I have been thinking a great deal lately about television, “the boob tube,” as my brother Brian used to call it. I rarely ever watch it now. Other than Fox News, I haven’t watched it in ages, and even Fox cannot keep my attention for more than a few minutes. Maybe I’ll watch an old movie on Turner Classic Movies from time to time, but even that is increasingly rare. I have seen most of the old movies about which I have heard. Most of the good ones, in my humble opinion, I have purchased on DVD and have seen many, many times, among them, North by Northwest, Charade, The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 49th Parallel, and Stalag 17, just to name a few.
Seems strange because, you see, I grew up on television. Never missed The Little Rascals or a Bugs Bunny cartoon or two before school in the morning or Bewitched or I Dream of Jennie in the afternoon. In fact, when I was young, I rarely ever read a book. One memorable night I asked my father if I could stay up to watch Mutiny on the Bounty. We made a deal. I was to read the book, a Scribner’s copy specially bought for the occasion in exchange for that privilege. Boy, was he mad when I welched on my end of the bargain. At the beginning of every summer, when presented with a reading list, I would dutifully carry it home from school on the last day and never look at it again until just before my return to school, worried that I might be asked to write a report or comment upon one of the titles. Inc fact, I’d worry all summer, never enough to read a book on the list, though. To be fair, back in those days, I never watched television during the summer either. We didn’t have one at our place at the beach—it was a rarity then—only breaking that rule when my father brought a small color Sony television to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon. I remember that night so vividly. Neighbors came from across the street and nearby to crowd around our small set on the upstairs porch. We were suddenly popular. As I recall, Dad had also purchased two Rand McNally globes of the moon to show us where the Sea of Tranquility was. You may remember what one looked like:
Moon Globe by Rand McNally
Back at home, I loved to play outside and would most every day, especially if a friend or two happened by. Then, with my sparkling green Pea Picker Sting Ray, I would be gone until dark. If no one came or the weather kept me inside, I would play with G.I. Joes or Hot Wheels and watch the Sylvania black and white we had in the den. The den was my special place. I could play for hours in that room without ever being disturbed.
Moving to a farm in Pennsylvania was the end of television’s grip on me. Presented with acres of forest, streams and pastures to explore, the television was only turned on at night for Mash, if that, because, you see, I now had homework. By eighth grade, it was do or die. I had a teacher with a bit of a temper, Jim, and he expected substantial effort and results. Do the work and you had nothing to fear. Screw up or mouth off and you might go deaf. (He was one of the best teachers I ever had.) I remember him lecturing some of the laggards in our class, “This is the last time anyone is going to teach you this stuff.” He was right. Elementary math, percentages, long division and the like, and diagramming of sentences would fall by the wayside. By eighth grade, one was expected to know these subjects. You would be expected to know them, and no one would ever again take the time to help you if you were lost. I still cannot spell, but the Millennials coming behind me cannot either from what I can see. As a corollary to that, ask one what Antidisestablishmentarianism means and you will most likely get a blank stare. I learned this word in eighth grade: Definition of antidisestablishmentarianism.
What I learned was that it meant one was against those who were against the establishment, irrespective of its ecclesiastical meaning. We had the most beautiful girl in our class, Tary, and she would always remark to teacher Jim what the meaning was. (In eighth grade, all the girls are beautiful, but Tary was one of the most so.) Non sequitur, forgive me, author’s prerogative. Best of luck Millennials!
High school was even more challenging than eighth grade. Then came college. TV in the dorm? Forget it! Never would have turned one on. (I remember watching the Israelis invade Lebanon while walking through the campus center.) Who had time? Rigorous study was a seven day a week affair with time off on Friday and Saturday nights for house parties. For graduation, my dad bought the library carrel where I spent most of the time and gave it to me as a gift. I used to keep a copy of Soul on Ice on its shelf as a placeholder. Now, when members of my generation ask me about certain TV programs in the late 70s and early 80s, I haven’t got a clue. The Dukes of Hazard? Nice title!
Fast forward to today: When I was a boy, we had a choice of the following channels 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), 5 (WNEW), 7 (WABC), 9 (WOR), 11 (WPIX), and channel 13 (WNET). The last one was always in black-and-white for the longest time. What I remember most are the movies on channel 7 in the afternoons and evenings (Creature Features in the spring), as well as the movies on channel 9: (Million Dollar Movie), which used the opening theme from Gone with the Wind. You could always find a good one there, like PT-109. Moving to Pennsylvania, we had similar channel arrangements; although, the numbers were all those that we did not use being in a suburb of New York: 3, 6, 10, and 12. The programming pickings were a bit slimmer, but I watched TV less, so I didn’t care. Free time was spent doing chores, walking in the woods, swimming or visiting nearby neighbors.
Here at home I have at least 175 or more channels with my current package arrangement on DirecTV. Out of all those, I only watch three: FOX News, CNBC and Turner Classic Movies. My total viewing time this past week amounted to something under an hour. Best of luck Madison Avenue. Who reports news anymore? As Rush Limbaugh once opined during the JFK Jr. funeral: “The coverage outruns the news in half an hour.” This leaves 23.5 hours to fill, paraphrasing Rush for that last sentence. Mostly, the coverage is rather indelicate at times, full of conflicting opinion. For the most part, I already know what I think about any given issue. Other than FOX, the rest of the on-air media has taken sides, embarking on a fool’s errand to pin Russian influence on the presidential election on Donald Trump, as many have stated in one form or another, “A cover-up in search of a crime.” Don’t waste my time. If I want to know what is happening up to the minute, I consult Twitter or TweetDeck, then I log onto Fox or whatever the news source is. If it’s a big story, then I will head for the TV and tune in. Sorry ladies and gentlemen, you did it to yourselves. As for game shows and sitcoms—I like to play games—charades—with real people, and I don’t like my values, my patriotism, my country, or my religion disparaged and undermined. Dysfunctional individuals and relationships fail to interest me. I can read the police blotter. I would rather read a book.
Read a book. Thank you Audible. Wish I had had that marvel in college! In the past four weeks, thanks to Audible, I have read four books—Incendiary, The Operator, Agent 101 and The Great Crash of 1929—often with the same zeal I used to listen to WABC on my transistor radio under my bedtime covers. I can choose what I like best or what fancy strikes me and go anywhere—to any time period—for a refreshed and refined understanding of that period and the challenges its inhabitants faced. Wishing for an afternoon to revisit my childhood, I can read Winnie the Pooh. As my brother’s bookplates say, “There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away.” (Poetry in origin by Emily Dickenson.) Then there are the online courses at Hillsdale College: American Heritage, Economics 101 and Introduction to the Constitution, just to name a few.
Back to The Story of Cape Fear and Bald Head Island….
(Photo credit-top of page-television: dreamerve/Shutterstock)