When TV Walked on the Moon

The 40th anniversary of the moon landing coinciding with Walter Cronkite’s death was a kairotic moment in the evolution of television. Considering what TV is today compared to four decades ago, it’s unfathomable to perceive it 40 years from now.

TVs now are sharper than the human mind. (Bites tongue.) They can be the size of a movie screen or a wallet. Content can be transmitted globally with minimal delay. Images of deep space can be viewed on cell phones.

Back in the day, our TV was a console RCA with a rounded screen and metallic-threaded speaker cloth. It delivered images of the Michelin Man bouncing around on the moon. It brought home the Vietnam War; guys dragging bandaged buddies off the front line, chatting with Dan Rather.

It seems content has changed as much as technology.

Those war images were unvarnished, to the ire of Lyndon B. Johnson. Subsequent Commanders-in-chief would endeavor to control media coverage of war, though its reality would always filter back into communities in the form of bereft families and prosthetic limbs.

People say there won’t be another Walter Cronkite; another patriarchal authority figure speaking truth to power. That’s probably true, but bemoaning it is inconsequential, like any form of longing for the old days. The past is gone, as always. The lines between the estates are so blurred as to be semantically established vis-à-vis “citizen journalism.”

On the other hand… Neil Armstrong’s stroll on the lunar surface 40 years ago is still worthy of waxing nostalgic. Something like 600 million Earthlings were said to see it on cathode ray tubes around the world. This was just 60 or so years after the first successful sustained human flight, and some 40 years after the first experimental TV transmissions—teeny blips in the time-space continuum. Armstrong embodied America’s notion of itself as capable, inventive and adventuresome. His one small step erased for a moment Vietnam and the twin assassinations a year earlier of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., who both represented conscientious principles by which many Americans wished to be identified. In the wake of so many maturing tragedies that launched the Age of Cynicism, the achievement of Apollo 11 viscerally reminded us of the better angels of our nature.

It did so through those CRTs on their way to obsolescence. Let’s see 4G iPhones touch their cultural impact.

--Deborah D. McAdams