When I was kid in the 70’s, there were three channels on television – ABC, NBC and CBS – plus ETV, which nobody watched. Every fall, there was a prime-time special on each of the three big networks previewing the new Saturday morning cartoons set to premier that year. I distinctly remember great excitement around my house surrounding first episodes of “Batman Meets Scooby-Doo,” “Inch High, Private Eye” and “Hong Kong Phooey.” There was no Cartoon Network. Kids had to get out of bed early on Saturday mornings if they wanted to catch the best hours of television the week had to offer, at least if they wanted to hear Jonny Quest’s sidekick Hadji say “Sim Sim Salabim” as he put his magical whammy on the villain-of-the-week.
When cartoons ended at about 11 AM, the networks would shift to live original television for a show or two – The Shazam!/Isis Hour comes to mind – before local stations moved on to syndicated programs they deemed capable of holding the attention of kids but which were also attractive to adults across North Mississippi, those who were either 1) independently wealthy and just getting up or 2) working class folks, like my grandparents, who would be returning home from a half-day’s work at the service station or factory. Tarzan, Flipper and Lassie were regularly served up mid-day on Saturdays to uplift the masses with escapist adventure.
Saturday afternoon television in those days may best have been represented by two syndicated shows that on the surface appeared dramatically different, yet upon closer analysis were nearly identical in format and moral message – The Adventures of Superman and The Lone Ranger.
The Adventures of Superman originally ran from 1952 to 1958 and starred George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman. I may have realized that the show wasn’t being filmed live in 1974, when I was 10 and watching, but I didn’t get hung up on it. You would hear the rushing wind, and suddenly the Man of Steel would burst into some mob hideout to save his damsel, Lois Lane. A pair of glasses and a fedora were sufficient to keep Kent’s identity secret, the key to his ability to righteously fight crime while keeping those he loved safe from evil-doers. Superman pulling a door from its hinges or using his X-ray vision to peer through a wall (NEVER Lois’s skirt) were all the special effects required to solidify the fact that this strange visitor from another planet was the guy we wanted fighting for truth, justice and the American way.
The Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian friend Tonto were as altruistic as the guy from Metropolis who could leap the tall buildings. They just did their thing in a “Wild, Wild West” setting. Clayton Moore played the masked Texas Ranger who suffered the loss of ALL his compadres, including family, in an ambush by the evil Butch Cavendish gang. The Lone Ranger donned a mask to strike fear into those who would operate outside the law. He shot silver bullets, and he rode a white horse, named Silver, whose intelligence was equal to that of any human.
Remembering Superman and the Lone Ranger makes me yearn for simpler days, when I was a kid and right was right and wrong was wrong and there were heroes out there, somewhere, who could and would step up, ride/fly into action, on behalf of the oppressed.
This summer, The Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger are big budget motion pictures (“re-imaginings”) already released and seen by millions. Surprisingly, to me, each has received negative critiques from the elite Hollywood press. Now, I’ve seen both movies, and I unequivocally, absolutely LOVED them. I guess I’m just an idealistic fool who still lamely idolizes heroes and escapist adventure, or maybe, just maybe, I’m a guy from Main Street America who believes that good guys can still win, in the end. And that’s what I like to see on the big screen. And maybe the Hollywood elite and the media elite and the national elite just don’t get me/us anymore. Maybe they think the latest angst-filled, controversial topic du jour, wallowing in moral ambiguity, is what’s best for me. Well, I don’t. And as God is my witness, I still think for myself.
So, for my part … up, up, and away, Kemosabe! Go see a GOOD movie this summer.