King Nostalgia

You've seen the groovy-commercial-of-the-year by now, I'm sure. Two jive cats walk into a Burger King in 1973. They rap with the woman behind the counter and ask her to break into song. She and two of her cash-register colleagues do so.

Flash forward to the present day. You can tell by the way the same two guys use their walk that they're older, but they are still groovy. They badger the exact same woman behind the counter, asking her to sing out the joys of Burger King value meals. She does so, again with colleagues in tow.

The commercial sets the groove-a-meter off the scales. But aside from the obvious questions (Why is that woman still working a cash register after 25 years? What does this say about economic opportunity in America's last quarter-century?), the commercial raises larger issues about the uses of '70s nostalgia in our culture -- particularly the odd mix of innocence and decadence that finds a home in TV shows like Fox's That '70s Show (Sundays at 7:30 p.m.).

The Fox press-guide note to the show says, "It's the worst of times, but also the best of times for Eric Forman and his group of friends. Whether it's sneaking a brew or two from their parents' disco party, borrowing Dad's Vista Cruiser to drive to the Todd Rundgren concert or making fun of Marcia on The Brady Bunch, these friends are your typical teens on the verge of young adulthood -- only it's the 1970's."

Think back to any popular family sitcom on American TV that's dealt with alcohol, disobedience or even cliques, and you won't find that these topics get a light treatment. (In fact, only Roseanne managed to even come near the mark.) It's the nostalgia inherent in almost anyone growing up in that generation that gives the license to joke about booze and drugs on a family show.

Somehow, with all that experience, we've grown up humorless about such things in the present, chuckling only at a safe, dopey distance and asking the woman behind the counter to sing "hold the pickle" when we're old enough to know better.

LEGGO MY LOGO: In Howard Kurtz's Washington Post "Media Notes" column on Monday, the critic examined the latest blurring of the line between advertising and journalism at the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. The paper plans to run a twice weekly "Millennium Moments" series next year, with -- as Daily Press editor Will Corbin told Kurtz -- "a sponsor's logo, tastefully, in some piece of the package on the local section front."

One can only imagine the applications here in St. Louis. Monsanto could "tastefully" apply its logo to genetic-engineering coverage. Boeing could affix its logo to aerospace coverage. Local arts institutions could tastefully sponsor reviews of their performances and exhibits.

As detailed in a story elsewhere in this week's paper about the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's deals with local TV news outlets, the gap between what's news and what's an ad is already blurring. The Daily Press, however, is reducing it to an absurdity. On the nostalgia tip, whatever happened to the good old days when companies just bought an advertisement?

DOST THOU PROTEST 2 MUCH? There's so much spin on the media critic's desk these days that I'm getting dizzy. KTVI (Channel 2) general manager Spencer Koch faxed me a critical letter on Monday about my analysis of the latest round of local television ratings. Because Koch admits that most of my analysis was right, it appears that my characterization of KTVI's November ratings as "dismal" is what prompted the letter. (Koch notes, "You might replace 'KTVI had a dismal book' with 'St. Louis news viewing had a dismal book.'")

I'll spare readers further quibbles with two notes. Koch is right to say it was a "dismal book" for total news viewership in St. Louis. But KTVI's only ratings successes over the last six months and the last year was at 5 p.m. In other time slots, KTVI was flat or losing ground. For a station that's making the heaviest time investment in local news (a good thing, to my mind), it is a "dismal" return.

RAM-BLINGS: I wore my Eagles football jersey to the office on Friday after my crappy team (the Philadelphia Eagles) beat your crappy team (the St. Louis Rams) last Thursday night. I also found an interesting comment about the warm reception Rams coach Dick Vermeil got from the notoriously hostile malcontents, boo-birds and psychos who frequent Veterans Stadium and Vermeil's reaction to it, in Friday's Philadelphia Inquirer: "Vermeil playfully downplayed the Philadelphia fans' show of affection, saying, 'Well, these people tend to overreact one way or the other.'"

You can e-mail media tips and quips to Richard Byrne at byrne@rftstl.com.

 
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