TV, Transitions and New Beginnings

I don’t have a TV at home, and the sheer awfulness of most of it gives me no reason to change that. My wife remarked that she had watched a bit of Ellen and was surprised at how the show wasn’t about anything. I have noticed the same thing. Little stories about rescued animals, vapid conversations with celebrities promoting their latest performance, or ordinary people who get a makeover or something….This was an interesting comment, because I suppose even I, who am not in favor of a Lesbian quota for TV, assumed that the “diversity” Ellen adds would include some element of sophistication. I guess not.

The liberal members of my family like Jon Stewart and some of the dramas, but to me both are like the New York Times – possessing a certain sophistication and craftsmanship but spoiled by their flaunting of their liberal agenda, which they assume all viewers share.

Indeed, even at a young age I was aware of the stupidity of many of the programs – something I picked up from my father. I seem to recall being in the habit of making sarcastic comments about shows as we watched them, not necessarily an endearing habit!

But were Charlie’s Angels and Dallas good shows? No, I think it’s safe to say they were more or less…but I try not to be the smart-mouth anymore. They were entertainment. I myself can truly enjoy something like reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard just because it is so innocent and because it conjures up an America that still was a place I could feel comfortable in.

Things like the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon remind us how much has changed (Michael Jackson’s death is sad too, but in a different way). May they rest in peace. Consider this great sketch from the Carol Burnett Show. This was just ordinary entertainment for ordinary people. But it could not be done today. The silly slapstick is a product of a world of white families consisting of married couples with children, people still largely unselfconscious about their ethnic particularity, people not battered with messages of their own guilt and lack of control over their society, people with family-centered values and lives. For them a joke about sex meant a double-entendre that would make the adults laugh while confusing the kids.

For people who reject the current social order, the alienation one feels with much of the current media can be dispiriting. There are several things we can do, though. One is, of course, to go back to books and to the films and movies of the past. The second is to develop a knack for appreciating some selected parts of our current culture, even though this usually requires learning to ignore some objectionable aspect. The third is to begin setting the groundwork for the culture of our future. I have no pretension of being capable of anything grandiose, but one thing I try to do in this blog is to try to sketch out, at least in the imagination, some ideas about what a healthy culture could be like if it existed in America again.


8 Responses to TV, Transitions and New Beginnings

  1. I don’t have a TV at home….

    Funny that you should mention this. I don’t have one, either.

    One is reluctant to draw too much attention to one’s lack of a television set, if only because it makes people curious who had thought you more or less normal. However, I wonder what fraction of Heritage American readers lack TV? If a small fraction, okay; but if a larger fraction, this might be interesting.

    In what year did you ditch the tube?

    What, if anything, do you miss about it?

  2. stephenhopewell says:

    Howard –

    Oh dear, I didn’t realize I was opening myself to having my “normalcy” challenged! ;-) Well, I know that other traditionalist bloggers have testified that they rarely watch TV, though I don’t know how many go so far as to not even own one.

    There was no particular year I gave it up. I was never a big watcher. I spent some time abroad after college (and watched the local TV), and when I came back, cable seemed so exorbitantly-priced and poor in quality I was never motivated to purchase it. I was aware I was missing some things, e.g., the Sopranos, that my family and friends liked, but that was not enough reason.

    I miss news and political commentary and the fun of a good sitcom or drama, but doubt there is much good there and can’t even imagine setting aside the time for it at this point.

    I wonder if your experience was similar, or if you had different reasons for giving it up?

  3. I was never a really big watcher, but probably a bigger watcher than you.

    My wife and I found TV too titillating, too degrading, too zombifying, too time-consuming and too prurient. TV is stimulating and depressing at the same time. Cable TV is too expensive. Almost any TV introduces vocabulary into the home we do not want spoken there. (The magazine rack in the supermarket’s checkout line is bad enough, but our home, we decided, was not a supermarket.)

    Giving speeches like the one above causes people with whom I would otherwise get along perfectly well to misjudge me a crank, so I have pretty much given up talking about TV. Folks don’t want to hear from me that I think that they’re cramming their brains with junk, and it’s none of my business, anyway; so, unless someone like you brings it up, I admittedly tend not to discuss the topic.

    TV was occasionally good to have when we had it, maybe for two hours a month when something really interesting was happening; but we found that, as long as the tube was in the home, we watched, well, a lot more than two hours a month. In 2001, my wife and I agreed that even Fox News wasn’t worth watching all the ads, so we carted the set off to the thrift store and haven’t *much* missed it since.

    My wife has a custom of watching TV whenever we take a hotel room, which we have cause to do about once a year. She likes to watch shows about medical emergencies and childbirth, which make me queasy; but it’s a funny custom which we joke about and, in the once-a-year event, I will roll over in the hotel bed and quietly go to sleep.

    So far in 2009, we have had to visit a neighbor’s home to watch Barack Obama’s inaugural, and have had to go to a drunken party at a fraternal lodge to watch the Super Bowl, and saw none of the other football playoffs or bowl games, which I like; so there have been some drawbacks to lacking a TV. On balance, though, the lack has proven rather positive for us.

  4. Terry Morris says:

    Well, I admit to having a tv in the house, and to watching it occasionally. But generally I watch ‘old’ movies on dvd, and I can watch some of the old WWII and Civil War classics over and over again. None of which I’m particularly proud of, but there you go.

  5. stephenhopewell says:

    Interesting that it was such a deliberate decision for you, Howard.

    There is an interesting chapter in Peter Hitchens’ The Abolition of Britain on the negative effects of TV there. I may blog on it sometime.

    Of course, there is always some good stuff. I like the old movies and the history documentaries too, Terry. And of course, for sports, there’s no substitute.

  6. Hannon says:

    For about ten years (c. 1985-1995) I did not have a TV and watched very little as a consequence. But growing up my brain was saturated with it, as background noise or in programs I enjoyed. Some that I liked then are simply unbearable now, shows like Night Gallery or Gilligan’s Island. Others remain iconic, like the Warner Bros. cartoons, obviously made for adults with brains switched to “on”, and the original Star Trek, which I consider traditionalist in some ways.

    Good call on Jon Stewart. His dialogue keeps the listener boxed in by every strand of modern liberal ideology. It really is an insult to the listener in its presumptuousness. Reminds me of the liberal who says, on hearing the assertion that we are today dominated by liberalism, “That’s not liberalism, that’s just the way things are”.

    I think we have already passed through the initial, creative stages of TV, where the likes of Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) and Alfred Hitchcock and Groucho had an outlet. Beyond PC influence and vulgarity, which are profound enough, there is the matter of revenue streams and profit motive, which are the real drivers. “Back when” they had not tied down these particulars, leaving room for quirky innovation. Most of what is on offer today is schlock, especially from the networks. Even the higher quality productions like Six Feet Under and Sopranos are troubling if you stop to think about what they are “condoning”, while the overall effect is pleasing. It doesn’t come cheap, either.

    For those who want to TV time travel without watching the device itself, I recommend the site “Jump the Shark”. Haven’t seen it for a while, but the format is simple and consists of a thread of author-less comments by visitors about every TV show you can think of and more. Possibly more entertaining than the original shows!

  7. stephenhopewell says:

    Hannon, thanks for the comments. Your remark that it took some time to “tie down” revenue streams and profit motive is interesting. Do these things inevitably corrupt and destroy everything? You could say the same thing about consumer goods, education, architecture, and almost any modern product, I imagine.

    As for Jon Stewart – I was thinking of his handling of Jeremiah Wright. Yes, he made fun of Wright, but then deflected any attention from the actual meaning by some sort of Jewish comparison, and something to the effect of “Why don’t Obama’s opponents focus on the issues?” As if Wright was not an issue! But he creates the illusion that he is “makes fun of everyone equally,” which reinforces liberal bias.

    I’m not completely unwilling to watch TV, even some of the trashier stuff – but there would have to be much more value gained before I would pay for cable.

  8. stephenhopewell says:

    _____ , I have been wanting to see it. One of my ultra-liberal siblings watched it and started talking about what geniuses the Founders were and how it made her proud to be American. My jaw almost dropped. I felt for a moment there was hope.

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