Arlo grew up in the early days of television???

Cidu Bill on Jan 10th 2013


I suspect more people know “kvetch, kvetch, kvetch” from Norma Rae than from any other single source.

Filed in Arlo and Janis, Bill Bickel, Jimmy Johnson, Yiddish, comic strips, comics, humor | 34 responses so far

34 Responses to “Arlo grew up in the early days of television???”

  1. Jeff S. Jan 10th 2013 at 04:37 pm 1

    It’s been WAY too long since I have seen Norma Rae to recall the line, but typing in “kvetch kv…” into Google brought up “kvetch kvetch kvetch norma rae” before I could even complete my typing. After reading one of the links, I sort of remember the line.

  2. Cidu Bill Jan 10th 2013 at 04:44 pm 2

    It was memorable because she mispronounced it so stridently: “Kah-vetch, kah-vetch, kah-vetch!”

    Cah-racked me up.

  3. The Bad Seed Jan 10th 2013 at 04:53 pm 3

    I’m 49 and grew up inexplicably knowing a lot of Yiddish, so maybe I also grew up in the early days of TV. Arlo and I are of the same generation, more or less.

  4. James Pollock Jan 10th 2013 at 05:31 pm 4

    Norma Rae was what, 30 years ago? And I only remember it because it turned out that we liked, Sally, we REALLY liked her!

    If I had to guess a current media source for either “kvetch” in particular or Yiddish in general, it would be Jon Stewart. It’s almost like that guy is Jewish himself, or something.

  5. Judge Mental Jan 10th 2013 at 05:34 pm 5

    I saw Norma Rae, but I don’t remember the line. I agree with Bad Seed that the early days of TV was when I learned a lot of Yiddish words, including “kvetch”, though not necessarily repeated three times.

    I think the only reason Arlo said “kvetch” three times is because the *other* word for gripe usually comes in threes when one is weary of another person complaining.

  6. Cidu Bill Jan 10th 2013 at 05:55 pm 6

    I’m 57, and my early television-watching wasn’t “early” enough to hear any significant amount of Yiddish — and I’d certainly have noticed. I doubt the Brady girls had any idea they were shikses.

    My parents got to hear a lot of Yiddish on the radio and early television.

  7. Cidu Bill Jan 10th 2013 at 05:59 pm 7

    Actually, Arlo’s comment reminds me of Aunt Fritzi, who’s about 30 years old in 2013, yet keeps referring to the 1940s records she listened to when she was growing up.

  8. Kamino Neko Jan 10th 2013 at 05:59 pm 8

    I’m from way after the ‘early days of television’, but I picked up a whole lot of yiddish through TV, both TV shows and movies. (And Mad Magazine.)

  9. Cidu Bill Jan 10th 2013 at 06:14 pm 9

    Mad Magazine! Yeah, that’s definitely where kids of our generation could have picked up Yiddish.

    But television back when Arlo would have been a kid was WASPier than it ever had been or ever again would be.

  10. James Pollock Jan 10th 2013 at 06:44 pm 10

    …except for reruns. Besides, A&J has around a 2:1 time dilation (i.e., It took Gene 20 years to get 10 years older)

  11. lord-z Jan 10th 2013 at 07:20 pm 11

    How old is Arlo supposed to be? 50-ish, give or take? I don’t think the sixties through the seventies could be called “the early days of television”. And, from what I have seen of classic TV, I don’t think that much yiddish was used. At least not significantly more than later.

  12. CaroZ Jan 10th 2013 at 07:28 pm 12

    What you heard growing up depends as much on who your parents were as what era it was! I’m 40 and I sure heard a lot of 1940s records when I was a kid.

    (Actually, lord-z, given that TV has been a mass medium for 60 years or so, by now the 60s-70s actually could be considered the “early days!”)

  13. Larry Lunts Jan 10th 2013 at 08:44 pm 13

    There was a lot of Yiddish in The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran in first-run until 1966. I remember them doing a song called “Bupkes” in one episode (”beans” in Yiddish, but figuratively meaning “nothing,” in a deprecatory sense) Of course that sitcom was created as a vehicle for Carl Reiner, but he was forced to star the more waspy Van Dyke, who was married to Mary Tyler Moore in the series; while Reiner himself became “Alan Brady,” the Jewish comic who starred in the show the sitcom’s “writers”wrote for. The principle cast (except for Morey Amsterdam and Richard Deacon) are all still around. Arlo is what? Between 40 and 50? He might have The Dick Van Dyke Show in first run as a small child, or in reruns in later years.

  14. Cidu Bill Jan 10th 2013 at 10:53 pm 14

    Even if Arlo watched reruns of “golden age” television shows (so did I, probably saw every Burns & Allen and Jack Benny episode), that’s a far cry from “growing up in the early years of television”

    And to clarify, Fritzi refers to those 1940s and 1950s records as if they were contemporary when she was growing up. Essentially, the character spans all the decades in which she existed as an adult in the comic strip. Just something you have to deal with.

  15. James Pollock Jan 10th 2013 at 10:55 pm 15

    Seriously, comic-strip time flows at a different rate. Arlo’s father served in WWII, and Arlo himself was old enough to have been in at least one draft lottery. Also, the part of Ludwig is played by a dog.

  16. Cidu Bill Jan 10th 2013 at 11:09 pm 16

    I think it’s safe to say that at no point was Arlo’s birthdate earlier than 1953 (Jimmy Johnson’s), meaning he no more grew up during television’s early years than I did. Whether or not you want to consider his birthdate to be closer to 1963 at this point is irrelevant to the question at hand.

    I have a feeling, by the way, that his father’s World War Two history will never be mentioned again (especially since his father apparently passed away between panels)

  17. Elyrest Jan 10th 2013 at 11:25 pm 17

    Bill - I’m going to quibble here. If a person is born in 1953 - how can that NOT be growing up during televisions early years? Is the problem your definition of “growing up” or “early years”? Both? Now someone born in 1953 wouldn’t be paying attention to a lot of TV right off the bat, but in a few years, the mid-1950’s, they would be. And the mid-1950’s is definitely the early days of television - not the earliest, but early.

  18. James Pollock Jan 11th 2013 at 12:10 am 18

    From my vantage point, the “early years” of television are indicated by a lack of color, putting the first season of “Gilligan’s Island” into that category. Others consider the “early years” to be the time when pretty much all television shows were converted radio shows. Others consider the “early years” to be everything up until the VTR was invented (originally, the tapes were 2″ wide.

  19. Cidu Bill Jan 11th 2013 at 12:56 am 19

    Elyrest, if this strip is to make any sense, Arlo would have to have been a television watcher during the early days of Berle, Benny, Burns and Allen… the Borscht Belt comics with live programs. Arlo, like me, would have grown up with Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver, and a thousand westerns, and I’d be surprised if he’d heard a single Yiddish word among the lot of them (though 95% of the writers were probably Jewish).

    As Larry pointed out, there were Yiddish words tossed about on the Dick van Dyke Show (probably the only show of its time to have several Jewish characters), but that hardly qualifies as “the early days of television.”

  20. DemetriosX Jan 11th 2013 at 04:21 am 20

    This is probably the result of comic time. Time passes more slowly for A&J than for the real world. Back in the early days of the comic, they were probably the same age as Jimmy Johnson, who I think is pushing 60, but now they really can’t be much more than 50. It’s like Crankshaft’s service in WWII or Walt Duncan’s love of 60s music.

    Another possible TV source for Arlo’s Yiddish exposure could be old movies that were shown. Plenty of old borscht belt comics there, throwing it around. But I would think his exposure would more likely have come from things like Dr. Demento or his dad’s Alan Sherman records.

    Also, isn’t kvetch one of those words that has pretty much entered the general vernacular? (The Firefox spellchecker had no problems with it.) Admittedly, I grew up in southern California, where Yiddish words might be a little more common than in the Gulf states, but I’ve never had anyone look at me puzzled on the rare occasions I’ve used it.

  21. Soup Dragon Jan 11th 2013 at 07:46 am 21

    The _early_ days of television were of course in the 30’s. The war threw a spanner in the process of wider adaption, but the 50’s was the second wave.

  22. somebody else Jan 11th 2013 at 08:32 am 22

    Does anybody else remember as high points of “the early days” some programs like My Little Margie, Private Secretary, the one on the cruise ship (”The Ann Sothern Show” maybe?), “The Gale Storm Show”, and with a different outlook “The Peeple’s Choice”? Man, from thows shows on our family Muntz B&W set that had been moved into my room when the family set was upgraded, I was … just a minute, need to change my posting name!,… those shows helped me learn how masturbation could be entertaining!

  23. BBBB Jan 11th 2013 at 09:29 am 23

    I did live through TV’s early years, when kids would go over in the afternoon to watch Howdy Doody on the only TV in the neighborhood. This experience was repeated in several neighborhoods over half a dozen years in Virginia, California, and Massachusetts in the 40s and early 50s.

    I have always watched a lot of TV. I don’t recall more Yiddish being spoken on TV during any particular time–with one exception. James #4 is right; Jon Stewart uses Yiddish phrases often. It’s possible that Molly Goldberg’s show also used Yiddish, but I don’t remember it that way–it was a long time ago, and I was more into the lone ranger, etc.

  24. Ian Osmond Jan 11th 2013 at 12:10 pm 24

    Maybe he’s thinking of THE GOLDBERGS, with Molly Goldberg (played by Gertrude Berg)?

    Me, I know “kvetch” from my grandfather, mostly, whose native language was English, but whose mother spoke Yiddish. He’d throw a word in from time to time for color.

    My wife’s grandparents, on the other hand, their native language WAS Yiddish, although they spoke Polish, Russian, German, and English as well.

  25. Ted in Fort Lauderdale Jan 11th 2013 at 01:41 pm 25

    I didn’t learn any Yiddish from TV - I learned (what little I know) the old fashioned way, by overhearing adults using incomprehensible phrases in conversation…

    I am about Bill’s age (born in 1955). (FWIW, I assume from things in the strip that Arlo is roughly my age or just a bit younger - my father was in WW2 (drafted pretty much right out of college in Nov 1941 to install and run radar installations in England, and kept in for the duration) and my kids are currently in college, so Arlo’s “experiences” really aren’t out of line for that.) As has been said, I doubt that (perhaps aside from Dick Van Dyke) there was any significant usage of Yiddish on TV shows that someone of that age would have seen - whatever actually ever existed likely faded away by the 1953-1955 time frame as the ex-radio performers gave way to fashioned-for-TV scripted series, and I don’t think many of the late 40s/early 50s shows got significant off-network airplay until at least the late 70s.

    That said, an additional question might be how early TV itself could have assumed to be truly ubiquitous. While some people here that are roughly my age are mentioning shows that people could be expected to have seen, as far as I can remember _I_ never saw any of the late 50s or very early 60s TV shows (Leave it to Beaver, Howdy Doody, Father Knows Best, etc., etc., etc.). Arlo/JJ doesn’t make clear what he means by “early days” or how young he was at the time, but it could have been still at a time when not everyone had a TV. I’m not sure when my family got a TV - the first that I remember us having would have been sometime around 1962, but it could have been years earlier, as that TV was in my parent’s bedroom and not available to the kids to watch. The first that _I_ was able to watch on a regular basis would probably have been around 1963. It is possible (actually, in retrospect, sort of likely) that this was somewhat unusual and that we were poorer at the time than I realized, but the rest of our neighborhood seemed similar. Something like that could have made Arlo’s “early days” later, making it even less likely that he would have been exposed to Yiddish on TV.

  26. That's Me Jan 11th 2013 at 04:12 pm 26

    The question on my mind is: how much older than Janis is Arlo? I always figured that they were around the same age, but apparently he grew up in the “golden age of television” and she didn’t?!

  27. mitch4 Jan 11th 2013 at 11:09 pm 27

    Jon Stewart’s baseball segment last night was called “Seventh Inning Kvetch”.

  28. James Pollock Jan 12th 2013 at 01:00 am 28

    “The question on my mind is: how much older than Janis is Arlo?”
    They met at college. Perhaps what Arlo meant was that he spent a lot of time watching TV, and she didn’t.

  29. Larry Lunts Jan 12th 2013 at 01:35 am 29

    Also, let’s not forget “The Joys of Yiddish,” by Leo Rosten, a best-selling book published in 1968, that popularized Yiddish phrases by pairing them with humorous stories illustrating the concept behind the phrase. Maybe Arlo is on the verge of becoming an “alder kocker,” a term I learned from that book, and never forgot. (Literally, “old shitter,” in Yiddish; perhaps better expressed by the American English phrase “old fart,” meaning an older person of (somewhat) diminished mental capacity. Arlo is old enough to have read that book, so maybe he is confused about his sources, as sometimes happens with alder kockers.

  30. Dave in Boston Jan 12th 2013 at 11:38 am 30

    As James Pollock noted earlier, A&J has a 2:1 time dilation. This is stated policy, not just observation.

    If Arlo is 40 (but he isn’t) he was born in 1933 and was 10 in 1953 and 20 in 1973, which sort of fits. If he’s 50, he was born in 1913 and was 20 in 1953 and 30 in 1973; this doesn’t work. I think it makes more sense to presume the dilation started roughly when the strip started; then he’d be 50-something now, 40 then, born in 1948, 10 in 1958, 20 in 1968. Roughly. This model is consistent with all the evidence/data that comes to mind…

  31. Cidu Bill Jan 12th 2013 at 12:06 pm 31

    Agreed, Dave: Arlo has to be about 50 now. Since he has a son who’s 22 or 23, and it’s been established that he and Janis were married for a bit before he was born.

  32. Mark in Boston Jan 12th 2013 at 02:43 pm 32

    Arlo and Janis met at Woodstock and conceived Gene there. I don’t know if Jimmy Johnson knows this or not, but a friend of mine is convinced this is true. It certainly makes enough sense to be true. If Gene was born in 1970, given the time dilation he is now 21 years old.

    In a non-time-dilated universe, Arlo and Janis were both conceived at Woodstock, hence the names, and are 42 now.

  33. Todd Jan 14th 2013 at 04:58 am 33

    I don’t know any thing about the early years of Arlo and Janis, but I’m pretty sure they’ve moved the strip forward in roughly real time from the time I first saw it, which I think was around the time Gene met whatsername at the beach.

  34. Meryl A Jan 15th 2013 at 02:32 am 34

    I emailed Mr. Johnson it amazes me that the language my parents and grandparents spoke so we would not know what they were saying is now so widely known about. I am 59 and consider that I grew up in the early days of TV, but actually do not remember any TV before the mid to mid late 1950’s other than in reruns - watching Burns and Allen and Jack Benny on Antenna TV right now.

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