It wasn't long after I finally cancelled my cable TV that I actually wanted to start watching TV, again. So I rooted around in the desk drawers and found my collection of old VHS tapes. I have a lot of Saturday Night Live shows, concerts and some home recordings of varied and sundry kinds.
I popped in the SNL 15th anniversary show. It was broadcast in 1990, and most of my tapes are from that time period, give or take a few years. I was amazed at how dated it was. 1990 wasn't that long ago, was it? The calendar counts 18 years. I don't consider 1990 to be the "olden days" by any stretch. Yet, this was well before the internet broke. This was before cell phones. This was before both the Clinton and Bush II years.
I was amazed by the difference in language. I found some PBS documentaries in my collection (some narrated by Johnny Carson), and they were still prolifically using male-based language. It was all "mankind" this and "mankind" that. You just don't hear that, anymore. Even a very "liberal" show like SNL had traces of this. There were subtle differences in the way gender roles were played out, and I couldn't quite put my finger on what specifically is different but it was there.
And while David Letterman's show seems like the one thing that time doesn't change, I spied one notable difference: Special guest Peter O'Toole conducted his interview with David with a lit cigarette in hand. In fact, I remember Dave himself known to light up a cigar now and then. You just don't see that anymore. It's probably illegal. Granted, this show was on location in London, so maybe that had something to do with it.
Malcolm Jamal Warner was on commercials urging kids to "stay in school." OJ Simpson guest-hosted SNL. This was the era of tampon and FDS spray commercials trumpeted ad infinitum on prime time TV--mothers and daughters sat on park benches and had "the talk" about "not so fresh feelings." I remember sitting with my dad when those commercials came on, and I tried to grab a magazine and look busy until they passed. No one said a word. I feel awkward talking about them even now, but why should I feel awkward--I wasn't the one broadcasting these things with no measure of subtlety at all on national TV! You just don't see that, anymore. We have come a long way . . . now we have herpes commercials, instead.