Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Watched TV My Whole Life And I Turned Out TV

I saw the 348th article today about how awful TV is to our kids and how it affects everything from weight to motor skills to socialization to creativity. I’ve been reading these since I can remember and I think most of the information is correct. TV sucks. I was severely addicted to it for most of my life, and our relationship now is frosty.

I thought about writing a piece about how I struggled with my bond to TV, but that is a well-trodden path. So are bits about the decline of TV or the perceived increase in quality in some areas while others are slipping into shit soup. All valid and worth talking about. But I just don’t feel it. I also would hate to defend TV because I am sure it has hurt my life more than helped.

Maybe, just for today, I’ll talk about the nice stuff it has given me.

First, I’ll get the maudlin section over with. I was painfully shy. And, on top of that, as I’ve just realized; I was afraid of everything. I watched TV because I was scared of life and the world and playing baseball with kids who could play baseball better than me. I was home alone all of the time and the house gets very quiet with no TV on. Its part of the reason my TV is on right now and I’m nowhere near it. I used it to drown out arguments and painful silences and everything. Me, Don Knotts, Underdog and Abe Vigoda.

Because this took place mostly in the eighties and cable really wasn’t anything, I watched a lot of TV that was not intended for me. There were movies and sitcoms aimed at my parents and my grandparents. But it was all that was on.

However, I did get something out of it. If I were outside in a giant field sitting in amazement of junebugs and butterflies this would have never happened. As for me, I developed a curiosity in our culture. It was a strange porthole for such a little boy who didn’t know why he could remember everything his teachers sometimes could not. What were all these old words and phrases they said that no one used? Black and white movies were old movies, but they also spoke differently. The women dressed differently. Was that how they really dressed or was it just for the TV? Why did that joke get a laugh? What is a “diaphragm” and what is a “bigot”?

I still contend that Bugs Bunny has more to do with my love of history and timelines than any other influence. He was bringing up references that were before my mother was born. I knew this because I figured out Roman numerals and they appeared at the opening credits of each cartoon. WWII, the Army, music, political figures and timing. Man, Bugs’ timing was Groucho Marx’s timing and it was near perfect. I learned to speak more maturely. Didn’t help much in fourth grade but I liked it.

Speaking of school, when I eventually clung to a few other TV nerdy types we had a shared experience to talk about. It was the cartoons and the crappy movies we watched that helped to bond us. That’s why Trekkie conventions and the like exist. It’s exactly like a football game. Shared love for a thing. There are costumes, toys and snacks. And we’re all tubby! God bless this country.

I read a lot. I liked to ride my bike and took a ton of walks. I wasn’t homebound. But I was seriously addicted. Luckily the intended audience for TV shifted somewhere in the early nineties and I was able to slowly wean myself away. I felt awful for a very long time and considered it a waste of an existence. Then, I had to accept that TV was there for me. It wasn’t great all the time, and it hurt my eyeballs. But when the house got too quiet and the power wasn’t out I could turn it and on and at least feel like I was connected to something.

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