who was on sentry duty. The sentry gave him a rap with his musket,
crowds began to gather, church bells rang out the night signal for a fire. Throughout the growing crowds chunks of ice
were lobbed at the soldier. He was frightened, and cried out for the guard,
“Come [inaudible]”. [interruption]
>>[Becker] Technology!>>[Griffith] In London, a long [inaudible]
post which stood over there. Captain Thomas Preston and eight soldiers
hurried to assist the sentry. When they reached him, they attempted to return
with him. But the crowd was now a dangerous mob. They shouted, “Fire! You dare not fire!” When the Captain fired into the air, it hit
one of the soldiers and he fell to the ground. The soldier got up and he fired.>>[Cobb] One of the men in the crowd attacked
the soldier and Captain Preston with a club. The other soldiers fired. Twelve men lay dead, one dying. It was called a conspiracy by the soldiers,
murder by the Sons of Liberty. Sam Adams called it the Boston Massacre, and
the name stuck.>>[Griffith] I want to say on March 5, 1770,
the very day of that wretched act of provocation in Boston, the Townsend duties were repealed
here in Britain. That is, all but one on tea. And that was —
>>[Becker] And you know what happens with the tea. You can see this whole documentary underscored
the righteousness of the American fight, you can see this obvious attempt at a contrast
between the British perspective and the American perspective. And I love that Kenneth Griffith like could
not be more British in this. In fact the original New York Times review
of this documentary said, “He seems to be trying a Boris Karloff impersonation at an
audition for Monty Python.” But it’s a delicious performance, it’s
really fun to watch. And there’s also such a rich creativity
to this idea of having these two amazing actors narrate how this played out. Occasionally they break into acting out some
of the great speeches of the day. And this also, I think, echoes that there’s
this kind of national, you know, this national righteousness over the Bicentennial of the
Revolution. And that seems to be like, a lot of the network
programming is biopics of the Founding Fathers and such. But the program I found most compelling ultimately
that I’ve seen so far is the regional program that takes you to people and places you might
not otherwise have been exposed to. And my favorite in that regard is a July 4,
1976 newscast from a local station WCKT in Florida. Without any warning, when you tuned in for
the 6 pm news that day, it was a Sunday, here’s what you saw. I’m just going to show you the opening minute
and a half.>>[woman] Representatives of 13 northern
colonies have declared their independence from Great Britain. There are reports that the Continental Army
is massing in Savannah to prepare for an invasion of east Florida, and three slaves have been
hanged in west Florida for applying a slave rebellion. These stories and more coming up.>>[man] Sunday news update ’76 with Conrad
[inaudible].>>[woman] The Continental Congress meeting
in Philadelphia today voted unanimously to adopt a declaration of independence from Great
Britain. The Congress represents the 13 northern colonies. The Floridas east and west were not represented. Wayne Ferris has been following the events
in Philadelphia. Wayne, does this [inaudible]
>>[man] No, it doesn’t. The delegates to the Continental Congress
entered today’s debate with their minds made up. The question was not whether the 13 colonies
would proclaim their independence from Great Britain, but how they would justify the break. Two days ago the Congress sealed the colonists
fate by adopting the resolution dissolving all political ties with Britain. The debate over the wording of the declaration
of independence began immediately after the adoption of that resolution and climaxed today
with the adoption after only a few changes submitted by a five-man committee headed by
Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The declaration is heavily philosophical. It argues that when government fails to promote
the welfare and protect the rights of the people, the people have a right to rebel.>>[Becker] And he goes on then and basically
narrates through the Declaration of Independence as a newsman would through its material. Florida at times you heard was called East
Florida and West Florida. It sided with the Crown, there were loyalists
in Florida. So then next were reports from mayors and
ordinary townspeople voicing why they’re choosing to go against the colonists. I’m going to show you a little bit of this. So this is a news report on the loyalists
who were opposed to the Declaration.>>[woman] As we reported, the Floridas have
not approved the declaration. Richard Whitcomb will have some comment on
that later. In London, King George III had no formal reaction
to the declaration today, but an aide said the declaration came as no surprise to the
King. In St. Augustine, loyalists reacted loudly
to the news of the declaration by burning effigies of the patriots.>>[sound of rioting crowd]
>>[man] A crowd of loyalists marched to the plaza in St. Augustine today carrying with
them effigies of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two of the founders of the separatist movement
in the northern colonies. Shouting jeers and curses, the crowd mounted
the effigies on posts and set them ablaze.>>[jeering crowd]
>>[man] [inaudible] deep in East Florida, many of these people were run out of their
homes in the north by rebel terrorists and came to Florida seeking refuge.>>[man] They won’t leave us alone [inaudible]
>>[woman] A fine king who’s taken care of us all these years and to turn against
him like that. [inaudible]
>>[Becker] So that continues on and then they actually get a sports report and the
news report, so the sports reports on sports of the day—skittles, apparently a type of
lawn bowling—and then there’s a weather report, warm with a westerly wind that could
bring yellow fever and malaria. There’s also—you heard the anger—these
are all regular anchors, sports and news guys—the anchor said we’ll have a, you know, comment
from Richard Whitcomb. That was actually an op-ed where he said he
thought the loyalists were wrong and he argued why they should be on the side of the patriots. You also heard in the beginning tease one
news story, the lynching of three slaves, and this is stunning. I think this is pretty amazing. So here’s that report.>>[woman] Slave owners along the Mississippi
River in west Florida have executed three slaves for plotting a rebellion against their
masters. The planters say the situation is now under
control.>>[man] Things have returned to near normal
on the William Dunbar plantation in west Florida. The slaves are being closely supervised and
work in open areas to avoid potential trouble. Just two days ago these slaves were carrying
away three of their comrades, hanged for plotting a slave rebellion. Another reportedly committed suicide by jumping
from a boat into the river with his hands tied behind his back. Under provincial law, the owner of the slave
who was executed legally is supposed to be reimbursed for the value of the slave. But no money has been appropriated to pay
the slave owners, so other planters chipped in to compensate for Dunbar’s loss. Today back on this plantation near [inaudible]
Dunbar said he still can’t understand the reasons for the slaves’ plot.>>[man] [inaudible] Of course they are slaves
and I expect them to do a fair amount of work. But I treat them fairly. Two of the three Negroes who did this dastardly
deed have never even [inaudible].>>[man] Do you think we’ve seen the last
of a slave rebellion?>>[man] Yes. I trust they have learned their lesson. But I nevertheless expect that we shall see
more of them trying to run away. Whatever the case, we’ll have to keep our
eyes open.>>[man] Prior to the discovery of the plot
there had been talk in west Florida as well as in east Florida of arming slaves to defend
the province against the patriots to the north, as well as the Spanish to the west. But now many owners suspect their slaves would
be just as inclined to use their guns on them as they would on any invaders. Richard Whitcomb at the Dunbar plantation
for Channel 7 news.>>[Becker] And it was a really bracing experience
watching that whole half-hour because it’s fun and campy and so forth, and then you get
a report like that where it just—you know, I had to pause and stop and think about it. In fact I was really impressed, impressed
so much so far at how provocative, challenging, and subversive some of this programming especially
in terms of questioning or calling attention to some of the hypocrisy of the founding principles
given that that’s then and now. So, let’s see, I’m going to try to just
show you briefly this. The next one, an NBC documentary hosted by
David Brinkley, called Life—there are three of them, called Life, Liberty and the Pursuit
of Happiness. They interrogated that notion. This one especially focuses heavily on immigration,
on the idea of the Declaration of Independence as an advertisement. Or E Pluribus Unum—we have many, one, being
something that attracts immigrants to come to the United States. But it explores many of the ways in which
those ideals hadn’t been fulfilled, so there’s a section on a tribe of native Americans living
off the land. Brinkley said, they don’t sit around discussing
what is meant by “E pluribus unum,” they are not many, they are not part of the one,
they have been excluded. And then there’s a segment on the slave
trade which is — let’s skip past that. So he is here in this clip. This is a [inaudible] and they’re basically
a holding pit for slaves that were being sent to America, so he’s on the scene here.>>[Brinkley] Black slaves sold by their own
brothers to be bought by their new masters for the enormous profit of strangers far away,
completely packaged products who were made ready for shipment. Life was sold out of the [inaudible]. For an enslaved African, there was only one
way out of this place alive, it was through that door and that door to a ship waiting
to sail to the New World. What awaited him, he had not the smallest
idea. But whatever it was, he had not asked for
it and did not want it. Beyond that door there is nothing but salt
water all the way to the coast of North and South America. Shackled, chained, bewildered, terrified. He went through that door to the west.>>[Becker] And the jump after that. So he talks about the slave ships and so forth,
and then goes to slavery being outlawed, and then here’s where that picks up at the end.>>[Brinkley] Slavery in the United States
began to disappear at just about the time photography began to appear, just in time
to make a vivid contribution to the record. In our worst war, slavery was of course a
basic [inaudible]. A hundred years later, its effects caused
another American revolution. That part of the Declaration of Independence
is still being argued.>>[Becker] So very broadly, [inaudible] and
now an advertisement, right? It’s always awkward. The thing about watching these movie ads that
would come on. And yet admits the critique, the documentary
also expresses love and admiration for the idea of America, and perhaps most strikingly
so to me in this just one-minute clip, this is Studs Terkel who’s talking to a woman,
she’s an impoverished white woman and she laments the difficulty of her life in America. But then he asks her this:
>>[Terkel] Do you have some [inaudible] feeling about this country, something affirmative
as far as tomorrow is concerned?>>[woman] I never fly in an airplane over
the country without crying, because it’s so beautiful and when you’re up there, you
look down and you’re, you know, away from all the strife and you just, [inaudible] so
you can see, you know? If people didn’t hate each other, they’d
get in heaven. To be afraid of somebody because of a job
or for any reason and you’re just up there and you think oh, how beautiful, you know,
it could be. And that’s my hope. [inaudible]
>>[Becker] So a very striking message to have in there, and one —I’ve got one last
clip for you, but one takeaway is I think to think about how the Bicentennial was both
local and national in nature, but especially this local television providing a really wide
range of views on the Bicentennial, whether that involves reiterating the standard stories,
myths, ideologies, questioning them, or some complex combination thereof. In fact it hearkens back to the Peabody promo
I showed at the start where he talks about we’ve archived the blemishes and the [inaudible]. This is a story of us. So it’s really striking to think of that. I have one last clip for you. This happened while I was watching that condensed
footage of CBS’s 14 hours. So this is one hour, but I’m going to be
honest, it was pretty boring because it was a lot of footage of the tall ships coming
in, which must have been beautiful. You know, you were in the harbor and seeing
these amazing tall ships coming in. But watching like 20 consecutive minutes of
long blurry shots of ships coming in, it got a little tedious and I was, you know, a little
bit close to turning it off. And thank God I didn’t because this is what
showed up.>>[Cronkite] of our Bicentennial broad cast
today will be what we call the Anniversary Reflections. They’re the reflections of a group of eminent
Americans on the significance of this two-hundredth birthday of ours, thoughts on where we’ve
been, where we are now, even where we might be heading. We’ve tried to come up with a representative
group for these reflections, thinkers and doers, young, old, and in-between. People of different political beliefs, from
different regions of the country. Let’s listen first to the anniversary reflections
of Father Theodore Hesburgh, civil rights leader and president of Notre Dame University.>>[Hesburgh] I’d like to think that today
we celebrate this two-hundredth birthday, what we really ought to be celebrating is
a great human adventure. Because as man recognizes the dignity and
the opportunity and equality of all human beings whatever their religion, their culture,
or their race or their color, I think in doing that they become more civilized. And that task is never finished in our country
or in the world. I believe that in this country, in this kind
of microcosmic country of all the world, we somehow have spent two hundred years at that
test. We’ve had our peaks and we’ve had our
valleys. We’ve had high moments, we’ve had very
depressing moments. But somehow today, looking back, it seems
to me that the original promise of that Declaration of the government that was set up under a
new Constitution to achieve those rights and secure those rights, that somehow we’ve
kept faith with that over the past two hundred years. I don’t think we have to be discouraged
for the time ahead, because we have the past and the past indeed today should be prologue
to the future.>>[Becker] So that’s an incredible sentiment
or thought, and especially one that I think is great to end on. But I have one final thought about the importance
of our [inaudible] TV industry like this and the importance of the historian watching past
the boring parts to get to the good stuff, I guess. As the Peabody video said at the start, these
stories are kept safe, never forgotten. And I think thanks to that [inaudible] profound
statement from Father Hesburgh. So I’m going to close there. I would love to have any questions you have,
but also any of you who have memories of the Bicentennial you’d like to share, especially
as I said I’m only just starting to scratch the surface so I’d love to hear anyone’s
thoughts on television you saw or any other celebration, or any other questions you might
have about the Bicentennial or the Peabody collection. [applause]
>>[questioner inaudible]>>[Becker] Yeah, he looked pretty good. Now the hour compiles and I think it goes
across the day. And he’s still going pretty strong and I’m
sure they gave him a few breaks and so forth, because they cut to other pieces and reporters
and so forth. But you know, he must have gotten a good night’s
sleep the night before, because he stays pretty strong. It’s impressive. You know, he won a Peabody for it. Other questions? Yeah.>>[questioner] What kind of medium were you
looking at to see all this?>>[Becker] Yeah, so a lot of the material
in the Peabodys is on videotape, and then they went to DVD and now they’re digitizing
all of it. So all the clips that you saw are digitized. I had to ask—there’s about one-third of
the Bicentennial collection that is not—like I couldn’t even show up in Washington, it’s
either on film or video and I asked them to upload that stuff online. So they’re getting all that online so I
can watch all of that. But that’s the state of it now, they’re
posting the stuff online. And that the archiving question is a huge
one: how do you preserve this? You know, and how do you make sure that it’s
in a form that a hundred years from now it’s not going to be obsolete, like, you know,
whatever digital technologies ten years ago we can’t use anymore. But right now the effort is to digitize a
lot of this. It’s not available to the public. You have to have a special, basically a special
password to access it. But I’m hopeful that’s something that
would eventually come along as well. Because this is, you know, this is—and none
of this is on Youtube. The Jessica Tandy one is from Youtube, there’s
a few bicentennial minutes that are on Youtube, but I checked to see if any of the other stuff
was on Youtube, and it’s not available. And you know, this is just such amazing stuff
that we watched. Yes?>>[questioner] So yes, I do remember the
Freedom Train very well, growing up outside of Chicago. You know, the big thing was when it came through
to put a coin on the tracks and then, you know, take that home as your souvenir. I have a question about Schoolhouse Rocks,
because they did a, there was a great one about the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. And I don’t know if you would know this
off the top of your head, but was that specifically created for the Bicentennial?>>[Becker] Actually I do know off the top
of my head, because I had a bit in here on it and I had to cut it for time. I wanted to make sure I didn’t take up too
much time. So, yeah. So Schoolhouse Rock was a show created to
create—it was inspired by advertising, free advertising like songs, like three-minute
bits to [inaudible]. So yeah, ’75 and ’76 it was a series called
America Rock, and so there was—I’m just a bill, declaration of this, a preamble, there
was one on women’s suffrage. There were about ten of them, I think, yeah. And so yeah, that was part of that. They never won a Peabody, they were never
submitted. You have to submit to get a Peabody, and I
don’t know why they didn’t submit. But—and there was plenty of children’s
programming back then submitted. There was some really intriguing programs. So for instance there’s an animated program
of what life would have been like for an 8-year-old boy under British rule in the colonies. So there’s some of that children’s programming. But yeah, that’s some of the most memorable
stuff. I could sing “I’m Just a Bill” up here
today!>>[questioner] When I imagine of the Bicentennial
happened today, and I think of how we would cover it I cringe. Because of the, you know, increased number
of channels, dramatically increased cynicism. I wonder if at that time, is there ratings
information? You know, because I’m wondering is there
anybody under 20 who’s watching these things. What was that really like?>>[Becker] that would be a, you know, local
ratings would be very difficult for a researcher to find. You know, Nielsen might have that warehoused
somewhere, but it’s not something that’s easy to find. You know, the other important thing to think
about is how much local television has changed today in terms of, these were really kind
of independent local entities and now so many of our local stations are part of station
groups that are much less local in their orientation and more, you know, kind of programming that
is farmed out to the entirety of that station group. So that’s another significant difference. But yeah, that notion like who was watching
this and, you know, did the young people care about the Bicentennial and so forth. Or, you know, thinking about different audiences,
so get [inaudible] audiences versus a more conservative audience or a black audience
or a Native American audience. You know, as far as ratings, I’m not sure
how that information can be found. Apparently—so the Peabody archives also
have some associated materials, so you can submit your Peabody, excuse me, the copy of
your show and any other materials you want, and so there is—in fact the Florida newscast
got a letter from a local principal, principal of a local grade school, who said “Thank
you for this, I’m going to show this, I’m showing this to my students and I loved it,
that you can educate with this kind of thing.” So there’s some of that material in the
collection where you can get, you know, letters. And there are including like letters and complaints
about some of the programming where they try to capture—and especially for the Peabodys
a letter of complaint isn’t bad, necessarily, especially if it’s something where they’re
responding to this as provocative, and you want to make a claim that this is public service
programming, right, and this is something that stirred up a conversation. So I guess there’s no easy answer to that
question. That’s the kind of thing that would take
a lot of research on the ground and probably a bunch of different, you know, different
archives to find that kind of detail. But, so it’s a great question.>>[questioner] I remember one of the themes
of the Bicentennial was Discover America. They gave maps of all the states and they
were trying to get people to visit all the states. And I didn’t get a chance to do it for 30
years, and I finally made it to all the states, and then it took another five years to do
all the state capitals. But the one thing I do remember that year,
I did visit every [inaudible] in my state. It was inspired by that Discover America theme.>>[Becker] Yeah. And that’s makes sense. There was, so shelves had a whole bunch of
maps that were Bicentennial-themed, so that you could pick up, you know, your map from
the gas station and have Bicentennial landmarks. This is another thing that really comes across
in the documentary program about places. So there’s a documentary about Norfolk and
about these—it’s actually, again it’s frankly kind of boring because it’s like
a shot of “here’s a church, something happened here.” But it’s clearly, to me it seems geared
toward come to Norfolk and come see this church, right? Maybe it’s even calculated to be boring,
right? So like, why doesn’t that person prefer
it to be interesting? So there’s a lot of that kind of programming,
which is about—and partly of course there’s a tourism motive there, right? To get people to come to your place. But I think there’s this fascinating both
pride and interrogation of the meaning of those places, right, of what happened on this
spot. And I think that’s one reason why that Suddenly
an Eagle documentary is so fascinating, seeing them stand in those places and point and say,
here’s where this happened. So yeah, that’s, I’ll look into that one,
the notion that was another coordinated theme. But that makes sense with a lot of the programming
I’ve seen. Yes?>>[questioner] I remember we were in the
New York metropolitan area, there was a lot of complaint that this is the birthday of
our country, not a Tall Ships thing. Because that was such a big deal and amazing
to see, but it just, it took too much precedence in that area.>>[Becker] Yeah. Well that’s a problem that watching that
hour. And the thing is, for that hour they were
trying to pick out the best, most excellent stuff from that hour and literally like half
of it was tall ships. But I also think it’s striking that there
were multiple reflections and they picked Father Hesburgh’s, that that was the one
they wanted to communicate to the Peabodys, that this was excellence. But yeah, I was actually struck—because
I had heard going in, I knew about the Tall Ships—if you don’t know about the Tall
Ships, it’s a bunch of, you know, sail training vessels, yeah. So it had a kind of majestic entry into New
York harbor. But yeah, and so this becomes part of the
debates around the Bicentennial: what exactly should we celebrate, and what should we spend
time honoring. And so yeah, it’s an interesting—
>>[questioner] I remember the night before, they were all anchored out and we went to
the Jersey Shore and [inaudible] motor boat and went between them. [inaudible] To see some of these other things,
and other parts, that’s a much more reflective kind of [inaudible]
>>[Becker] Yeah. I think that’s especially where you get
that local content. So if you were in New York, you were able
to go close to seeing them which I think would be amazing. And then, you know, it’s so fascinating
to think about what Floridian [inaudible] and especially like a Floridian who maybe
didn’t know their ancestors in that area were loyalists to the Crown and, you know,
how, what does that make you think about that history. So yeah, I’ve especially been taken by watching
the local programming that [inaudible] everything in that area.>>[questioner] One other thing about the
Tall Ships, one of the main staging areas for the Tall Ships was Baltimore harbor, and
at the time Baltimore harbor was a not very pleasant place to visit, it was really really
awful. And the local government was stunned that
thousands and thousands of people came down to the harbor to see those ships, and it was
the beginning of the renaissance of the downtown.>>[Becker] Oh wow, yeah. That also fits with this, you know, encouragement
by the ARBA which, God love Indiana, came up with 937 things to justify of, you know,
let’s make—especially that Horizons ’76 idea, let’s make this a better place. I also like kind of what you’re saying there,
that almost unexpectedly then you have this happen and people respond and say okay, this
is a worthy place to restore. So that, and that’s especially kind of a
long-term impact. It would be really fascinating to try to trace
out those kind of pockets where that had an impact.>>[questioner] They have the same impact
on Newport, Rhode Island, which had suffered a decline with the move-out of the Navy, and
the place where the Tall Ships assembled the entire fleet was in late June in Newport,
and then half of the fleet went to Boston and the other half went to New York harbor
for the Fourth of July celebration. But Newport had it all a week before, and
it was a tremendous impetus to tourism in Newport and to the revitalization of Newport.>>[Becker] Yeah, and that’s fascinating
if you consider this one small example, that then expands in terms of its relevance and
importance.>>[questioner] Just a general question about
the media historians. Is the objective to look at media as a reflection
of the culture of the times, to see how marketing was done, production quality—what are kind
of the key questions that media historians are looking to do with their research?>>[Becker] I would say all of those things
and more. You know, sort of looking at these programs
as an historical record, as a record of time, as a, you know, record of how we told stories
at a certain time, what got told or didn’t get told. There’s also that notion of, you know, technology
itself and how, what was this material shot, you know, what were the ways in which television
was used to communicate ideas. The—and even, frankly, the notion of, one
of our group is doing a project on the, what does it mean to say this is worth a Peabody,
right? Or what does it mean to say, the Schoolhouse
Rock people thought oh, I’m not going to bother to submit this, this isn’t Peabody
worthy. Or like how we make these distinctions. And then also television in general, which
tends to be kind of too low on the scale of cultural importance. Where does that come from? And then what are the larger implications
of that, especially being that a lot of television culture’s kind of tossed away. My favorite example, returning to British
television, that fifties and sixties TV was so disposable that BBC literally taped over
videotapes of important shows like Doctor Who. There are Doctor Who episodes we’ll never
see because they didn’t think it was important, it was just TV. So they recorded over it for something else. So that’s another thing we interrogate too,
about what meaning does television have in a culture.>>[Holland] And we forget how much TV was
live. If plays were repeated they had to be performed
again. You couldn’t tape and then rebroadcast. Any number of places I’d be working on TV
drama you get that [inaudible]. Can I remind everybody that Saturday Scholars
gets posted on the Notre Dame website under Saturday Scholars. It takes us a week or so until we get the
video ready to post. We want to tell all the people to listen to
Chris and watch the clips, do look in a week or two under Saturday Scholars and you’ll
find it. You’ll already find the first ones from
the series as well as previous series. Notre Dame prides itself on the excellence
of its teachers, but you now appreciate exactly why Chris Becker is one of the outstanding
teachers at the University.


Leave a Reply