On Television

When I was growing up the only station I was really allowed to watch was PBS. This meant that I believed television consisted of Mister Rogers, Sesame Street and The Electric Company. I was also permitted to watch whatever cartoons were on Saturday morning.

As a kid, I don’t recall sitting still and actually watching TV for long. I remember the television being on while I played with blocks, built forts or drew pictures.

I have vague memories of sitting on the floor in my nightgown with my sister looking up at the giant television on Saturday morning and watching Smurfs. The television likely wasn’t as large as I remember it but when you are smaller everything seems big. It was one of those televisions that had a remote that had only three buttons.

As I got older, I was better able to sit still for more than five minutes at a time and so I could watch and pay attention to more television. Though Nickelodeon, the cable channel had been around since before I was born. My family did not get cable until I was in elementary school. But once we did, I mostly watched Nickelodeon, which was like having Saturday morning cartoons available all the time.

My parents watched TV a lot during the week. After dinner every night they watched the national news. Or rather, my mom watched the national news and my dad started to watch it and usually fell asleep, waking up as Wheel of Fortune was coming on. He would ask why the news had been so short. As I got older, I would sit with my parents and watch the news. I grew to love Dan Rather, which was the broadcast my parents watched. When Dan Rather left as anchor, it felt like something big was happening because he had been the anchor for as long as I could remember. That is the strange thing about TV. You start to incorporate people into your life that you have never met and wouldn’t know you if you slapped them in the face. And yet, Dan Rather was a part of my life.

My parents also watched sitcoms and other evening programming. After we were supposed to be in bed, my sister and I would slip out of bed with excuses of not being able to sleep or needing a drink of water just so we could catch a glimpse of whatever TV. It was obvious to us back then that whatever was on TV after our bedtime must be far superior to television shows that were one before our bedtime.

When I was in middle school and high school most television was not that interesting to me. The telephone took over as my main electrical interest when I was at home. However, there were two shows that shaped my teen years.

The first show to change my life was 120 minutes on MTV. First, 120 minutes was one at midnight, which automatically meant it was cool. Second, it played alternative music that none of my friends had ever heard. This is where my taste for music was formed to an extent. I cut my musical teeth on Bjork and The Verve Pipe while my friends were listening to Boys II Men et al. I felt so cool watching 120 minutes even though I wasn’t necessarily into all the music that came on. I was in on the secret of music that was allegedly cutting edge. After all this was still a time when MTV was about music and not about awful reality television.

The second show that was a huge part of my teen years was FRIENDS. I laughed and cried with that show for its entire run. I think the thing that was so big about the show was I started watching it in high school and it carried me on into adulthood with its run. It was a constant in a sea of change of life going from living at home to moving far away.
I cried when the final episode ended.

I did have a period in my life when I did not own a television set nor did I live with someone who did. To me this did not seem like a huge deal. It was when I first moved to Los Angeles and I was very poor. I also thought it would be better to limit my distractions. I did not end up missing TV. The Internet had come of age so I could get easy, brainless entertainment on the internet if I needed. Other people felt this was a huge revelation. It was as if I had revealed that I lived with a shark in my bathtub or had never ate French fries. People watched to know what my life was like and what I did with my time.

Eventually, my time without a TV ended when my husband and I took up residence together. He was unwilling to live in a world without TV. And I was fine to re-enter the television world. I had never really had a “kill your TV” kind of attitude despite what others believed.

I feel I have a healthy relationship with TV. I admit, sometimes after a hard day of work I turn the TV on and turn off my brain. I feel this kind of behavior is justified. I spend all day with my brain on high alert and I need to power down before I can operate on a normal, non-spastic level. But I am not hard wired to my television. Even shows I enjoy, I am usually okay to miss. There are always reruns.

I think TV has a place in this world despite what others may think. We all need some brainless activity sometime. Whether that is building a fort or watching a sitcom. There is of course those who use TV in excess. The average for the United States is apparently 8 hours per day. I am not sure how people have time to watch that much TV. But I can agree that much time in front of the tube seems a huge waste of time.

All in all TV is just another piece of technology here to entertain us. We should treat it as such. And not abuse it.
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