I grew up immersed in, surrounded by, bombarded by television. As much as I complain about the generalizations of the “digital natives” I accept that somehow the absorption I had in television as the primary source of media must have shaped me. Somehow. I saw a lot of TV.
Somehow blatantly obvious, television as I knew it is long dead. And that’s okay.
Growing up in Baltimore, my mom told me I learned my numbers from the TV Guide; fortunately, in Baltimore, the major network channels were 2, 11, and 13, so I guess I learned addition from there as well. I watched a lot of cartoons, a lot of Bugs Bunny, and perhaps I was seeded for a future in Arizona based on the landscapes the Roadrunner ran through. When I was diagnosed diabetic at age 7, my grandmother offered a reward- if I learned how to do my own insulin injections myself for 2 weeks, she would buy me my own TV.
Sure, I would stick myself with needles for a TV! I loved that little black and white set. I may have thought it was a magical window into another world, but all of the movement through the window came out of it, not into it.
I can recall sitting in our living room in 1969 watching Neil Armstrong step down and bounce gleefully across the surface of the moon. There were the class assemblies when we’d gather to watch the Apollo crew return to earth… we watched on TVs mounted on carts in the auditorium. There was not understanding why the games at the Olympics stopped in 1972, it started not to make sense.
There was the time a kid who was the first I knew to have color television invited me over to watch it. I was not all that impressed with Richard Silverman as the movie was “The Wizard of Oz” (which starts off in Black and White) until Dorothy’s house landed in a new kind of land.
Heck, I thought the Brady Bunch really was this cool happy, perfect family, completely oblivious to the odd stories we heard later about the actors. I think I had a thing for Mary Tyler Moore. The Six Million Dollar Man was believable. Then there was the early teen years with a major, major Charlies Angles crush in Farah Fawcett; yes I had that poster (no more details available)
There were sit-coms, we watched them as a family, at dinner. All in the Family may look quaint in its 1970s sets, but it busted out tough topics not broached on TV like racism (remember Archie Bunker and George Jefferson arguing over whether God was black or white), homosexuality, women’s rights, etc. Strangely, Archive Bunker was in the end, not a hated character, more pitiable. It broke conventions, and I think I saw every episode of that, as well as M*A*S*H (the latter likely 3 times over).
There was the anticipation for September when new shows would all premiere the same week, and the stacking of TV shows in those months when Nielsen was doing their ratings (using technology of pencil and paper logs).
When I was in middle school, I heard people talking about this new show that was live on NBC on Saturday nights, late. It was not even on the local NBC station in Baltimore, I could get reception from channel 4 in Washington DC with foil on the antenna and still it was snowy, but this radical show where they made fun of commercials (Akryod’s Bass-o-matic), news, and had some bizarre music acts like Leon Redbone and his tuba or the wild imitation of Joe Cocker by John Belushi.
Cable TV came when I was in high school, and oh, was that different. Well it was from broadcast TV. HBO actually played movies all the time. Then there was MTV- I saw it from the start, maybe not from the first Video Killed the Television Star, but remember thinking WTF is “Flock of Seagulls?”, but getting addicted to the new form, new sounds like the Go-Gos, the Eurthymics, the Stray Cats, Split Enz, Billy Idol, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow, stuff not on the radio where I lived. And what was it about those Vee-jays that made them so calculatedly likable?
Last time I checked (and ti was a while ago) I did not see any music playing on MTV.
That was the TV I grew up on, and it is dead.
The TV that I absorbed was controlled by networks, the content, the time it was shown, was in someone else’s hands. I could not interact with it (besides changing channels); I could not comment on it, I was in fact, a pure consumer of content. But we did not of anything else, and TV shows became a center point of conversation (“Did you see the show….”) or the family dinner focus.
Was I adversely affected by constant exposure to the repeated violence of poor Coyote and Elmer Fudd? Was I stunted by the writing of sit coms? Maybe.
Fast forward to now, 2008. I live in a small town in Arizona 100+ miles away from Phoenix, and receive no television signals. There is cable television available, but I have chosen not to subscribe. It does not offer me anything.
Yet I have watched all five seasons of Six Feet Under… on DVD. Last year, I watched the entire season of Lost… on iTunes downloads, viewing on my iPod as I traveled. I’ve recently been browsing and watching content on Hulu; I was able to see the clips from last night’s Saturday Night Live just this morning on Hulu. (“Not Quite from Live From Saturday Night…). We have all the independent production of any Joe with a video camera and net connection to YouTube. And I don’t find much conversation around a show on TV, it’s about some video on the internet.
Watching shows, movies, when I want them, over the internet… that is not the TV I remember. I am marveling at the speed at which the Internet has changed the game for television, and am eager to see if the industry can really find a modern way, or fade off to the distance. It has not only been flattened, TV has been put to rest. I don’t know what to call this new stuff, but it’s not TV as I knew it.
And that is more than fine with me.
Is it even TV- “Tele-Vision” -televised vision, anymore?
But did that long exposure to TV affect me?
I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque…
The post "The Death of TV As I Knew It" was originally pushed out of the bottom of a purple jar of Play-Doh at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2008/10/tv/) on October 20, 2008.