Assignment: 1965: The Social Security Act of 1965

There’s nothing to kill whatever momentum and readership I have than to talk about politics. And even better, it’s talk about Medicare and Medicaid, but without all the “fun” (not really) of “THANKS OBAMA!” and “Get your government hands off my Medicare!” shouting and insanity of the Affordable Care Act. So, yes, this isn’t exactly sexy times here on Star Trek Debriefed.

It is, however, July 30th, 1965. It’s a bad week for tobacco in the United States and England, as President Johnson signs into law legislation requiring that tobacco products carry health warnings (though we are years away from the familiar “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING” disclaimer) on the 28th, and England just flat out bans TV advertising for tobacco on the various regional versions of ITV (the only commercial network in the UK at the time) tomorrow. And in a supreme act of cynicism, President Johnson increases the number of troops in Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000 on the same day he signs the tobacco thing into law. Also, J.K. Rowling is born on the 31st, making for the only mention of Harry Potter in this project (because this is absolutely not a blog about my college years, nor the years of underachievement that have followed). But the most effective and long-lasting bit of business is the amendments to the Social Security Act that President Johnson signs into law.

The idea of government-provided health insurance in the US goes as far back as 1912 and Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidential campaign platform (which went unfulfilled). Later, the labor unions and socialist organizations began pushing for it, as well, but were ultimately opposed by the American Medical Association (employing failed B-movie actor and general piece of garbage Ronald Reagan, but that’s another story for another day), the American Hospital Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and something called the Life Insurance Association of People. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had pushed for health insurance for all under the original Social Security Act, but was forced to drop it due to the opposition, and while President Truman had also tried to pass it through, the conversation was merely shifted towards providing health coverage to the elderly.

By the ’60s, however, attitudes were changing, and a law was inevitable, with Johnson’s landslide election in 1964 (and the ensuing sweep through Congress, which effectively neutered the Southern Democrats’ power) being the tipping point. The AMA tried drafting a bill though its paid stooges allies in Congress, but were rebuffed, while the passed law was largely the Johnson Administration’s bill with some elements of Republican Congressman John Byrnes’ bill. The signing of the bill was a classic example of political theater: it was held in Independence, Missouri, with former President Truman and his wife, Bess, present, and they were named as the first recipients of Medicare, as well. I’m not sure that anyone scored that high on the patriotism scale until The Colbert Report hit the air.

Of course, on its face, providing health coverage for Grammy and Grandpa (and even footing the bill if they end up being poor in their old age) seems like a slam dunk, and the continued viability of the program is certainly one of the key motivations behind the votes of the elderly these days (a demographic group which can be trusted to vote in higher proportion than the rest of the population). The problem is, outside of some fairly limited expansions in coverage, Medicare and Medicaid have made no further progress towards FDR’s original intention of health insurance for all Americans. Sure, we have the Affordable Care Act, which fines the hell out of Americans at tax time if they don’t have insurance and provides some subsidies for the poor and unemployed, but this is not a substantial improvement, since health care still costs too much in this country and it only limits the number of dirty tricks the private insurance companies can pull while expanding the pool of paying customers. Worse yet, Medicare and Medicaid are one of those so-called “entitlements” that budget hawks and Republicans like to single out as costing taxpayers too much. Like oh so many issues I’ll be touching upon from this ’60s on this blogging project, The Social Security Act of 1965 started to solve a pressing problem in this country, but was treated as if no more work was necessary.

Next week, even more US legislation!

Assignment: 1965: Dylan Goes Electric

“Judas!”

“I don’t believe you. You’re a liar!”-Bob Dylan, responding to a heckler at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England on May 17th, 1966

Now, for a real controversy in popular music. None of that half-hearted crying over song lyrics or honors bestowed to the Beatles-this is the real deal, here.

It’s July 25th, 1965. Since last we spoke, Alex Winter (most popularly known as the eponymous “Bill” in the Bill & Ted movies) was born on the 17th. But, seriously, the one major event is that folk music superstar Bob Dylan, five days after releasing “Like A Rolling Stone” as a single, shocks everyone at the Newport Folk Festival by playing an electric set with a “rock” sound.

The pretext, as previously mentioned, was that Bob Dylan was becoming increasingly interested in becoming a rock ‘n roll star. Besides his meeting with the Beatles, Dylan had released a half-acoustic/half-electric album in Bringing It All Back Home in March, and besides being a classic, it featured his break from protest folk music (“Maggie’s Farm”) and his first hit single (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which also sounds suspiciously like a piece of proto-rap). Suddenly, Dylan was moving towards a more personal and less overtly political style, and he was doing it by merging folk with rock ‘n roll. And with “Like A Rolling Stone” (which follows in the footsteps on “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), Dylan was announcing to the world that he was now a rock star.

For whatever reason, however, Dylan performed a three-song set at Newport on the 24th acoustically, but it’s alleged that he was offended by remarks made by Alan Lomax (organizer of the festival and a major force in the preservation and promotion of folk music) about the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, whom Lomax had personally introduced earlier. But whatever the reasons, Dylan quickly assembled a band (three of whom were in fact members of Butterfield’s band) and rehearsed that night. So, on the evening of the 25th, Dylan and his makeshift band performed, a total of three songs, and created one of the great controversies in modern music history.

The obvious, popular, and famous storyline is that Dylan did just what he set out to do: piss off snobby folk music fans right in front of their faces. Other interpretations hold that people were upset about the poor sound system or the brief length of the set (as with the day before, a mere three songs). However, all evidence implies that Dylan (who is notoriously hard to pin down) considered the reaction to be a sign of disapproval from the people at the Newport Folk Festival, and he  has outright said that the lack of enthusiasm from Pete Seeger was like “a dagger in my heart”. (Seeger, for his part, was upset over the sound system, and some accounts have him threatening to cut the line to Dylan’s mic with an axe, which seems like a fairly comical claim to me.) The result, however, was that it energized Dylan (who before “Like A Rolling Stone” was drained and burned out), and resulted in Highway 61 Revisited, which is widely (and rightfully) considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time. For rock music, it meant that the genre suddenly had an artist who was writing more than happy loves songs, and more importantly, an artist selling records hand over fist by writing more than happy love songs. “Like A Rolling Stone” was also over 6 minutes long, which was the first true challenge to the pop music mandate of songs topping out at three minutes long. Columbia wanted to split the song into across the sides of the single, but was persuaded not to by Dylan and his fans. Furthermore, radio stations were convinced to play the song in its entirety. And while Columbia in particular would continue releasing edited singles well into the ’70s (and releasing them almost exclusively on Greatest Hits albums of the era as late as 1980), this was a major landmark in ending the practice of editing song length for radio.

There is, of course, one other significant result of Dylan going electric: it represented the first true challenge to the British Invasion in rock music. While pop and especially R&B (which was dominated by Motown Records) provided plenty of songs on the charts, Bob Dylan was the first artist that could be relied to compete with the Beatles, Stones, and other UK imports dominating the charts. And he would not be the last by a long shot.

Next week, we go from the world of rock ‘n roll to….health care?

Assignment: 1965/Priority One Alert: Filming “Where No Man Has Gone Before”

It’s July 16th, 1965. Two days ago, Adlai Stevenson, the US ambassador to the United Nations and two-time loser to President Eisenhower, died. And tomorrow, the Righteous Brothers will release their version of “Unchained Melody”, the second of the duo’s signature hits, and since I don’t plan on talking about Ghost, this will be the only time I mention the song. So, ultimately, not a huge week in history. But still, at the Desilu studios in Hollywood, on-set rehearsal begin for the second pilot of that Star Trek thing that this blog is supposed to be primarily about.

In case you haven’t noticed, 1965 isn’t exactly a hotbed of Star Trek activity. One episode was produced in the entire calendar year (with a second having been in post production and presented at the start of the year), and it was turned into NBC right after New Year’s Day 1966 (which is when I intend to post the review at present). This leaves five posts with which to introduce the new cast and crew, and a sixth to discuss the wait for the series to be greenlit by NBC, which I may or may not post next year. So, at most, 7 of the 24 posts for the rest of the year will actually be fully Star Trek-related. So, if you’ve been following the posts on Twitter or Facebook (or maybe even Google+, which I post to and totally ignore) and have just groaned while I post about ’80s TV or 1965 history (and mostly the former), things are looking up. And even though I’m dead set on posting the review for “The Man Trap” on the 50th anniversary of its original airing, there’s quite a bit more to talk about tied directly to Star Trek than just the three measly episodes.

So, if you’ve been frustrated with the posts or even enjoying them immensely, hang on tight. Things are just starting to get interesting.

Next week, it’s more talk about music, and another huge controversy, because apparently those damn kids and their loud rock ‘n roll music were only interested in causing trouble in 1965.

Assignment: 1965: The Rolling Stones

It’s July 10th, 1965. The US Air Force scores its first aerial victory of the Vietnam War by shooting down two MiG-17s. The day prior, that little-known husband-and-wife act that appeared on American Bandstand a month ago releases their first single, “I Got You Babe”. (The song will become an iconic hit and make Sonny & Cher incredibly famous.) On the 8th, at 1PM in Venice Beach, California, two college friends, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, meet and decide to form a band, which they decide to call The Doors. On the 7th, Otis Redding recorded “Respect”, which will become one of the most popular R&B songs of all time….but not for Redding. In music, two new #1s were crowned: Beatles VI (the latest bastardized Capitol Beatles album, culling tracks from Beatles For Sale, the forthcoming Help!, “Yes It Is”, and two covers recorded specifically for America) and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, by The Rolling Stones.

As with the Beatles, I really don’t need to give a biography of the Stones, because they are that famous (and, with some lineup changes, still active to this day). And depending on who you talk to, the Stones, not the Beatles, are the greatest rock ‘n roll group ever. (I favor the Beatles, myself, though not by much.) One thing is certain: the Rolling Stones were a bluesier, dirtier, and more dangerous band than the Beatles. The exploits of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who would eventually become known as The Glimmer Twins, are near legendary. And, pound for pound, their songwriting partnership is at least the equal of the famous Lennon/McCartney team that dominated The Beatles’ albums. However, while Paul McCartney was eventually knighted by Queen Elizabeth herself (as is the tradition), she refused to be present when Jagger was knighted (and Jagger received a lower ranking as well). And Richards makes John Lennon look like a choir boy in comparison.

Which leads us to “Satisfaction”. The main riff, one of the most famous in history, is far darker than anything the Beatles were doing at the time-and one of the great happy accidents in rock history. Richards recorded the part with a fuzzbox to indicate where horns would play in the finished song, but Richards and Jagger were outvoted by the rest of band and the production staff. The decision only emphasized the gritty nature of the song, which is blatantly sexual (and specifically, about sexual frustration) with a side order of sarcastic criticism of commercialism. Moral guardians of the day were outraged. Upon release in the Stones’ native country, the BBC banned the song from being broadcast, which the various pirate stations were happy to capitalize on. Humorously, the line that caused the greatest fuss, about getting “girl reaction” (which was perceived as Jagger pleading for a loose woman to satisfy his needs) was far from the dirtiest line in the song: Jagger is told to return the following week because the girl is on “a losing streak”, which was a reference to menstruation.

There is an ironic postscript to the controversy over the lyrics: many years later, while performing at the halftime of Super Bowl XL, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the only of the three songs The Rolling Stones performed that evening that was not censored on the basis of having sexually explicit lyrics.

Mirror, Mirror: The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show

A pedant would argue (and not entirely without merit, I guess) that calling The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show (or The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner HourThe Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy HourThe Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show, or The Bugs Bunny Show at various other points in its long and storied run) the greatest Saturday morning cartoon ever is a bit facetious since 99% of its content (especially in my lifetime, when all of the bridging sequences created for the show in the ’60s were finally cut out for time) was old theatrical cartoons.

This thinking is, quite frankly, a complete load of bullshit.

The great thing about kids is that they generally do not judge if a show is older than sin, or in reruns, or any of that business. It’s all about if the show is good, and not only were these the classic Warner Bros. shorts, but the core pool of cartoons consisted of the 1948-1964 period where Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Robert McKimson were the primary directors. Jones in particular was on fire during this period, but all three directors were responsible for some stone cold classics, and The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show kept their memory alive for forty years. The show survived the turbulent ’60s, censorship, the E/I rules, CBS trying to sabotage the show in 1985, and even Disney buying ABC. That is some serious staying power.

The original incarnation of the show, The Bugs Bunny Show, was actually a prime time series on ABC, running for two seasons with integrated bridging segments. These segments were directed by Jones, Freleng, and McKimson themselves (which resulted in them having to temporarily abandon their theatrical units), which animation from many of the top animators (the segment from the opening seen above was animated by Freleng unit animator Gerry Chiniquy, for instance). The vaudeville motif was adapted from the Friz Freleng-directed short, “Show Biz Bugs”, one of the better Bugs-vs.-Daffy rivalry cartoons, and many of the bridging sequences liberally borrowed from other fairly recent cartoons. The series also had the benefit of helping to keep the Warner animation department running as the market for theatrical shorts continued to collapse. (Warner would, in fact, shut down the animation studio around a year after production on The Bugs Bunny Show wrapped.) By the fall of 1962, the series had begun its run on Saturday mornings, and after moving to CBS in 1968, it was merged with The Road Runner Show, and other than a short period in the early ’70s when the two programs were on different networks, they stayed joined together until CBS gave up on the show for the last time in the ’80s.

And this is where my childhood starts. Despite being the centerpiece of their Saturday morning schedule, CBS started to tire of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. Part of this seems to be tied into the no-win scenario over the cartoon violence: CBS had begun to censor shorts upon reacquiring the series in 1977 to placate parents’ groups like Peggy Charren’s Action for Children’s Television, but this was also around the time that appreciation for Golden Age cartoons (especially of the Warner canon) started to reach the mainstream. Chuck Jones assembled The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie in 1979 in part to address this newfound popularity (and also to debunk certain over the top claims that fellow Warner Bros. director Bob Clampett had made during the ’70s that managed to upset many of the surviving Warner staff, but Jones in particular), and made certain to include bits that were censored on CBS. The later compilation movies helmed by Friz Freleng would also include bits censored from TV airings (including most of the ending gag for “Show Biz Bugs”, which was completely removed from the CBS airings at the time The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie was released). This reached a boiling point when a TV Guide columnist asked both Warner Bros. and CBS in 1983 who was responsible for the edits, and both parties blamed the other. The next season was the last on CBS, and it seemed as if the show was being openly sabotaged: “This Is It” was jettisoned for a completely new (and much worse) theme song, as was the vaudeville motif.

Sadly, while I’d like to say that ABC was a far better steward for what they called The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show, the reality is that they chopped up cartoons even more over the course of the following decade and a half, aided by new video editing tools (The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show as broadcast on CBS was one of the last cartoons mastered and delivered to the network on film, as opposed to video tape). And while “This Is It” was restored, the original animation was jettisoned in favor of a redrawn version (with backgrounds reminiscent of the intro to The Muppet Show) and later a substantially rethought version animated under the supervision of Darrell Van Citters, but the latter revision shows its shoestring budget in the worst way. And then, when Disney bought ABC, the series became increasingly viewed as a sore thumb, which was only further emphasized when Warner Bros. purchased Turner Entertainment and suddenly found itself owning Cartoon Network (in addition to TBS and TNT, which at the time had robust animation blocks). The result was that The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show was reduced to a mere half-hour for the 1999-2000 season and then cancelled at the end of the season when Warner Bros. determined that Cartoon Network would be the only American TV network to air Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in any form.

Despite its huge role in cementing the legacy of the classic Warner Bros. shorts, the legacy of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show is rather fractured. Cartoon Network (and eventually Boomerang) has never revived the series in any form, instead opting to just air the complete (with exceptions for censorship, naturally) shorts. Worse yet, CBS and ABC hacked up the original prime time episodes for reruns in the years before the bridging segments were dropped, so The Bugs Bunny Show as it aired on ABC from 1960-1962 is largely lost (and the complete episodes that have been reassembled are partially in black and white). There is always the possibility of a straight-up revival and/or the discovery of the lost elements (The Bugs Bunny Show was, unsurprisingly, distributed internationally), but realistically speaking, future generations will never be introduced to Warner Bros. cartoons in quite the same way as I was.

Next week, we whip back to 1965, and one of the main rivals to The Beatles.