Saturday, June 04, 2011

SNL Goes to Harvard via The Land of Gorch

 This week I made a trip to Harvard for a symposium on television satire and puppets. Yes, puppets. While this might be the sort of scholarly thing that causes slack-jawed yahoo governor and tea party types crazy, I want to point out that although TAMUCC bought my plane ticket, most of the support came from a researcher from Holland who was the happy recipient of a $500K grant to study such things. She just got another $1 million grant to work on analog culture in contemporary media culture. Europeans know how to treat their academic types.

Last Gasps in The Land of Gorch from ethan thompson on Vimeo.

My paper was about the first year of Saturday Night Live, during which the Muppets had a regular skit. The characters were from "The Land of Gorch" and the skits were uniformly and irredeemably unfunny. But so was a lot of stuff on SNL (then called NBC's Saturday Night). The Muppet characters were gone after a year, when Henson went on to create The Muppet Show. Have a look at their final appearance here, with Lily Tomlin. Note that it's Tomlin, and not the Muppets, that blows the punchline.

One my last day I wandered around Harvard a little, and went to the Harvard Bookstore hoping to find one of my TV books. Turns out, there are not too many TV books to find in the Harvard Bookstore. Cinema (like so many other places) gets its own section, but not TV. The battle still must be fought! When I wandered down into the used books-basement, I managed to find a couple of TV books, mysteriously put in the "Social Sciences" section. More interesting to me were the various images, ads, art, graffiti taped to the book shelves in the area. This was a history of those who labored in the book store over the years, and from what I see, they seemed to have some excess creative/intellectual energy to burn off in the midst of the high culture and serious academic stuff that made the shelves, because the expressive graffiti was mostly pop culture ephemera stuff.

What caught my eye was an ad for NBC's Saturday Night with George Carlin. This is the same ad from TV Guide the week of SNL's premiere in October 75 that I had used in my presentation. So there was George Carlin, manning the shelves for 35 years. Look closely at the picture above and you can see that the Muppets are also listed on the bill, along with Andy Kaufman and Billy Crystal. Crystal's appearance was cut. He thinks it set his career back a few years, but if you've seen Crystal's later "first appearance", they were doing us all a favor.

Anyway, you can see Carlin is now strangling the Mona Lisa. C-3P0 and R2D2 are hanging out below. On another column in the basement, someone had long ago pasted the cover of Horace Newcomb's TV: the Most Popular Art.

To be fair, I also found a picture of a TV smashed in--there's one of those in every hipster-bookstore crowd in my imagination.

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