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Hip, Hop, Hoop Jean Shepherd's America
Airdate: Tuesday - October 31, 1972

Last Update: 03-19-2017

Show Description
They've all come to look for America All come to look for America All come to look for America. It seems as though just about everybody has come to look for America; just about every American artist in this century has been compelled to try to define America, and the rest of us get a VW and go to California. (Go west, young man-- the dope is cheaper.) Yet no one has yet to totally grasp what America is, probably because we all have our own ideas of what it should be. The great American novel; either you get hit over the head by a couple of symbolic hammers that come out of the page, or you are left dissatisfied by a good work which almost gets it down, but not quite enough. Why is it that the author has to get it all, why is 95 percent of it just as bad as SO percent of it? Why has America eluded even the best of American writers, and why do they feel they have to go after it in the first place? If we then start with the premise that no one can get it all, maybe we can appreciate someone who does a good job with some humor and American pizzazz. Jean Shepherd's America on NET gets as close to America as anyone; each week there is a half hour examination of an aspect of American life -- work, cars, food, beer, etc. Jean Shepherd is a heavy-set guy, with a happy fat face and a laugh that could knock over a Kodiak bear, and if I'm not mistaken, he'll be coming to Allegheny third term. Each show is usually based on a story (Shepherd is without a doubt one of the great storytellers) about Shepherd's family, especially about his "father." "My old man is one of those guys that when Friday rolls around thinks that one T-shirt can last the whole weekend." He never thought of shaving during the weekend -- he was too busy drinking beer and having fun with Zeerdock and the rest of his buddies. Shepherd pokes fun at his father, but we get the impression that his father is the source of all Jean's wisdom. There's a reason for all these stories about his "father" - - the basis of American life is the family. Shepherd's "father" is the Americanized version of the noble savage. The show on cars is great. It opens with Shepherd sitting in a car on a beach on a rainy day with the windshield wipers on, staring straight out into the sea. After some preliminary remarks on how the sound of those wipers is probably deeply imbedded in all our unconsciousnesses and wondering how many of us were conceived in the back seat of a car (another of the unanswerable American mysteries), Shepherd starts the car, and drives away telling another great story about his old man. You knew those Pepto-Bismol commercials where the husband is driving the family station wagon with the wood paneling and the poor boy has an upset stomach. His beautiful and loving wife has the answer-- she reaches into her suede and leather pocketbook and pulls out some chewable Pepto. The little brats are in the back jumping up and down and screaming and yelling. Shepherd's version of that scene is on a Saturday afternoon on the way to a ballgame, and his old man suddenly screams: "Oh my God, my gut!" His mother, with her curlers that look like rheostats, yells: "It serves you right with all the beer ya drank last night. Ya pig." The kids start screaming when they sense there might not be a ballgame for them today, but the old man knew the-art of getting a whole backseat full of kids with just one stroke of his arm. The kids stay quiet from then on. His mother reaches into her black plastic bag and gives the old man some feenamint which he promptly throws out the window. The last scene is the old man letting it all go behind a Holiday Inn sign. From that story Shepherd sta.rts to ponder why a car is so important to an American -- " 'cause you can get in and go, man. Just go and go." When things get really rough, in the back of your mind you always know you can get in and just go. Go wherever you want; you're in total command when you have your hands around the wheel. Never trust a guy that doesn't know how to drive, Shepherd tells us. He'll turn on you for no reason at all. In the Alaska show our typical American, Jean Shepherd, sees one of the biggest glaciers of all, and as the show ends he's about to throw himself on the glacier to end it all. An American never saw anything more awesome than himself; it was just too much to take. While fishing in Maine, Shepherd tells us a story about his old man's fishing days with the rest of his friends. The lake where they fished had only seven crappies in it, and that was all, but one day when young Jean was with them, he caught all seven crappies. He had earned his manhood, and back at the house he was entitled to sit around with the rest of the men while they drank some beer and told dirty jokes. It didn't matter that Jean didn't understand the stories, he didn't care because he had made it in the eyes of his old man. In the last moment of the show we see some really tranquil shots of Maine streams as Shepherd whispers something like: "When things get to be too much -- too noisy, too crowded, just think: 'Maine, Maine, Maine.' Come on, say it to yourself: 'Maine, Maine, Maine .. .' " The show on beer could have been really trite, but Shepherd is just fantastic. It opens with a shot of beer rolling around in a brewery like waves with Shepherd like some epic poet singing praises to that golden nectar -- it is really funny. I had the great misfortune once of reading a review of Jean Shepherd's America (the professional TV critic must be one of the strangest species of humans around -- in order to get the job you have to have a brain made out of mayonnaise) by a guy who hated the show and complained that the show didn't have enough women on it. The sad thing was that he completely missed the point-- Shepherd went right past hin, he was too subtle for the guy. The critic had lived in a world of mediocrity for so long that he didn't know what was good anymore -- a sad comment on our times. (What a great American cliche that phrase is!) Maybe we live in such a etherized world where everything must be played at fuJi volume that the only way to communicate is by hitting each other over the head with eight pound sledge hammers.
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October 31,1972
CAMPUS - Allegheny College

Courtesy: Steve Glazer

Airdate History ' - Original' date is earliest known broadcast)
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