Boob Tube Junkie
I carefully arranged Blackie, my stuffed dog, on the sky blue table top. I made sure he had a good view of the 13 inch Philco TV. Blackie was my constant companion and every night I rubbed his velvet ears against my cheek as I sucked my thumb and went to sleep. I sat down in my special blue chair courtesy of my Pe′pe′ who had built both the table and chair for my fourth birthday. Then mama came and put my dinner down in front of me. I inspected it closely to make sure it was ok. One hot dog cut up and covered in ketchup, two scoops of mashed potatoes with butter not gravy, and corn that Me′me′ had canned from the garden that Pe′pe′ grew every year. All were acceptable to my picky four-year-old palate.
Then mama turned on the TV. It was my special weekly treat. If I was good, especially in church on Sunday, I got to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I loved this show. It was superior to Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody (the other shows I was allowed to watch) in every way. As an only child, the exuberant play of the Mouseketeers allowed me to experience a healthy social interaction that reality denied me. I also took great pleasure in watching Chip and Dale drive Donald Duck to literally blow his top. People expressing anger was something I was too familiar with. Seeing it satirized made my own reality more bearable.
Like many people of my generation, I am a child of television. It was the electronic fireplace that we gathered around for comfort, community, and information. All the triumphs and tribulations of America in the fifties and sixties were a shared experience for all of us as we stared at the electrons dancing across the screen. Sure, during my hippie days I eschewed the “boob tube” as a waste of time and the ultimate tool of corporate America. It was easy, in my self-righteous college years, to forget how Red Skelton, et al. got me through the nightmare of my adolescence. My mother was a manic-depressive (now called bipolar). Multiple suicide attempts put her in the hospital for long periods of time, leaving me to spend nights alone and feeling abandoned. Most of the time I cried myself to sleep in front of the black and white Zenith TV. Junior high is not a good age for raising yourself.
Eventually, electroshock therapy put a halt to mom’s fixation on suicide. After that, when my parents were home, they went t0 bed at 9 leaving control of the TV to me and I reveled in it. Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, and Tom Snyder became my nighttime companions, and I often hated it when the latter finally went off of the air at 1 a.m. Then came cable TV and an increase from three channels to thirteen. Thirteen became thirty, then sixty and then over a thousand channels. Television became a 24-hour affair. Common cultural references gave way to individualized binge watching. With the addition of satellites and the internet, not only could a person find a channel suited to their very narrow interests, they could create their own channel. YouTube became one of the most watched media sources in the world.
When Kim and I cut the cable/satellite feed (too expensive), I worried about losing my television security blanket. Turns out I didn’t need to. Instead of late night television hosts, YouTube now makes sure I am bleary-eyed every morning. And what I have lost in common culture, I have gained in common experience. Exhibit A is finding a solution on YouTube for my garage door failing to close. At certain times of the year, the sun hits the safety sensor just right so the door will not close. A quick search on YouTube showed me how to use a toilet paper tube to solve the problem. It’s not just that I saved money, it was connecting with others who had the same problem. YouTube provides me with entertainment, education, and a bridge to other humans.
In the song “Message in a Bottle,” Sting once sang, “Seems I’m not alone at being alone.” I can’t say it any better than that.