Friday, February 25, 2011

T is for Television

T is for Television.



Idiot box.

One eyed monster.

The lazy mom's babysitter.

My son Jacob's true love, language teacher, and best friend.

I have such a love/hate relationship with this beast.

I am a child of the second great age of television, the 1960s.  My husband, seven years my senior, was a child of the first, the golden age, the 1950s.

We watched TV, we loved TV, but it was different. Inane kids programming wasn't available 24/7.  We watched family shows, as a family.

We watched the news, because that was on and our families were interested in the world and what was happening in it.  My family watched a lot of public television, and I learned a lot of science, culture, history there.

There was a downside. In the 1960s everybody on TV was white. Really, very few exceptions. They stood out. It was bizarre, a weird, completely un-true mirror of the world. I got to witness the sea change, the transformation across my lifetime. Although I skipped a few years.

Hard to believe, but it's true: from about 1978 through 1987, nearly a decade, I did not own a television. I would watch when I went home to visit my family, at friend's houses, in bars, Superbowl parties, Oscar nights.

But TV, in those years? Not a daily part of my life.

Hard to imagine, now, where barely an hour goes by that some screen doesn't come on.

My kids watch too much, are too enamored. I know that, but its hard to change.

Jacob, like many autistic kids, learns well through repetition. He really did learn much of his early language from the television, from videos that tied visuals to words, helped to make more abstract concepts (above, before, friend) visual, visceral. Computer programs helped him learn to read.

But the line between helpful and too much? Very fuzzy, a quite wavering line in the sand.

The other night the boys and I were watching the rather inane, yet somehow enjoyed by us, "Family Game Night" show on TV and I had a moment where the normality of TV dissolved away. (When words appear to lose their coherence and meaning it's called dereifying... I wonder what to call it for an object?)

And I was staring at this box of moving lights and pictures squatting on a low table in our living room. (Yeah, we still have a deep square box of a TV, circa 1995, wanna make something of it?)

A person appeared on it and I thought "How strange... here's this person I do not know, in my living room talking to me. This... box... delivers stories and entertainment, information, and so much more into my very living room."

And I thought about what a strange thing it is to live at this specific time in history where this is so, and for such a large part of humanity. More people in the USA have televisions than have indoor plumbing. No lie.

Think about it: a thousand channels and still crapping in the woods seems like an OK trade off to some folks.

And we have so many of these screens in our lives, I know my children will find it very hard to conceive of a time before; before these magic panels of information and entertainment... capable of enabling heretofore unprecedented levels of connectedness, or our isolation.

It made me wonder (constantly, as a former anthropology major like me wonders about, questions, ponders every presumably unquestionable cornerstone of my own culture) what someone from a completely pre- or post- modern civilization (or an alien visitor) would think if they wandered into an American living room and saw that object of frequent worship on the mantelpiece in all its glory.

I would love to explore from a fresh, clean slate perspective the role that TV has in our lives. But it's not easy to do, precisely because the first thing this glut, this overload of info does is to make a clean slate impossible.

It is very difficult to have my own thoughts and ideas on things when so many others are available in overwhelming, flooding proportion with the click of a key, the push of a button, the swipe of a finger.

And as I dive into all these other images/ideas? The first thing that comes to mind is this perspective...

My friend Todd Alcott, long before he was a hotshot LA screenwriter, when he was a not-quite-starving but always quite brilliant New York City playwright and performance artist / monologist, wrote a fabulous piece wherein he speaks in the voice of the Television, embodying the spirit of TV, as it were.

I have seen him perform this monologue, have a copy of it in a closet somewhere, in a cardboard box full of his early writings, solemnly handed to me to read once (for that is how writers seduce, with our words) in the five minutes, twenty plus years ago, when I was his girlfriend.

Someone recently created a video to go along with Todd reading his Television monologue.  And, because this is 2011 and anything created can now be found, uploaded, widely distributed... you can watch it here:

Television is a drug. by Todd Alcott.

Right now, I think I will let this stand, add nothing more; but this...

There is small part of my soul, luddite, that wonders what life would be like unplugged, and longs to experience that with my kids, for even a brief while, a vacation, perhaps.  Although they would enter that experiment howling and screaming, probably becoming completely unhinged.

But afterward?  The real world; unmediated, unfiltered, unveiled, unshrouded, un-predigested by the screens...  it beckons.

But, oh...? If I want to blog about it? I'll have to bring along at least one screen-like device. Oh, well.

This post has been inspired by and linked up to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday writing meme. And isn't it nice that "T" is also the letter and name of my favorite drink, tea?

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