I tuned in to Nightline on Wednesday night thinking the ABC News program might remember Gore Vidal. The days when mainstream media took any interest in a famous and controversial man of letters are far behind us. Nightline covered the Olympics (snore), and also previewed a spot about some bosomy babe who is currently attracting notice, maybe after hitting it big on You Tube. I switched to PBS. After Tavis Smiley concluded the first of a two-part show with lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman (“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “The Windmills of Your Mind”), it was time for Charlie Rose on whose show Vidal had been a guest. I thought Rose would repeat his last show with the legendary author or present a compilation of clips from his various appearances, as he did when William F. Buckley passed on. If Vidal’s death was announced early enough on Tuesday night, perhaps Rose had already done such a memorial, but there was no Vidal last night. I turned off the TV, which is usually the only sensible thing to do short of throwing it out the window, and turned on the radio.
There was a time, in the 1960s and 1970s, when Vidal and other authors with a point of view were a frequent presence on television, and not only in such an obvious place as The Dick Cavett Show. Vidal was a regular visitor to The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and even welcome on such temples of blandness as the afternoon shows hosted by Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. In the ‘80s, the welcome mat was withdrawn. Cavett was cancelled, and though Vidal still appeared on Carson, the great dumbing-down of American culture was in progress.
Who can we blame? Ronald Reagan? MTV? David Lettermen? (Vidal was so disgusted after his sole appearance on the gap-toothed comic’s show that he vowed never to return.) It was a ridiculous decade full of horrid hairstyles (the mullet made its debut and is now immortalized in such movies as Lethal Weapon), abysmal music, and atrocious fashion (does my memory deceive me or do I recall seeing even Bob Dylan wearing leather pants in concert?). Things improved a bit in the ‘90s, but the rot had set in and could not be reversed.
One of Vidal’s later novels was The Golden Age, but the title certainly referred to the past. This is the age of shit. This is the age of the Kardashian sisters and reality shows (all of them scripted and as real as Chaz Bono’s penis – if he has one). If these aren’t the end-times, well, can you blame anyone for hoping they are?
POSTSCRIPT: The Charlie Rose Show has a program dedicated to Vidal scheduled for Friday.
© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks
VISIT MY KINDLE STORE AT AMAZON