Art Linkletter is gone and with him a brilliant, gentle “banality.”
It was shocking to read Linkletter’s obituary in the New York Times last week. I was not so much surprised that he was gone, but rather that he had still been alive until a few days ago. I had assumed that he, like many others of his gentler, wiser era, had already left us.
Reading the obituary, I was reminded of the precious culture of innocence I so often experienced in the America in which I grew up. Art represented (and contributed to) that era. A much more cynical culture surrounds us today.
However, according to this article, there were plenty of cynics then too. The paper mentions that when Linkletter started his wildly popular television show, House Party, the intellectuals of the day howled. Part of the problem, I believe, is that Linkletter spent a good deal of his air time talking to kids -- and listening to them -- and hamming it up with them! The common people raved about it! (Nothing so rouses the intellectuals’ ire).
William Grimes, the NYT editorial writer, wrote: “Television critics and intellectuals found the Linkletter persona bland and his popularity unfathomable.” He cites one newspaper critic who said, “There is nothing greatly impressive, one way or the other, about his appearance, mannerisms, or his small talk…” He tells how another referred to Art’s “imperishable banality.”
Ahh -- there is that word: banality.
It’s one of those words the intelligent ones today still love to throw around. “How banal” is their equivalent of the less intellectual: “How lame!” It is, of course, more smug, and better educated. So we have the banality cops to save us from our own foolishness and lack of sophistication. Well, it seems Linkletter had them too but, thank God, he didn’t listen.
You know what? Some of my greatest heroes laughed in the face of the banal word. Leo Tolstoy once said, “The great writer is not afraid of banality.” And then there is Jesus -- what about Him? Even His disciples thought it beneath His importance to spend much time with kids. Kids weren’t very sophisticated, after all, when it came to Kingdom-of-God stuff.