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Home » Culture and Criticism

TV Nation

Submitted by on March 11, 1996 – 9:08 PMNo Comment

I love television.Despite the fact that the vast majority of television programming inspires your brain cells to say things like “fuck this — I’m outta here” to each other before battering themselves to death against the inside of your cranium; despite the fact that the average American watches something like 29 hours of television per day; despite the fact that the so-called sport of golf has its own channel, I still love television.

I love television because when I was little, my parents didn’t let me watch very much television.I could watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers and Electric Company, and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.I could watch cartoons too, and all week I looked forward to the six-hour bonanza of Saturday morning; nothing except the inevitable but deeply disappointing arrival of Soul Train at 12:30 could pry me away from the tube.As I got older, they let me watch more stuff, but not the Dukes of Hazzard, because my father dismissed it as “stupid, ” an opinion that, while valid, nevertheless pained my nine-year-old heart and the flame that it carried for Bo.(I forgive you, Dad.)I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV either; evidently my parents objected to MTV on principle.I watched it anyway, keeping a finger poised on the “previous channel” button.These restrictions made television into forbidden fruit, delicious and tempting.(Especially a-Ha videos.)

In retrospect, I think their decision to restrict my television intake proved a wise one, because instead of watching TV, I devoured books and used my imagination.Unfortunately, I don’t live at home anymore and nobody can tell me to turn off that drivel because it’s a beautiful day outside for heaven’s sake.I have to struggle against the temptation to sit in front of the television, every muscle slackened and the front of my shirt moist with drool, watching Ron Popeil elaborate on the myriad uses for Hair In A Can while my brain turns into a sticky cobweb.El Rabo doesn’t help.El Rabo comes over to my house, gives me a kiss, helps himself to the last soda in the fridge, and channel surfs until he finds the worst show on television. “This is awful.Absolutely awful,” he says.Then he says, “Damn, we should be taping this.”

So, to make a long story short, I have made a concerted effort to cut down on television, not just because my ability to sing along with commercials had begun to scare me, but also because the sheer wretchedness of television had begun to scare me.A couple of months ago, before I got a job, I spent an entire rainy day doing nothing but watching television, and I saw the following examples of relentless mediocrity…

The Young and the Restless.A woman wearing a tight orange dress and bright orange lipstick informed a man with a bristly mustache that she was pregnant with his child.I had my doubts about that, since the dress didn’t leave much to the imagination, and as it turned out, another woman wearing a polka-dotted something-or-other with large shoulderpads confirmed my suspicions — Orange Lady was indeed lying.

Three’s Company rerun.The roommates all won some money.They had to split it evenly.Each roommate thought he or she should keep all of the money.The usual predictable misunderstandings ensued.

Oasis Unplugged.Give me a bloody break, mate.

A lesson on the pupil of the domestic feline.This somewhat obvious science lesson — a cat’s pupils dilate in lower light, uh duh — segued into a discussion of the hermit crab’s life of leisure.Fascinating.

Several dozen commercials for gyms and weight loss programs — Jenny Craig, Weight Loss Centre, SlimFast, Lucille Roberts — obviously geared towards the hapless and overweight daytime-viewing audience.

L.A. Law rerun.I refuse to believe that people actually tuned in each week to find out if the roly-poly man and his pointy-headed wife could impregnate themselves.Maybe the writers had a contest to determine how many times they could fit the words “turkey baster” into the script.Maybe the winner got to spray-paint “Clash Of The Titans much?” on the door of Harry Hamlin’s dressing room.

Top Cops.A word of advice to female law-enforcement officers, and to those who impersonate them on TV — perhaps you should eliminate the phrase “short on the sides, long in back” from your hairstyle vocabulary.

Heather Locklear. “People always think that Amanda Woodward and I are, like, the same person, but we really aren’t.”Oh, my.

A program about how to operate a calculator — specifically, the cosine button.The host, invisible except for his index finger, asked the audience to press the cosine button a few times, just to get comfortable with it.Nope, not a joke.

Genuine diamelles.The word “diamelle” does not appear in the dictionary.I thought I should mention that.

Rerun of 1992 Presidential debates.Clinton looked kind of cute.

WKRP rerun.On the one hand, you have acting.On the other hand, you have pressing your breasts together until they look like a buttcrack.Hats off to Loni Anderson for trying to do both.

A commercial for the Barbie Mustang High Stepper.The brain trust at Mattel, chastened by Ken’s anatomical incorrectness, at last gave Barbie something to mount — the High Stepper, a pony with movable joints that walks by itself.Well, sort of.Picture Stephen Hawking break-dancing.

A show about sheep.

Kabuki theater on public access.

This list doesn’t scratch the surface.It doesn’t mention Bob Saget, or any of the abominations masquerading as programming on the UPN network, or car commercials or the Psychic Friends or movies with all the “bad” words cut out.I get 76 channels, 24 hours a day — I couldn’t list all the crap on television in just one column, even if I wanted to. I don’t think I want to, anyway.

So do I have a point?Everyone already knows that most television sucks and that the United States as a nation should read more.But the quality of television doesn’t worry me as much as the use of television.People turn on the television to keep them company, and to keep them from thinking.They think that if they turn off the television then they will have to think about their lives and deal with their family members, and they will feel lonely and depressed.They do not want to feel lonely and depressed, because they think that nobody should ever feel lonely and depressed.They get this idea from television.

For some reason, we live in a country where everyone needs to feel happy and fulfilled and entertained during every waking moment, or they think that they have something wrong with them.I don’t know how this happened, but I have a feeling that Prozac is having its heyday precisely because television stopped working as an effective numbing agent.



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