Friday, October 9, 2009

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Like many people who came of age in the 1960s and early 1970s, I watched way too much TV. But I do have fond memories of my love affair with what some not-so-affectionately refer to as the Boob Tube. Saturday mornings, for example, when my brother and I would rise early and plunk ourselves down for a seemingly endless marathon of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and a whole raft of other Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera animated delights.

I also remember, though, rushing to get home from playing tennis with friends when I was either a freshman or sophomore in high school so I could watch my afternoon soap operas, General Hospital and One Life to Live. Yes, I left in the middle of the friendly game.

What is amazing and fascinating (and maybe even a tad pathetic) about television as a socio-cultural phenomenon is how it can transport us back to specific moments in time. I was a sleepy ten year-old in 1969 when my mother forced me to stay awake and watch the lunar landing because, she said, we were witnessing history. I saw Michael Jackson moonwalk live in TV on the 25th Motown Anniversary Special in 1983. I was with Dan and Georgette, my roommates in Hartford, CT. I huddled with friends for the last episodes of MASH, Cheers, and Seinfeld. I stood in the cramped maintenance office of the synagogue in 2004 and saw the Red Sox clinch their first World Series in 86 years.

TV has also been a shared experience since I’ve married Verna. We had a standing Thursday evening date to watch Cheers. And we laughed as we followed the often hilarious travails of the Buchmans (played by Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) on Mad About You on Sunday evenings. That show was particularly special for us because it mirrored in so many ways our lives: an interfaith couple dealing with the ups and downs of family, work, and children.

But at the same time, I hated my addiction. TV often kept me from doing more productive things, reading books, studying, solving a myriad of world problems. TV never interfered with my parental duties, but once the kids were asleep I often allowed myself to be lulled by the soft and hypnotic light of the screen.

So I resolved about five years ago to conquer my somewhat unhealthy habit and go cold tofu turkey. No TV unless it was a major sporting event (hey, who says I have to be internally consistent?) or movie-date night with Verna on Friday evenings. I spent most evenings reading or doing work on the computer, writing articles, working on a book or two, catching up on emails, or plotting a non-violent world revolution, stuff like that.

I was doing quite well and avoiding almost all TV until 2006. That was when Verna was first diagnosed with breast cancer. During her chemotherapy treatments and subsequent surgery and radiation, she spent a significant amount of time resting on the couch in the living room. Family and friends brought her DVDs in order to pass the time, for she was unable to concentrate on much else besides mindless and entertaining TV and movies.

And that’s when my recent TV troubles began. Verna understandably got hooked on a few TV shows, which we decided to view a year later when the next season became available for rental at the local video store or on Netflix.

The problem for me was that I chose to watch some of those shows, the entertaining ones (Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother), with her. I rationalized that it was way to spend time with Verna, even though watching TV is a very passive form of communication and interaction, when we are acutely aware that our history together might not last 20, 30, or 40 more years. And given that I was feeling extremely anxious about her cancer and our lives and the effects on the children, and scraping by financially, and being unhappy in sales, and commuting 50 minutes each way to work, and worrying about Verna’s health and future, it was natural to a degree to become seduced again the diversion of TV. So I did.

Where am I now? Still reading a lot, but also glad that the previous season of Desperate Housewives is behind me and last season’s Grey’s Anatomy is half over. And once we watch season four of How I Met Your Mother, there are no shows left on the horizon to tantalize me and cause me to fall off the shaky wagon by occupying my evenings.

At least until we can rent Arab Labor, a highly rated Palestinian show from Israel, or add Desperate Anatomy Mother Closer Medium to our Netflix queue.

There is a very good reason why the revolution will not be televised: TV sucks out our life-force, our essence. But, gosh, it is also often lots of fun.

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