Tag Archives: television

television


television noun.  a system for converting visual images (with sound) into electrical signals, transmitting them by radio or other means, and displaying them electronically on a screen;

television

I decided to take a cab to Penn Station last night. As usual, the cab had that intangible odor that wasn’t pleasant, but not unpleasant enough to make one get out and brave the 15 minute walk in cold darkness. On the ride down 8th Avenue, past the few erotica stores mixed in with raw juiceries, you can look up into the pane glass windows of the apartments that rise above the bodegas and Duane Reades. For the most part, all you can see are shadows of large rubber tree plants and modern lamps, their owners most likely making the same slow journey as I toward their sanctuaries. But every once in a while, instead of shadows of plants and lamps, you will catch the flickering glow of an apartment where someone is watching television, the fuzzy random shadows that cast across the walls colliding with the raucous city outside.

I always wonder what the story is behind the person in that apartment, if there is even a person at home or if they left the television on. Do they have the flu and are snuggled down deep into the cushions of their sofa wrapped up in an afghan their mother in law knit for them? Maybe there are two teenagers home alone from school watching ABC Family or a horror movie, popcorn littering the Design Within Reach area rug beneath them, or perhaps a broken hearted sufferer who couldn’t bear to leave the sanctuary of their small place in the world, relying on reality television to escape the pain of their latest break up or loss.

I guess it might be odd to say that I think of television as more than what comes across the screen for me to watch. There is a comfort in the very act of just having it on sometimes. I know I am a 36 year old privileged white suburban mom who is supposed to scoff at all mainstream television in exchange for a constant stream of This American Life and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on NPR, but there is still a place in my heart for this influential invention, the television. Not so much because of a need to watch Bravo schlock and Downton Abbey, but because of the comfort it provides at different times and for different people.

It goes back as far as my early years when I used to sleep at my grandma’s house. She was the type to sleep with the tv on and I remember being 5 years old in her bed with the pink and yellow neon flower sheets watching old Dragnet episodes on her small yellow plastic, black and white console that sat on the dresser, casting those same peaceful shadows I noticed last night during my cab ride. They were a sense of comfort to me even back then, those shadows and her low, nasal snore. I wonder if she knew that I never really slept a wink. I still remember the hours I counted down until Hot Fudge came on and I knew it was Sunday morning.


Or years later when we watched for days the Twin Towers collapsing, asking ourselves over and over whether what we were watching was real. Those days weren’t about peace or sanctuary, but the stark reality of the changing world we were living in. During times of tragedy, television is our connection to those suffering elsewhere, a reality check in case we forget how horrible the world can be at times. It’s true to say that without television we would probably be happier since we wouldn’t be aware of all of the evil in the world and some people ban television in their home entirely because of this fact alone.

Television is most appropriate as a backdrop, as an accent to our lives. It’s when television becomes more than that, that it becomes dangerous and not so good for us. Like everything else in life, used in moderation, it is a beautiful, enriching thing, a tool for providing rich memories – like Sunday football gatherings. A stronghold in times of uncertainty, like on 9/11. It shouldn’t be used in place of parenting or a long term escape from an unpleasant reality, but I don’t think it is inherently evil. Television is like a bag of delicious potato chips. Some days, you can eat 3 and walk away because you’ve got a handle on life and you’re feeling good. Other days you eat the whole bag because you had a bad day at work. The way we use television is a reflection of who we are at the moment and what we are going through. Sometimes we need to be alone, with that low flickering light, curled up under an afghan with a pint of ice cream, pretending we’re friends with people we will never meet on screen while still maintaining the sanctuary of solitude. Television allows the illusion of friendship, when all we want is to be alone, safety while we tend to our voyeuristic nature in viewing life’s disasters and the illusion of safety with its flickering glow casting moving shadows on dark walls that others watch through windows and question what the story is behind them.

Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome. – TS Eliot

 

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vainglory


vainglory n. excessive vanity

A few months ago I was watching an absolutely horrible show entitled “Wife Swap.” The premise of the show is to take 2 families at completely opposite ends of the economic spectrum and switch wives for a week. For the first week, the “new” wife had to follow the usual house rules of the home she is temporarily visiting. Then the next week, the family had to live by the visiting wife’s rules. This particular episode featured a mother who was a self help guru and had a series of books and lectures on how to “Be Your Best You.” This included dressing well, eating all organic food, wearing make up and being overly friendly. During the episode she gave a lecture at a homeless shelter and tried to sell her book to people who didn’t have any money. The much less affluent family she was staying with was appalled.

The question is where to draw the line on “Being Your Best You.” What does that mean? Isn’t the phrase somewhat narcissistic in itself?

To clarify my thoughts I looked up the story of Narcissus which I remembered the basic plot of but not all of the details. I stumbled upon an excerpt from Milton’s Paradise Lost that captures the mythology beautifully:

“That day I oft remember when from sleep
       I first awaked, and found myself reposed
       Under a shade on flowers, much wondering where
       And what I was, whence thither brought, and how
       Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
       Of waters issued from a cave, and spread
       Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
       Pure as the expanse of heaven; I tither went
       With unexperienced thought, and laid me down
       On the green bank, to look into the clear
       Smooth lake that to me seemed another sky.
       As I bent down to look, just opposite
       A shape within the watery gleam appeared,
       Bending to look on me. I started back;
       It started back; but pleased I soon returned,
       Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
       Of sympathy and love. There had I fixed
       Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire,
       Had not a voice thus warned me: ‘What thou seest,
       What there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself;” etc.
                                              Paradise Lost, Book IV.

Every morning when I awake, I look in the mirror. Most days I am somewhat apathetic to my appearance. Other days, I hate what I see. Rarely am I pleased. Now that I think about it, I look at my reflection a lot during the average day. Not even because I am trying to. There are just mirrors everywhere – windows, puddles, etc. I am sure if you think about it, you are looking at yourself a lot too.

The world would be much better without mirrors. Imagine that you had a rare opportunity to look at yourself – perhaps once a week. Imagine how much less time you would spend on yourself and what you might do with that time. If Narcissus had not been able to stare into the water, perhaps he would have fallen in love with someone other than himself. Perhaps we would all stop trying to “Be Our Best Us” through physical appearances. Perhaps we could use other people as mirrors.

Other people can reflect us. Our families and children. If we focus on using people as our mirrors then our reflections are our actions and not just a facade that people see. Think of how different “Being Your Best You” would be if all you had were other people to be your mirror and you theirs. You would most likely be a nicer, respectable person. Or the opposite – if you’re an asshole, you would get it thrown right back at you.

It scares me to think that we live in a world of vainglorious people. I fear that vanity is the default for the vast majority whereas it used to be a deplorable trait. Yet another modern dilemma. I wonder if things will level out as the years go by…

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oojamaflip


oojamaflip n. something that one cannot or does not want to name

Whatchamacallit, whatsit, thingamagig…oojamaflip. So now I have added a new nonsense word to my repertoire. Awesome. I have never heard this word used in common language. It makes me think of the whatchamacallit candy bar – which is really tasty. It also makes me think of Fraggle Rock, which is also a wonderful thing. The Doozers were my favorite and they actually have the Doozer knitting song on Youtube – which just made my day…

Now that I have a baby, I’ve realized how poor the quality of children’s television is. Sesame Street is ALL ELMO. I feel like Jim Henson would be so disappointed. There should be more Oscar and Grover. Snuffy is never on anymore! Sesame Street and the Muppets were so intelligently made that adults could enjoy them. I can’t stand the children’s shows today. Thomas the Tank Engine? Dora? Really? It’s so depressing. Creepy Mister Rogers was ten times better. Those puppets in the Land of Make Believe were freaky as hell, but they lit the match on a child’s imagination.

I think that may be the nub of the problem with children’s television these days…they go too far. The muppets, fraggles and creepy puppets were almost a real life depiction of a child’s imaginary friends. They sparked childrens creativity without doing the whole job for them. This is why I hate toys that make noise and move. Children need to learn how to create their own thoughts and imaginations…not have everything done for them. My husband and I talk about the toys we loved as kids – Memory Games, Sit and Spin, Choose Your Own Adventure books. Let’s hope the whole retro fad extends into children’s toys, games and television.

 

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