Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bob Denver, gateway drug.

Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer (sorry, no permanent link):

I’d like to interpose my Maynard G. Krebs Dog-Whistle Theory of the pop-culture transmission of subversive, sometimes spiritual ideas. The unacknowledged influence of stupid pop-culture icons on the dissident tradition in American life.

You may not recall Maynard G. Krebs, but he was the “beatnik” on the idiot 60’s sitcom Dobie Gillis.

Played by Bob Denver (later, of course, famous for Gilligan’s Island), Maynard G. Krebs was about as inauthentic a representation of Beat culture as you could possibly get. With his beret and goatee signifiers and his unconvincing invocation of Thelonious Monk, he was a travesty.

And yet, it is the mysterious, inexorable power of mass culture in America to have this effect: If just a tiny fraction of those millions who saw Maynard G. Krebs were motivated enough to listen to Thelonious Monk, and only a tiny fraction of those who listened to Monk made the transition, crossed over from the culture of Maynard G. Krebs to the culture of Thelonious Monk, it was enough to sustain an entire alterna-culture. You just needed a few people to hear the siren’s song, the dog’s whistle inaudible to most. I’ve met old Beats who told me they were turned on by reading about Beats in Life magazine when they were kids in Kansas.

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