In the light of the cold war, and the damage made obvious by television regarding what could happen, I mean just how we could be saved without even knowing about it, I, and no doubt many others of my age and older, trusted and prayed,hoped, that our spies would continue to do their jobs and neutralise threats one spy at a time, on our behalf, and preferably beyond our purview. Television, at once, kept us from obsessing of such issues and realities,and at the same time reminded us of the infinitely social complex contrivance of spies, technology, etc. – which kept us safe, and from being safe. All this probably had a big influence on counterculture. Everyone acting out their day to day life, TV dinners and other orthodoxies of existence as the cover for all the bargaining, shooting in well-appointed hotel rooms, bugs and other surveillance devices and the glamor of international travel to exotic locations. Counterculture activist, filmmaker, rock star and secret agencies collapse in their use of mind altering drugs like LSD. People wanted to be alternative, then alternative to the alternative and so ad nasuem.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, John Read and Reg Hill offered panaceas to the adult orientated sci-fi and spy programming … very appealing. Their kid-specific productions – Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet used puppets as their main characters. The puppets were enhanced through the use of solenoids which opened their mouths in time with actors speech, this made them more real, they would also fight secret battles on our behalf, and they would save people, communities, even planets. They had loads of character and worked remarkably well in conveying tension and climax. For instance Joe 90 was a series concerning the adventures and exploits of nine-year-old Joe McClaine, who starts a double life as a schoolboy turned spy when his scientist father invents a pioneering machine capable of duplicating and then transferring expert knowledge and experience to another human brain. Why not? Is that not what I am trying to do here in this blog?
My radiogram also did the same job. For instance, the other sounds I was used to go beyond with, those heard on the radiogram were Albums of Irish Rebel songs – A Nation Once Again (1967) (although my family were protestant Scots) and Jim Reeves. Walt Disney’s soundtracks for Mary Poppins (1964) and for the Jungle Book (1967). Especially memorable was the soundtrack for the latter. The other records my parents had were Walt Whitman, and various records of the Alexander Brothers. My mum really liked the sentimental (1964) “I’m nobody’s child” whom everybody from Hank Williams to the Beatles had recorded. There were singles; The Tremolos, Hang your head, Tom Dooley [a hit version recorded in 1958 by The Kingston Trio, John Barry Music from Bond Films. These were my earliest exposures. It was clear that there were different experiences produced by radio and records and television.
As Marshal McLuhan had it, that the media technologies vary in terms of how ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ they are – cool media, like radio and records requiring much more conscious participation by the reader to extract value. In comparison hot media like film and television fill in the spaces for us. We make listening to records and reading books into movies using our mind’s eye and imagination.
Low-fi media is cool, and hi-fi media is hot. Don’t confuse the “meaning” of a message, which may be complicated or difficult (and may therefore demand a considerable effort of audience interpretation) with the message itself. In painting or film, for example, the “meaning” of a particular image may be baffling or ambiguous, even though its quality – hence the viewer’s recognition of what the image is – is perfectly clear. How Irish rebel music became ‘sci-fi’ made perfect sense in my radiogram world.