Things Looked Better In Black-and-White

Some things are better in black and white. canstockphoto21100511

I may be geezing a bit here, but it seems to me that life looked better in black-and-white.

Some Week-Enders may remember when television was all in black-and-white and there were only two or three channels to choose from; there was no CNN, no Internet, and no World Wide Web.

The daily broadcast ended at midnight and concluded with the playing of the National Anthem accompanied by uplifting scenes from around America.

At the time, black-and-white was the cat’s meow, it was cutting edge technology; now it seems archaic to even mention it. But if you think about it, we’re only talking about 70 years ago. The first TV broadcast in the U.S. was about 1941. By 1949 there were a million TV sets in the U.S.; by 1959 there were 50 million.

But color TV didn’t become widespread until the 1970s and 80s; in 1980 only about half the TVs were color.

So for 40 or so years, the world we saw outside our own sight, through the eyes of the camera, was in black-and-white.

Things were so much simpler when they were in black-and-white.

Good guys and bad guys shot their guns, but it never showed anyone getting graphically hit, no splaying of red blood on the wall, no severed body parts. There was a “bang” and someone fell, just like when my brother and I played with our plastic, toy guns.

It seems to me we were all simpler people back then. Or maybe we chose to keep life simpler because it could get pretty complicated all by itself. Life always has its complications, no matter what generation you’re in. In the days of black-and-white it was world war, nuclear weapons and superpowers jockeying for world domination; but we lived in black-and-white Camelot thanks to the Kennedy’s.

Things always seemed to turn out right in black-and-white. The good guys wore white hats and almost always won. Couples slept in separate beds and only the fact that they had TV children hinted that there was any hanky-panky going on. A kiss only lasted a second or two and participants were fully clothed.

Positive life lessons were emphasized on most all the shows. Beaver Cleaver ("Leave It To Beaver") would get in trouble but in the end would find his way to the right solution with the help of mom and dad, June and Ward Cleaver. Most kids had two parents who contributed equally to the raising of their offspring.

Opie Taylor almost always listened to his dad, Sherriff Andy Taylor in Mayberry and on the rare occasions he didn’t, by the end of the episode he would see the error of his ways.

Through the medium of television, people were able to see things they otherwise might never have seen.

I can remember sitting on the floor in front of the TV set on a farm in Wisconsin, seeing moving, black-and-white pictures of the California coast, the Appalachian Mountains, the Grand Canyon. It led me to the realization that there was a whole big world outside our sheltered bucolic life.

I now realize our parents tried to intentionally shelter us from the complications of life outside our fence line; but when they brought TV into the living room they unintentionally began to lose their grip on us. I look back and realize that sheltered life is what we could use more of today.

As I ponder this, I think television may have been the beginning of the end of universal innocence; even though it started out simply enough in black-and-white, it got more complicated as “living color” came into being. I guess the reason it’s called “living color” is that black-and- white didn’t make it seem so “alive.”

The advent of color came in time to bring the Korean and more vividly the Vietnam wars right into our living rooms. We could no longer insulate ourselves and believe the world was mostly good.  People who normally would never see the horrors of war were now seeing it day after day, in living color.

Introduction of full color brought more realistic images and producers had to ramp up the action to meet expectations of the new technology. Color enabled them to more accurately depict real life, in all its beauty or all its ugliness, depending on how they saw life. Ugly eventually sold more advertising than beauty.

I think that when television went full color it began to have a negative impact on our society.

The messages stopped being positive; more negativism began to creep into our national consciousness. Instead of applauding heroes who stood for truth, justice and the American way, we began to elevate gangsters and demons to hero status.

I suppose this might have been started earlier when the world was black-and-white, but I think color added an element of realism that blurred the line between real life and the make-believe world of TV.

Maybe there is a reason that most people report dreaming in black-and-white; although that seems to be changing too. Studies within the past few years indicate that college-age people rarely report dreaming in black-and-white anymore, while people in their 50’s and older more commonly report black-and-white dreams--but even many of them report higher rates of color dreams.

So the complications of the world have apparently invaded our dreams; or, thanks to color TV we no longer comprehend the possibility of a black-and-white world.

Reality notwithstanding, I still appreciate--and at times long for--a simpler, more black-and-white world. How about you?

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email