Most of us have heard the term “vast wasteland” used to derisively describe television programming. But do you know the origin of that phrase?
It comes from a speech given to the National Association of Broadcasters on May 9, 1961 by Newton N. Minow. At the time of the speech, Mr. Minow was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. It can be read (and even listened to) in its entirety at Americanrhetoric.com – and I assure you, it’s well worth reading – but at least read this excerpt for the context of the famous phrase Minow coined:
- “When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
- But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
- You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”
Nearly a half-century later, how much more vast the wasteland has become…Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.