Kill Your Television: The Guiding Light

5 a.m.: Test pattern.

6 a.m.: Fishing show.

7 a.m.: Local news.

8 a.m.: Scooby-Doo, fucking finally.

That was my Saturday morning routine as a kid, and all you Gen Y-ers, Millennials, tweenyboppers, Beliebers, and neo-tech intellectuals can take your smartphones and "kiss my grits."

My impressionable years were very carefully plotted out by a small black-and-white television that told me what I was going to watch and when, give or take about three channels that all appeared after the satisfying chunk-chunk-chunk of the plastic dial turning. Staying home sick from school meant having to watch either The Guiding Light or Bob Ross painting a winter landscape on PBS all day, but we did it, happily bored out of our minds but at least watching the Greatest Invention of All Time: TV.

"Memes" then were catchphrases like "Ayyyyye" from The Fonz or "Whatchu talkin' bout, Willis?" When we knocked on your door and you said, "Who is it?" we said, "Land shark." If a TWA jet flew overhead we were all impelled to point our little fingers up in the air and say, "Da plane! Da plane!"

Could this force be used for evil? Absolutely. TV was my babysitter, for one thing, and she didn't always put me to bed on time. I also grew up surrounded by white people, so all of my impressions of black people were from Fat Albert. Imagine my surprise the first time I noticed that a black kid merely wore a knit cap on his head and didn't pull it down over his entire face and peer out of two eyeholes.

While all of this was going on, I was happily oblivious to the anti-TV intellectualism that was out there. All I knew was that the kids who didn't have television sets in their homes were being grievously abused. The horrors of TV's mind manipulations were laid out in Neil Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves To Death. He actually makes a good point that the apocalypse won't be Orwellian, with dictatorial misery wrought from technology, but more like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where we'll all willingly and blissfully march to our doom via our "addiction to amusement." To wit: In late September on the Muni M train, a guy took out a gun, waved it around a bit, put it back, took it out again, and eventually shot and killed a total stranger. No one even noticed what was happening until they heard the shot, because they were "so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn't notice," according to the AP. Told ya so, says Postman.

So I get it. Media: bad. Meaningful interactions with our fellow man: good. But to say in this day and age that you hate TV and refuse to own one is the same as saying you hate books, or you hate computers, because there are hundreds of channels that cover everything from live-feeds of city council meetings to dipshits who got rich by duck hunting. There are now more than just three networks manipulating you and zombifying the nation. Hallelujah! If you hate TV now, you hate life itself.

As soon as I moved from east central Illinois to Berkeley, I saw the bumper sticker for the first time: "Kill Your Television." I had an immediate visceral reaction; this asshole in the Subaru was talking about my mama. Also, I have never been a fan of stickers that command me to do or think something; that's TV's job. Invariably, when I would talk to one of these anti-moving-pictures Luddites, they wouldn't even know who Charo was, let alone how many times she appeared on The Love Boat. We read books, they would tell me, to which I would point out that there are 24 hours in a day — plenty of room for both.

Now, of course, my day is spent in front of the boob tube, in a book, in a magazine, all online, all in the course of 15 minutes on the Muni M train. We're not limited by ancient broadcast schedules; TV is ubiquitous. Much of what we post on Facebook or YouTube first appeared on television. We go online so we can watch TV on Netflix or Hulu. We watch The Colbert Report to synthesize what's happening in the world. We lose ourselves in the bitchiness of Dance Moms and the wonderful idiocy of Bachelor Pad. We can set the brow high or low, depending on our tastes, because there are thousands of shows to choose from. Television becomes our springboard to talk about bigger things, culture as a whole.

TV is important. It matters.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

 
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