What baby-boomer doesn’t have memories of sitting down in front of the family television on a Sunday evening, eager to watch The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza? Tinker Bell flew around that castle and with one tap of her wand, turned it into a world of Technicolor. Ben Cartwright and his three handsome sons would ride across the Ponderosa, the map of the ranch burning to reveal their arrival on gorgeous horses.
This past Thursday, I was reminded of another thing our televisions brought into our living rooms. April 4 marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Growing up in the 60s, his was not the only assassination we were witness to. We also lost President John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Freedom Riders Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney to assassins’ bullets. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the bearers of tragic news via NBC’s Huntley/Brinkley Report. Edwin Newman delivered events, as did, perhaps most famously, CBS’s Walter Cronkite. Added to the horror of losing our leaders on a regular basis, we also were dealing with nightly footage of the war in Vietnam. US deployment started in 1965, and the war went on until 1975.
My first clear, detailed memory is the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963. Thanksgiving was coming, and after that, Santa. My mom was doing whatever it is that moms do, and I was sitting on the floor with a coloring book- my favorite, a bride and her wedding party. As the World Turns was on the television. There were lots of silly commercials for Niagara Spray Starch. A man broke in with a Special Bulletin; President Kennedy had been shot. My mom got our coats and we ran next door to my grandmother’s house. Gram was crying. I was 4 years old.
Now, with our 24-hour news cycles and high definition flat screen TVs, I wonder what the effect will be on my grandson’s generation. The assassinations have evolved into mass murders of ordinary citizens in movie theaters and shopping malls. What began as shootings in Universities and high schools has now moved to elementary schools. Single shots fired have escalated into hundreds of rounds in a matter of minutes. And all the while, our children are watching.