In Praise of Maynard G. Krebs

Meghan Daum on Bob Denver’s earlier role as Dobie Gillis and how groundbreaking it was:

Denver played Dobie’s lackadaisical, free-spirited, bohemian pal, Maynard G. Krebs. The primordial hip nonconformist, (the “G,” he insisted, stood for Walter), Maynard was thought by many at the time to be the nation’s most famous beatnik, better known and perhaps more lovable than the likes of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs.

In what even today would be an unlikely set of traits in a sitcom character, Maynard was a jazz fan who talked frequently about Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, played the bongos and ocarina and even sang scat. He wore a goatee, baggy clothes and invoked a kind of hipster parlance that was so ahead of its time that it was actually outmoded before other television shows had a chance to catch up. Whereas “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family” were enmeshed in the flowered pants and painted school buses of the hippie era, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” rode the subtler currents of be-bop and Salinger-esque angst. If Bob Denver could have copyrighted Maynard’s signature use of “like” to preface his sentences, generations of teenagers would owe him a fortune….

Being into jazz is fairly radical stuff for a television teenager, and we pretty much never saw it again after “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” went off the air. Adolescence became as commodified as the rock ‘n’ roll that defined it, and the interests and hobbies associated with teenagers became increasingly about shopping. With all that purchasing power on the line, networks couldn’t take risks on characters with underground tastes.

Imagine if the Bradford kids on “Eight Is Enough” had holed up in their rooms listening to the Ramones. What if someone from “The O.C.” became hellbent on publishing a story in the alternative literary magazine McSweeney’s? It wouldn’t happen. Such interests require visits to used record stores or independent bookstores or even (gasp) the library, not the mall.

But as Dobie’s sidekick, Maynard G. Krebs was exempt from the role-model duties that have always made lead characters less interesting than their quirky cohorts. Whereas Dobie had to learn a lesson in every episode, Maynard generally took himself out of the moral equation all together, eschewing work and good deeds for a more aesthetic form of righteousness.

But the difference between Maynard’s brand of slacker and with his famous aversion to work, he was certainly among the first of the slackers and today’s acne-ridden layabout is that Maynard, for all his silliness, was inherently wise. His sense of justice arose directly out of his cultural interests, not in spite of them. His character was the result of what he dug rather than what he didn’t dig. His love of Thelonious Monk didn’t preclude his friendship with the straight-laced Dobie. A hippie, with all of his circumscribed cultural baggage, would probably have dismissed Dobie as an incorrigible square. Maynard was nuanced enough to have friends on both sides of the radio dial.

My thoughts: Gilligan wasn’t THAT bad, although my first thought after Denver’s death was to download old Dobie Gillis episodes. Holy Cow! is selling DVDs with 2 episodes for $19 each! Horray for price-gouging!

Mickey Kaus on new revenue possibilities for the New York Times:

It seems to me, though, that the NYT is missing an obvious, lucrative marketing angle. It would be a variant of the idea my college friend Mark had for a Reverse Record Store–you’d go and pay them $11.99 and they’d take your money and use it (along with the $11.99 payments of others) to bribe Paul McCartney to not make an album that year. Similarly, imagine TimesDelete: for $19.95 a month, say, TimesDelete’s premium subscribers could vote on one op-ed columnist to take an extended vacation. If more people picked Krugman rather than Brooks, Krugman would get his salary plus a bonus on the condition that he maintain a meaningful silence for several weeks. The race would be tight every month, I should imagine, with Republicans and Democrats trying to outvote each other. But you can’t play if you don’t pay! I’d say this is surefire, supplemental revenue stream would bring in way more than the puny $20 or $30 million dollars a year the Times might hope to make from TimesSelect, especially if the business model were extended to the news pages. Adam Nagourney–your ship has come in! ..

A marriage proposal as a cartoon.