The Greg Brady Project

Welcome to the official Barry Williams' blog

My friends call me Barry. From time to time I also hear the name Greg. Yeah, as in Greg Brady. The Brady Bunch represents a fun time in my life. But it’s only part of the story. There’s more to say and that’s what The Greg Brady Project is all about – a place to say it. So, I’ve invited some friends to join me and share their perspectives on the Brady’s, the 70′s and just about everything else. Now, I’m inviting you…

27 Dec
Mary Jo and John Tenuto

Don’t Play Ball in the House

written by Mary Jo and John Tenuto in Blog | No comments

There is no more popular culture. Rather, we have customizable culture. If the world was Philosophy, it would be niche. We have more choice now, yet that doesn’t mean things are necessarily better.

Popular culture refers to widely shared traditions or entertainment. We certainly don’t have this now, at least not like previous eras of American history. In fact, it could be argued that the 1970s, the era of Greg Brady and his Bunch, was the last great era of real popular culture. When Happy Days was the number one show in 1976 to 1977, it was watched by over 30 million people per week. Now, shows like American Idol garner about 12 million to earn that same accolade with modern TV. It might frighten American Idol fans to know that The Brady Bunch Variety Hour of 1976 to 1977 earned better viewer numbers, 15 million, than their affectation. In the 1970s, American Idol might not have been on the 20 most watched show list. 

Today, The Brady Bunch, whose best Nielsen number was #34, would be on the best 15 list. While the last episode of MASH was watched by 120 million people in the early 1980s, the best Friends could do was 55 million. The lack of shared entertainment isn’t limited to television. The 1977 version of Star Wars sold nearly 197 million tickets, earning $460 million. It is number 2 on the best earning films list for the United States. At number 5 is The Phantom Menace, the 1999 Star Wars sequel. It earned $431 million. Yet, it sold 88 million tickets. Casino Royale may the best earning James Bond film, yet it sold 25 million tickets compared to 1964′s James Bond film which sold 54 million tickets. The modern feature films earn more, yet less people go to the theaters compared to the 1970s.

Besides smaller audiences, everything is niche. It is niche in what we like and how we experience it. Even our shared traditions are now themed. Its a Build-A-Bear Society. We don’t share traditions like wedding experiences because we theme those. Our holiday traditions are now themed. And while we customize what is on the iPod, we also customize versions of the technology itself. Even if we are fans of the same thing, how we experience it is not a shared experience. You may like the television show 24, so do we. Yet we watch it once a year in a DVD marathon. You watch it each week on television.

Want to watch Star Wars in 1977? There was one version, and you had to go the theater. Now, watch it on your DVD. Watch it on HD cable or satellite. Watch the theatrical versions. Watch the revised editions. No, watch the 2004 revised DVD versions. Who is your favorite Who, Doctor Who that is? Which version of Star Trek is the best? With the new Star Trek film, you will have your choice of which actor, Shatner or Pine, Nimoy or Quinto, is the best Kirk or Spock. Do you like your Greg Brady Barry-style or Christopher Daniel-style?

The technology of entertainment is mostly the reason for the change from popular to customizable culture. With three networks of broadcast TV in the 1970s, the next decade would see the common utilization of VCRs and Cable, walkmans and CDs. The 1990s the Internet and DVDs, TiVo and computerized television. There is a good dimension to this, which is increased choice of entertainment and news. The competition has lead to more variety of television shows and films.

Yet, there is a problem with this customization or niche society. We don’t share much in common. Gone are the days of everyone at school talking about a previous evenings popular entertainment. Gone are shared references to commercials (sorry, Mr. Whipple yet people don’t watch commercials now except for the SuperBowl) or shared phrases. Fans who experienced The Brady Bunch in the 1970s probably know what “Aaayyyy” or “Sit On It” references. “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house” is a shared phrase. Yet the argot of shared phrases is not possible in a niche society. We don’t watch the same things, we don’t experience the same traditions (don’t forget, we themed our wedding different than yours), we don’t experience things at the same time, we don’t have much in common. This is no trivial matter. Pluralistic societies depend on shared myths and culture to unite. The best we do now is when we experience the worst. Events like 9/11 rally a common cause, yet it is not the kind of experience we want to share. The real popular culture of eras previous to the 1980s were a kind of cultural glue. Like the tape on your 1970s Brady Bunch 1970s action figures, the glue of popular culture has lost its adhesion. The question is whether the increase of customizable culture is worth experiences without commonality. After all, despite our plurality, we had one shared wish. We all wanted to be a Brady. By Brady, we mean the 1970s Brady Bunch version. Not the 1981 Brady Brides. Not the 1995 movie. Not My Fair Brady. Not the 2002 Brady Bunch tv movie. You know, THE Brady Bunch.

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