It wasn't always that way. Until the advent of the camera and the technology called rotogravure the average person never got to see things much beyond their own town or city -- much less views and visions from distant and obscure places on the earth (or beyond).
TV changed all that. Starting in the 1950s the average Joe got to see everything. Well, everything he was allowed to see. Taboos were then still common. TV was a "family medium." So yes, we saw "everything," but not everything.
Oddly, of all the things I got to see growing up in the early age of TV perhaps the most amazing of them -- the one that most grabbed my imagination -- were the images from under the sea. Not the big scary creatures -- the sharks or the octopuses. No, but the little fishies. The swarms of them. The ones like me.
There would be Jacques Cousteau -- surrounded by miles and miles of open sea with all its wonders -- and there would be the "kids" -- doing what? Doing nothing. Going nowhere. In a crowd. Surrounded by other fishies just like themselves. Swimming all together in one direction. Directed by? Of that I was never sure.
And then came the final blow. What was this called, this crowd of seemingly mindless, fish? It was called a "school." How fitting!
"Swim for your lives!" I wanted to shout. "Get away!" "Go! Go! There is so much to see!" But they wouldn't go. There they'd stay, going nowhere. All together. In a crowd. In their school.
To this day that vision -- of all the little fishies swimming together -- resonates with me and makes me wonder. What is there about being in a crowd that has such appeal. Is it the supposed safety?
That's the reason the TV announcer gave. Together, in a school, the fish had the protection of numbers. They, he assured the listener with an authoritative tone, would not be nearly as easy to 'pick off' as a single fish would be if it were off on its own.
That, it seemed to me, was quite a price to pay for "safety."
But what about from the little fishies' perspective? Could he not swim where he wanted within the confines of the group. Up. Down. Left. Right. Was this not freedom enough?
Obviously the fish thought so. For there they stayed. Led by who knew what. The current? Unseen leaders? The crowd?
As I grew older that vision of the fish has stayed with me. Especially as I watched the currents of society and the way it, just like the current of the sea, led people here and there, all together, as if they, too, were in a school.
The crazes of interests. The odd currents that made people, all together, go here and there following this craziness and that. Sometimes calmly. Other times in a near panic.
Examples of this a rife. Here's a doozy:
If one listens to the televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F, Kennedy one will hear one reference after another to places called "Quemoy" and "Matsu." -Little Islands off the coast of mainland China.
These little islands were of such interest back then that the U.S. and China almost went to war over them. To war! Could you today, fifty odd years later, even find them on a map?
War? Over that? Yup. It almost happened. And all the little fishes were swimming there together.
Then there are the little crazies. The fixations that oddly, suddenly, catch the interest of the school.
Remember, back in the 1970s, all the talk about whether or not people should eat red M&Ms? On and on it went. On TV. In the newspapers. In magazines. At the hairdressers. At the barbershop.
It all started with a little Russian study that said that something called "red dye #2" -- a food coloring used in things like frankfurter casings -- could, if eaten in large quantities, lead to cancer. OMG! Get rid of it! "Fire! Fire!" yelled the crowd. And then someone noticed that among the colors of the popular chocolate candy called "M&Ms" were.... gasp! ...red ones.
A near panic ensued. Newspaper articles. TV commentary. All of which was quieted only when M&M Mars, the company that made the candy, stopped making and selling the red ones. That lasted for nearly a decade. (Today the red ones are back)
Want to know something funny? There never was any "red dye #2" in M&Ms, but no one it seems had bothered to ask.
The whole silly scare was for nothing.
Today the kids are still in school. Yes, the literal ones of course, but the figurative, fishy, ones as well. Odd fixations -- "crazies" -- still excite the crowds and get them swimming willy nilly, hither and yon..
How can you tell if something is "a crazy?" Here are the tools I use:
If a subject suddenly become the focus of intense interest that was not something you commonly thought about before -- not even a little -- it is probably "a crazy."
If the so-called "talking heads" are chattering about it endlessly it's likely "a crazy."
And if the Hollywood types are making it into a cause then you can be pretty damn sure.
Of course following these things -- swimming along with "the school -- may be just fine. After all, almost everyone does it.
Maybe the real crazy ones are people like me. People who prefer to swim out on their own.
After all, Jacques Cousteau seemed to think so. And who am I to argue with Jacques?