There are many reality shows on TV, but not much in the way of reality. I think the reason these shows are so popular is that viewers are desperately seeking a window into the real world.
Wasn’t that TV’s original purpose? It was intended to be intelligent, informative and provocative. But it didn’t take long for it to go off the rails into fantasyland. I was recently reminded of TV’s promising beginnings while watching documentaries about Edward R. Murrow.
Before you say “Edward R. Who?,” let me say that he invented the job of TV anchorman. Without him, we wouldn’t have had those famous talking heads like Cronkite, Rather and the late Peter Jennings. Murrow was not only the first, he was way better than anyone who followed.
He had this notion that TV should keep the public informed of the world around them. He also had a brilliant technique: showing little stories to reflect the big picture. He devoted a prime-time documentary to a seemingly insignificant campaign for a school referendum, because he felt it reflected national attitudes toward funding education. His Christmas special on the Korean War began with an indelible image: a Marine wordlessly scraping away at the frozen ground trying to dig a foxhole.
Before the advent of TV, Murrow gained fame as a radio anchorman. While bombs rained down on London, he broadcast from a rooftop. He was brave enough to fly bombing missions over Germany, reporting that the bombs lighting up Berlin looked like rice tossed on black velvet.
Most importantly, Murrow took on Senator Joseph McCarthy at the height of the red scare. It was an era like our own: the country sharply divided between those who feared a shadowy enemy and those who feared losing their individual freedoms.
By 1960, however, Murrow was fed up with TV. He said that it had lapsed into escapism. Escapism is now our principal means of entertainment, but some of us still hunger for reality. We want more stories about children forced to pick strawberries, soldiers trying to shovel permafrost and bombastic politicians hanging themselves with their own words and actions.
All of this is a very long way of saying that it’s little stories that make up the mosaic we call Forest Park. It’s three couples celebrating their 60th wedding anniversaries at Altenheim; it’s a bus bench lovingly dedicated to a family matriarch; it’s a young man going off to school in China; it’s a woman painstakingly building castles on her lawn.
We need more of these “little stories” that give us a window into life. I try to spot little stories on my own but I welcome your input. And, if you’re the woman who called us about pigeon racing, I apologize because I misplaced your number. Please call back. We can’t afford to miss any of Forest Park’s stories if we’re ever going to understand the reality of our community.