O.k., bear with me here. Local late night scary movie host Sammy Terry has passed away. (Tidbit from the article I hadn’t known – George the spider was voiced by Cowboy Bob.) I pretty much only watched Sammy Terry when I was up later than I was supposed to be — sleep overs in late elementary school and early middle school mostly. Still, news of his passing gave me a great pang of nostalgia. (The passing reference to Cowboy Bob — who I watched a lot reinforced that nostalgia.)
Lafayette Journal & Courier columnist and editor Dave Bangert asked on Twitter, “Is there anything close to this local, pop culture bond for today’s kids?” My response was “The Internet has brought us many things, but I don’t think there is any doubt that it has eroded our sense of place.” He noted similar feelings with respect to local radio when MTV was on the rise.
This brought me back to a theme to which I like to return periodically. What did Golden Age Athens have that we don’t?
I find it interesting that great historical and cultural advances came out of population centers that we would consider too small to make much of a cultural impact today. Golden Age Athens had only a couple hundred thousand people, I think. So, I wonder what it was about those places, times, and people that led to a cultural flowering with resources we’d consider fairly limited today.
Occasionally I get to wondering about how our entertainment culture has changed over the years. I hear stories about the days when big musical names traveling to small venues in mid-sized towns around the state. You occasionally see defunct opera houses in the oddest places. And, going way back, great classical plays were produced in Athens with a population of about 100,000 — less than the population of Tippecanoe County.
I suppose the abundance and ease of movies, television, and recorded music has made us less likely to produce our own entertainment locally and less likely to go to a live venue to see this stuff. I confess that I don’t take advantage of even the opportunities that are still available to me. So, I don’t have room to complain. But, it seems like we’ve probably lost something valuable by not having local, live entertainment being as vital a part of the community. Certainly, it’s a mistake to think you need to have a city of millions to produce quality entertainment.
Granted, it’s tough to seriously identify Sammy Terry with a “cultural flowering” or even necessarily with “quality entertainment.” But there was something unique to place and time that was able to arise when television was relatively new and markets were local. It’s the explosion of growth that’s made possible when a niche is wide open. Eventually, the ecosystem matures, more marginal forms are crowded out, and the resources are monopolized by a few relatively efficient forms.
So, too, in Golden Age Athens, the human resources of the area were available to the community of Athens, not diverted elsewhere; and the economic and other resources of Athens were available to the individuals living there, not diverted elsewhere. Additionally, I’m starting to recognize that a lot of the Greek success had to do with the newness of writing – particularly alphabetic writing – and the new modes of thought it permitted. This was the, as yet, unexplored niche that led to explosive creativity and, frankly, picking of a lot of the low hanging fruit.
Born in the 70s, I see echoes in the video game industry (how is that for a segue?): game systems like the Commodore 64 and the Atari 2600 seemingly had vast oceans of game titles – with incredible variability in quality. Now, from my no-longer-a-gamer perspective, it seems that the industry is dominated by relatively few titles with more predictable quality. There are parallels in the dotcom boom days of the Internet – lots of energy and new things being tried, followed by a bust and rise of more stable giants. Sammy Terry was probably a reflection of a similar dynamic in the television industry.
But, I suppose I digress. My initial thought was whether it’s possible, or even desirable, to maintain that sense of place and take efforts to focus local resources and local talent on the benefit of the local population. (Local being a relative term, of course.) Or, is it simply the case, that now that easy world-wide communication (and, to a lesser extent physical travel) is readily available; focus on the locality is or will soon become an anachronism?