There were radio quiz shows that provided impressive prize money to successful participants. We recall one called: “The $64,000 Question” at which the prize was said to be that amount of money, handed out on the spot to its winner.
Such shows were highly rated, with important sponsors and large audiences. They tended to last a while, gradually see ratings decline and then disappear. Whereupon some new version would presently appear. Some were accused and a few, proven to be frauds, with winners selected by producers, plays put on with casts and scripts calculated to maximize those ratings.
The shows characteristically sent out a coach to ‘warm up’ the live audience that filled theater seats to watch the show. That warm up largely consisted of instructing the attendees to clap, laugh and cheer on cue during the show. To magnify those effects and in case the audience failed to respond as wanted, recorded ‘laugh tracks’ were used by the sound man; a factotum always present in radio to provide appropriate sounds to accompany the script, a necessary auto crash, pistol shot, music, or here, audience laughter or applause. Little was left to chance; too much money was involved. Quite naturally as TV replaced radio, the function of the old sound man was replaced by the purveyor of “special effects” who also appeared on movie sets. Virtual reality is no new concept.
From time to time, given the investments present, a quiz show scandal would hit the headlines, it would leak out somehow that a particular show was “fixed” a fraud, not what it purported to be. It was always important that winners be seen as simply lucky or skilled members of the general public; that you could expect to cash in as well as the ordinary folk you listened to or watched. It had to seem “real.” Naturally, it usually wasn’t. That ‘too much money’ thing operating, right? When the reality of the unreality leaked, such shows would vanish for a while, until enough new listeners or viewers had been born and grown up to fill in a sufficient number of new suckers, per Barnum’s prescription of: “A sucker is born every minute.” Too, it helps that we want to be entertained, to hope for good fortune, to believe.
The pattern lives today, in the ever present state lotteries and proliferating casinos. The old ‘something for nothing’ shtick, in short. Rule by Lady Luck. YOU could win!
This brings to mind another side of this pattern, a very big bucks contest where some winner is selected by what amounts to in the end, Lady Luck or in this case, the momentary mindset of large numbers of voters. We refer to elections.
Elections entertain millions but there are only two producers every time: Democrats and Republicans. They alternate at success, as a response to the degree of affront felt by voters from the incumbents. The salient clue to the fix is the absolute failure of either side after winning, to change anything significant remaining from the predecessor.
The producers remain the same and as with the old quiz shows and presently, “Dancing With The Stars” on TV, they count the votes. Voters take their word for the result. It is assumed that they, with the largest interest in the outcome and enormous power and money involved, will keep each other honest. In a country where “crony capitalism’ has large business donors contributing equally to both parties …
Most places now use some form of computerized voting. Nobody knows how the results are actually obtained; the voting machines are provided by a few relatively small and very secretive producers who compete for the contracts with remarkably limited publicity and whose help is often required to obtain the election counts. Usually in locked rooms without any uninvolved witnesses. Add that in case after case in other places, dictators have used this process to control elections. But the U.S. and a few other places in Europe, no matter the level of general depravity, seem never to have a scandal about state lotteries, casinos or voting. Unlike every other aspect of government, those must be on the up and up, right?