Thursday, June 09, 2011

Rome, sweet Rome

I am half of a Waltons family.

My wife and I both were devotees back during the television series' first-run days in the 1970s and early '80s, and we try never to miss our daily, syndicated trip back to Waltons Mountain today.

The only trouble is this: The channel where we get our nightly fix of Mama and Daddy, John-Boy and Mary Ellen, Jason and Erin, and Ben, Jim-Bob, and Elizabeth also features some of the worst low-budget commercials to ever curse a television screen. The only ray of light is that the faith-based INSP channel doesn't air Enzyte ads.

So, during commercials, I flip over to CNN or MSNBC. And something has become clear to me during these word-from-our-pathetic-sponsors interludes -- The Waltons represents programming far more serious and intelligent than anything on the cable-news channels.

TONIGHT, I kept cutting away from Jason fighting the Nazis in Germany in the run-up to VE Day to talking heads speaking in grave tones about Rep. Anthony Weiner's wiener. More precisely, I kept dropping in on Lawrence and Rachel and Eliot seeing the Republicans' attacks on a Democratic congressman and his junk, then raising them Sen. David Vitter's hooker problem and Newt Gingrich's scandal of the day from back in the day.

Then I would return to The Waltons and a world of homefront sacrifice and battlefield tragedy, circa 1945.

Ike and Corabeth struggling with keeping their customers in food and gas in the age of wartime rationing. Jason trying to hold a shellshocked soldier together as they hunted German holdouts. The shellshocked soldier coming to himself not in the service of killing, but in risking his life to avoid killing a young German infantryman who didn't believe the war was over. John-Boy, meantime, was falling in love with the prettiest woman in France, but ended up torn away from her when the war in the Pacific intruded, landing brother Ben in a Japanese POW camp and calling the first-born son back to Waltons Mountain . . . to his family.

MEANWHILE, on Piers Morgan Tonight, the worldly travails of Sarah Ferguson -- one of which was, apparently, being injected with so much Botox that the upper half of her face has ceased to move whenever she talks . . . which, as it turns out, is much too often.

Of course, one doesn't have to retreat to Waltons Mountain, 1945, to encounter ample tragedy, human drama, and existential gravitas. There's plenty of that today.

Americans find themselves at war, one way or another, in no less than four Middle Eastern countries. In fact, young Americans junior-high age and younger have no memory of a time when this nation was not at war in that region.

Those wars, during that time, have played no small role in bringing the United States to the edge of insolvency. So has a decade of living beyond our means. So has several more years of dealing with the economic collapse Wall Street's (and our) excesses precipitated.

Tens of millions of Americans now owe more on mortgages than their homes are worth. Tens of millions more are out of work. The economy continues to tap dance along the edge of a bottomless chasm.

Not that any of that matters when there are Republicans to bash and Democrats to paint as enemies of God and man. Not when we have Anthony Weiner's wiener to wield as an X-rated weapon in political combat -- which just happens to double as kinky infotainment in a country as polarized as it's been since 1865.

I WONDER how many of those condemning the congressman from New York are guilty of the same thing. I wonder how many of those defending him truly don't see what the big deal is, anyway.

I wonder how many see the whole sordid mess as just another excuse to engage in tribal warfare -- not over any grand principle, but just because they hate Them.

While Americans were otherwise occupied, we stumbled so far off track into decadence and internecine warfare that even columnists for London's left-leaning Guardian newspaper openly wonder whether their American cousins are standing at the crossroads of Britain, 1914 and Rome, A.D. 200. And still we cannot see the forest for the . . . well, never mind.

I suppose it is ever thus in societies a lot nearer The End than they think.

No comments: