Searching the American memory


May 22, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

It is time, class, to review for a quiz. Complete these phrases: "Two all-beef patties..." and, "Now sit right back and you'll hear a tale..."

Very good! The first was the ad refrain for a certain fast foot sandwich from some years ago, and the second, of course, is the opening line of the theme song to "Gilligan's Island."

"Why do we remember these things?" asks Alex Trebek tonight, in connection with these and other trivia items that are recalled as part of "The American Memory Test," a CBS special at 8 p.m. on Channel 11.

"Because we were paying attention," concludes the "Jeopardy" host about such pop-culture memorization, which in the science of "mnemonics" is known as "semantic memory." Charitably, Trebek does not offer any value judgment about the people-on-the-street interview subjects (and viewers at home) who are able to knock off the jingles.

Actually, tonight's show is a fun and at least moderately educational exploration of the fascinating realm of human memory, which Trebek calls "what links your present to your past." But couldn't they have found a better opening sequence?

The show starts with a mock armed holdup of a grocery, complete with gunfire and terrified bystanders. Trebek appears to ask viewers specific questions about what they've just seen, and doubtless many people will mess up a lot of details.

Obviously, the same happens in reality, allowing Trebek to make the point that memory is sometimes critical. But there's so much crime and violence on TV that it seems gratuitous and out of place here, especially in a show that is fairly light-hearted later on.

* Speaking of Trebek, the memory man is also the host of tomorrow's "National Geography Bee" finals, which are being contested at the Smithsonian in Washington and scheduled to be broadcast live by a production team from Maryland Public Television.

The show can be seen here at 10 a.m. n channels 22 and 67, and is also being offered to PBS stations across the nation. MPT will repeat the broadcast at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

Maryland's representative in the national competition, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, is state champ Danny Dudif, 14, an eighth-grader at Pocomoke Middle School.

* And one last memory item: Do you recall when Richard Nixon went on "Laugh In" to say "sock it to me?" The seed of denuded public dignity sown that night in 1968 reached an awful new flowering on yesterday's "CBS This Morning," as former Secretary of State, Nobel Peace Prize-winner etc. Henry Kissinger joined Mark McEwen to do the weather.

Media Monitor wishes he could forget. Outrageously hyped beforehand, the stunt was more embarrassing than could have been imagined, fawning, dumb and utterly pointless.

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