07 January 2016

Radio in the 1930s was often maligned in the same way that video games et al are today

It’s a new year and Christmas is now a memory.

I realized after the holiday that for the first time in a few years, my family and I hadn’t watched “A Christmas Story.”  I always enjoy watching this movie.

I was reminded of this when I read a Smithsonian.com article written last month that I had put in my queue of “read when I have a chance links.”  The piece is American Children Faced Great Dangers in the 1930s, None Greater Than “Little Orphan Annie”

It mentions the aforementioned movie and also reminds us that many of the claims made today against the current media that enthrall children, young adults (and even adults) were also made back in the 1930s ...

Many claims about the harm allegedly caused by violent video games, movies, and other media today—that they turn kids into violent criminals, rob them of sleep, and wreak havoc with their nervous systems—were lobbed just as strongly at radio in the 1930s. “These broadcasts are dealing exclusively with mystery and murder,” wrote a Brooklyn mother to the Times in 1935. “They result in an unhealthy excitement, unnecessary nervousness, irritability and restless sleep.”

In the past when I’ve watched the movie, I’ve just enjoyed what seemed to be a slight exaggeration of what life was like at the time.  As a child of the tv generation and not the radio generation, as it is portrayed, it all seemed relatively tame and just the fanciful musings of a child. Yet as I think about the power of the imagination, pandering to exciting story lines, and the explicit link to advertising and much more, I better appreciate the cultural revolution that the movie depicts.

It makes me wonder whether there was a cultural revolution before the radio?  If so, what was it and were parents as horrified of the influence of that newfangled idea?

And, advertising is so ingrained in our lives – it’s everywhere!  As our 19th century (and earlier ancestors) lived their lives – were they as bombarded by advertising as we are?  I think not since it was harder to spread the word.  Clearly even early newspapers had lots of advertisements in them.  I suspect that handbills were posted on boards about town and inside establishments.  Probably people would “hawk” products along the streets and still you could find sanctuary in your own home; I suspect.

As I sometimes muse, an article like the one by the Smithsonian reminds me of the context of when my ancestors lived. It also makes me more aware of how today is both similar and different from say the 1930s.  I love historical fiction, or in this case a form of reminiscing, since it really does help me see my dad as the Ralphie of his neighborhood -- geeky glasses and a well-developed imagination!.

Editor’s Note: As I was noodling around the internet about the movie, I learned that there is A Christmas Story House restored as it was in the movie and open to the public with an associated Museum across the street.

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