Saturday, 30 January 2010

Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion

by Aniko Bodroghkozy

Other sketches, although open to various interpretations, leaned more in the direction of dissident, protesting groups, such as a segment built around Phil Ochs's song, "Draft Dodger Rag." The November 19, 1967, episode featured guest star George Segal, who joined Tom and Dick to sing the song. Dick introduced the number by saying, "We're going to sing a contemporary song about a great effort that some of the young men in our country are making." Tom chimed in, "Yes, it's a song about a problem and how, with good old American ingenuity, some people attempt to solve it." They then launched into the song, whose first verse and chorus went as follows:
I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town,
I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keeping old Castro down.
And when it came my time to serve I knew better dead than red,
But when I got to my old draft board, buddy, this is what I said:
Sarge, I'm only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen and I always carry a purse,
I got eyes like a bat and my feet are flat, my asthma's getting worse.
O, think of my career, my sweetheart dear, my poor old invalid aunt,
Besides I ain't no fool, I'm a-going to school, and I work in a defense plant.
For those who knew the song was Ochs's handiwork and knew that he was a well-known antiwar folksinger, the song could be read as a tongue-in-cheek support for draft resistance by any means available. However, the song allowed for a different interpretation, less sympathetic to those who evaded the draft. Just as the show's "We Protest Here" number could be read as mocking and ridiculing protesters and their methods, so too "Draft Dodger Rag" could be read as an indictment against those young men who shirked their military duty. Context was crucial. Phil Ochs's singing the song to young people protesting Selective Service at an antiwar rally opened the lyrics to their preferred meaning. However, in the context of a prime-time variety show with a still fairly diverse audience, the song's preferred meaning may not have been so evident. Perhaps aware of this, the Smothers ended the song with the proclamation, "Make love, not war!"

Although the segment was open to various interpretations regarding draft evasion, CBS's Program Practices division, which would soon become the bane of the Smothers Brothers' existence, requested a copy of the lyric sheet. A CBS memo about this episode focused particularly on the "Draft Dodger Rag" number. The memo noted that the "introduction . . . seemed complimentary to draft dodgers." (The network's censors apparently were not worried about the song itself.) The memo also mentioned that the number resulted in four letters objecting to the material. Despite the concern, the network allowed the episode to be rerun in the summer, apparently with no cuts.

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