The last mass medium


After wrapping the trunk of the Mexican fan palm with blinking lights, hanging lighted snowflakes from the mesquite and stringing still more lights in the sage, I nestled down in front of a warm computer to download some Christmas carols for my iPod to keep the holiday spirit wafting in the crisp and breezy air.

On a lark, I checked to see if there were any Las Vegas-themed holiday tunes. Within a nonce I spied three such ditties and rocked back to hum along with Richard Cheese's Sinatra-like crooning:

"The wise men are rolling sevens/ The elves are doubling down/ Light a candle and pull the handle/ Love that jingling sound ...

"Let's hope the dealer brings four newborn kings/ 'Cause my baby needs a new pair of five golden rings/ Christmas in Las Vegas really swings."

This segued neatly into Dale Watson's Elvis-like styling with:

"We may not have a lot of snow or candy cane or reindeer/ But you can catch some caroling from Frank or Dean or Wayne, dear/ You can really have a ball 'cause every day's Christmas in Vegas."

And then came the gravel-voiced Dr. Elmo -- who earned his acclaim with that other Christmas classic, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" -- with:

"As we drove down the Strip overcome with the joy/ Of lights all a'twinkle like a big Christmas toy/ Away in the manger with Siegfried and Roy/ We were celebrating Christmas in Las Vegas."

There is nothing like a song about losing your 401(k) at the craps table to give one a warm, fuzzy feeling of being part of a unique, unified community.

Then it dawned on me: How little we have in common with each other today compared to just a half century ago. Here I was downloading obscure songs in stark contrast to days of yore when everyone watched Lucky Strike's "Your Hit Parade."

Every week, the top 10 songs on our AM radios would be sung by Dorothy Collins, Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson or Gisèle MacKenzie. The show hit the skids when Lanson tried to sing Elvis' "Hound Dog," but that's not the point. The point is there was a commonality, a shared experience in American life that we no longer have.

Everybody could name three or four of the top 10 tunes in any given week. Can you name one today? Everybody watched Cronkite and Murrow. What are the network ratings now? Everybody read the local papers and knew the latest news. Well, just ask a co-worker a question about anything in the news and you'll get a blank stare.

Everybody went to the rodeo when it came town. Everybody went to the high school football games. Everybody attended one of three or four Protestant congregations. Why, everybody even spoke the same language.

It was the kind of homogeneity celebrated by John Jay in Federalist Papers No. 2: "Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people -- a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence."

Today, the radio dial is strewn with every conceivable genre of what passes for music. Cable and satellite television offer hundreds of choices (and there's still nothing worth watching). Everybody is cocooned with buds in their ears, and community is something called MySpace and Facebook.

I'm not being nostalgic or even bemoaning the approaching Apocalypse. Just observing that the newspaper may well be the last mass medium.

Therefore, it must fall to someone in this cacophony of many voices and many messages to remind us about the sense of community and purpose that keeps a nation safe and free.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1787: "Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them."

OK, maybe I'm bemoaning a bit about how too few are paying attention.

But, that said, merry Christmas to y'all who still read and a very Vegas welcome to the National Finals Rodeo crowd. Don't forget to e-mail home Dale Watson's assurance: "Now I'm writing merry Christmas, Mama. Don't you fret. You know I'm fine in Vegas."

 

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes on the role of the press and public access of information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchall@reviewjournal.com.

 

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