Remember the bumper stickers in the seventies that said “Kill Your Television”? Back then I didn’t have a TV to kill, as I was a leftover hippie; broke and homeless for purely ideological reasons. TV was not one of them. It just turned out to be a theme that threaded its way through my life irregardless of my choosing. I spent my formative years watching a controlled amount of the obligatory sitcoms, with the occasional blandishment from concerned adults – ignored, of course – that “Hogan’s Heros” glorified the war. It didn’t bother me. After I left home it was decades before I got another TV and actually watched it. When I finally settled down into my trashy little trailer on the Montana prairie I could get two TV stations, both of them apparently broadcasting from Antarctica, since it was always snowing there. When I first moved to Neihart I rented a place that had satellite TV. I spent a few evenings slack on the sofa, practicing clicker calisthenics, eyes glazed over, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer like a good American who pays $50 a month for three hundred channels with nothing on, but it didn’t take long for me to revolt (It seems that I’m always revolting, doesn’t it?…. Doesn’t it!). I didn’t kill that television – it wasn’t mine to kill – but I did end the TV subscription and re-invested my money in subscriptions to the internet, quality magazines, newspapers and my favorite high-brow mail-order bookseller. I never looked back. No Pillar of Salt am I.
Then I bought a house, and having grown accustomed to the Luddite Way and to missing out on half of the cultural references I heard in conversation and on the radio (I still am not quite sure if the X Files is an etymological exploration of those precious few words in our lexicon which begin with said letter, or something about extreme filing performed by oiled administrative professionals in the buff…), I never even bothered to unpack my old TV. After quite a few years (actually, it works out to be 59.375% of my life so far, but who’s counting?) of living in a tubeless world, it got so that when I encountered that distinctive blue glow somewhere like in a bar or at someone’s house, far from getting all indignant and supercilious, I got an open-mouthed, shiny-object sort of fixation on it. It doesn’t matter what’s on; I look at it, fascinated by the swirling colors and fast-paced idiocy. It’s like spying on an alien species. No one in my neighborhood looks or acts like those little people behind the screen. Those people look like they’re made of plasticine. They live imaginary lives of importance, intrigue, excitement and pertinence. My life is composed, on the other hand, of 90% listlessness and dissatisfaction, what with all the staring out the window and scratching myself (“Why are you scratching yourself?” people ask. Because I’m the only one who knows where it itches, I say.).
Now that I have medium-high speed internet access at home, and now that so many websites (even the long-haired, intellectual sorts like World Politics Watch and The Epistemological Review) provide video clips, I’m finding that Shiny Object Land is creating a giant sucking sound, and rather than getting sucked in kicking, screaming and scratching my screeching nails fruitlessly against the cement, I’m sashaying down the slippery slope into televised sluthood. And no, this is no exaggeration, my friends. Witness the fact that, upon discovering hulu.com, on which one can watch reruns of the Dick van Dyke show in eight and a half minute increments (you have to pause to download more, or Laura starts moving with the choppy charm of a flip-card woman being riffled by a giant with several missing fingers), I watched three in a row. This at a time when I could have been either writing, pursuing my current bookish foray into neurobiology: The Three Pound Enigma by Shannon Moffett, or, even cleaning the house, cutting firewood, meditating, or learning to play the tuba; all of which are certainly more edifying and redeeming pastimes than watching choppy re-runs. But I didn’t. Not only that, but I’ve been known to surf youtube for Parkour videos. Shame on me. But I guess tube-gazing beats navel-gazing, innit? Dope Slap #2!.