I would like to take this opportunity to shoulder a bit of the blame hurled around in the current Battle of the Generations. Whatever my assigned generational designation might be (“X”), I know for certain one egregious sin that we all committed willfully, en masse.
We watched too much fucking TV.
Way, way too much. It wasn’t just us, either, though I’m not trying to shift blame; our grandparents used to watch TV full-time, full-blast. Old folks blasted their televisions so commonly it became a stereotype. (This was before a different stereotype moved in, and out-blasted the old folks.) If you had a maid, and they were Hispanic, they would come with a portable TV that blasted telenovelas at ear-splitting volume, and that became a stereotype.
We called it the idiot box, and yet we still gazed into it day after day. So yeah, we were the real idiots, turns out. That I grant you.
The addiction took root because television offered an escapist alternative to our daily lives. It did this by creating glamorized examples of regular people, living in familiar environments. These people loved and respected one another, even if they disagreed, or came from incompatible backgrounds. There were neighborhoods we’d like to visit, or even reside in, occupations we’d love to have, and bars or coffee houses that welcomed us with open arms, and even knew our names.
We watched kids grow up and become disparate, worldly people. We saw workplaces where everyone got along, despite whatever transpired before closing time. We saw law enforcement officers with golden hearts who strove to make life safer and better for everyone.
We saw families work out their differences in just under thirty minutes.
We fell for the sit-con. Head over heels.
We were so guileless and naive in that halcyon pre-Irony Age, we believed the Bradys looked like a real family, and had no suspicions about Robert Reed. Or Paul Lynde, for that matter, or even Liberace. When I was a kid, people hadn’t yet worked out that Liberace was gay. Everyone figured that if he were, he’d say so. He didn’t.
We turned to the Keatons (of Family Ties) and the Cosbys, and we just assumed that hey, some families are made up of people who look nothing like each other. It could happen. Maybe that’s why these television families could settle their differences so easily in 22 minutes; their heterogeneous looks. They never got sick of looking at each other all day, like our folks did, and you couldn’t tell they were a family at first glance.
We saw countless TV stars at the absolute apex of their greatness, long before they became cancerous, larcenous, perverse or Satanic. Or just dead. Oftentimes we fell for a personality who just suddenly died, poof, gone, leaving a gaping void in their absence that can never be filled again. Andy Kaufman. John Belushi. That poor handsome bastard Jack Cassidy. (He got it the worst.)
Our obsession with the tube* was so quixotic, there were TV shows about the obsession. Spoiled kids had pay cable, like HBO, which aired a sitcom (WITH FEMALE NUDITY!) called Dream On, starring Brian Benben as a book editor who daydreams in the form of old black-and-white TV clips. This is where I first heard Wendie Malick speak, birthing a longtime fixation that culminated in a relationship with a similar-sounding female for almost eight years.
*Television was, in the 20th century, typically a box housing a cathode-ray tube (CRT). Hence the “tube” association- that’s what it was. That’s from whence the term of endearment “boob tube” emerged, and of course… a little company you might have heard of called “YouTube”. This was probably why the late Alaskan senator Ted Stevens confusedly labeled the Internet a “series of tubes” in 2006; in a way, it kind of was. A series of cathode-ray tubes, at first.
Before Cartoon Network, we used to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. If you got up too early, you had to sit through the agricultural report, and if you got up too late (noon), the cartoons were OVER, and vapid live-action drivel like Saved By The Bell came on. Shows like that were great in the ’80s and ’90s because they showed you the exact way to dress if you wanted to ensure no girl would ever touch you.
See, TV fucked a lot of us up regarding dating and sex. Just like ’80s movies, even the annoying goofy sidekick could have a girlfriend. There were earnest females who existed on sitcoms solely for the purpose of kissing the main character’s weirdo buddy. The studio audience would go “woooooooo”, and then the earnest female would completely disappear by the next episode. She didn’t turn evil, have someone else’s baby, or write angry missives to anyone. Just gone, never mentioned again, even in passing.
Much like the weirdo buddy getting laid, this never, ever happens in reality. But because it happened on TV, we felt like we were the problem.
Thus began the souring of America on television. Slowly we came to realize that the escapist worlds we’d based our lives around were a fantasy. No real family could solve a conflict in 22 minutes. Friendly neighbors didn’t just waltz into your unlocked house to say hi. Not every cop was on our side. Beautiful girls don’t fall in love with us at first sight and become hopelessly devoted. We don’t just acquire a house in a nice neighborhood and live in it with our loving spouse. We don’t just happen to have a steady job that meets our financial needs and provides a healthy social circle.
Slowly but surely, we woke up.
The commercials were the spur. We developed methods of dealing with them; a bathroom break, a trip to the kitchen for snacks, the legendary mute button. Commercials often arrived at ear-splitting volume, particularly on basic cable, making it increasingly impossible to doze off in front of the ‘tube. Television became a stressor, an obnoxious presence in the home. A noisy intruder.
Thus, we dealt with the omnipresence of television programming by goofing on it, thereby forging the pervading style of humor we love so much today. We birthed irony. My generation.
For the first 35 years of my life, television was practically a family member. In my twenties I would leave it on all day, for background noise when I lived alone. I would watch every day after work, before I went to sleep. Sometimes as a boy I would stay up all night watching TV, just to see what in the world was on that late/early.
I haven’t had a television in fifteen years. I re-watch my favorite shows digitally, on the Internet. I vehemently refuse to watch commercials or advertisements of any kind; I consider them mental rape. No company can be trusted to create a proper ad anymore. It’s all intellectual rape and forced agendas from people who hate me. My dad was an ad agent in 1970s NYC. I know whereof I speak, from the ground up.
We were conned. Hard.
Just as you’re being conned, right now. You want your children to be “Internet-savvy”? Good for you. Do yourself a favor and set up a trust fund now, to pay for the medication and psychotherapy your kids will require by the time they reach their teens.
There will come a waking moment, when your kids realize that they’ve willfully wasted their formative years watching other people accomplish things. They’ll figure out that you were content to let them stare into a box instead of helping them learn the ways of the real world. They’ll discover that all their life lessons came from imaginary characters on a screen and not from their own parents.
Just because we all fell for the con, doesn’t mean our kids have to suffer as well. That’s what makes a generation great; the will to protect future generations. Not how much pop culture we sat and absorbed motionlessly. Leaving a culture better than we found it. Passing on the wisdom that we as a people have accumulated, for the edification of those who come later, so they will never know the hardships we’ve known.
We fell for the con so that you don’t have to. You can learn from our mistakes. This is a priceless gift from the old to the young.
You’re welcome, you snotty motherfuckers.