The Pervasive Boob Tube

I’m warning you now . . . today’s post is going to be a bit of a rant.  And it’s about the love/hate relationship that I have with TV.

I grew up in the 70s, right around the time that TV started to get really “good,” with lots of fun and educational programming to choose from.  I learned Spanish and sign language from Sesame Street.  The Electric Company’s Easy Reader helped instill in me a love for reading (thanks, Mr. Freeman!).  And to this day, I still sing several of the Schoolhouse Rock songs at the most random times.

We also had amazing cartoons; from the three-hour Bugs Bunny/Road Runner marathons on Saturday mornings, to all the Hanna-Barbera shows where mysteries got solved by those “meddlesome kids.”  And throughout the late 70s and early 80s there was some great pabulum to be seen in the form of prime-time viewing (though now, so many of the shows I loved back then seem dated . . . and not in a good way).

And being of the “latchkey kid” generation, the TV got turned on as soon as I got home from school.  I would try to turn it off to do my chores, but that usually wound up happening 30 minutes before my mother was due home from work.  Sometimes I scrambled fast enough that I was able to get the cleaning done in one commercial break.

I still enjoy watching TV . . . to a certain extent.  In fact, right now there are more shows that I enjoy watching than at any other time that I can recall.  Some of that is due to the sheer number of channels available, but some of it is due to the better writing that has come out of Hollywood lately.

No, my complaint with regards to the boob tube is that it’s begun to infect every single corner of our lives.

People have been watching shows on their cell phones for the last few years now . . . which strikes me as weird, since we used to complain about the tiny size of the available screens back in the 70s.  I just can’t make peace with watching something on a screen 4 times smaller than I had when I was little.

But even worse is that TVs are now cropping up in restaurants, grocery stores and who KNOWS where else!  I can understand the concept of having TVs at a sports bar . . . because that’s why people go to a sports bar . . . to watch their team’s event.  But why does it need to be in other restaurants?  There are a couple diners here in Alameda that have multiple TVs playing any time I go in there.  And Craig just told me about a recent experience at a Burger King, where there were TVs in there playing 2- and 3-minute clips of various shows . . . followed by several minutes of commercials.

And THAT’S what I hate the most about this new trend . . . the advertising!  It’s bad enough that there are more commercial breaks in TV shows now than before.  But–if the Burger King incident is any indication–pretty soon it’ll be 5-10 minutes of TV show surrounded by 20 minutes of commercials.  That trend started to irk me when it infiltrated my sacred movie theaters over a decade ago.  Though, that one I’m willing to put up with so that I can be sure to get my favorite seats when I see a film . . . but I do tend to focus on something else if I can.

But I don’t know that I’ll be okay with the trend of restaurants playing TVs all the time.  I’m actually considering a boycott of restaurants that have said distraction in multiple areas of their establishment.  Craig pointed out that I don’t need an even narrower group of places I can eat (due to my dietary restrictions), but I might be willing to make that sacrifice.  It really irks me to have to vie for someone’s attention when I’m dining out with them (and I don’t care who you are, you’re bound to get distracted by the boob tube . . . it’s designed that way).  It just seems rude and unnecessary to “have” to be connected to the idiot box all the damn time!  Talk to the people you’re dining with, for crissakes!

And, even if I’m dining by myself, I’d much rather have peace and quiet so I can read my book or magazine and not have my attention keep getting pulled away by whatever is being said on the television.

In writing about this now, I realize that I’ve actually started strategically seating myself to where I’m the one in sight of the TV . . . because I know I won’t be as distracted as the other person might (or, at least I think that’s true . . . who knows?).  I hate realizing that I feel the need to think that far ahead about that sort of thing, because that puts me on the defensive already.

So, while I’m okay with TV being a distraction in the home, I don’t need or want said distraction to follow me when I’m going out for a nice meal.  Heck, even a mediocre meal (no offense, BK), deserves more attention than having a TV on in the background provides.

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Tribute to Jim Henson

I’m not one who normally celebrates someone’s birthday after they’ve died, but with the new Muppets movie coming out soon, it seems like the perfect time to fully celebrate Jim.  I’m not going to type a bunch of facts about the man.  For that you can check out his Wikipedia page, or his IMDB page.  Instead, I’ll talk about how he influenced a young girl from Michigan . . .

I was born in 1970, less than a year after the first episode of Sesame Street aired, and it was one of the fun, educational shows that I enjoyed in my youth.   Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was always good for a trip on the Trolley to the land of Make-Believe, and The Electric Company was awesome for its grooviness and for introducing us to the amazing Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader, but Sesame Street was my favorite.  I can watch the old clips today and still enjoy them  as much as I did when I first saw them.

Like most kids, I loved the wonderfully colorful characters – bothMuppet and human – and can still attribute many things I learned to Jim’s Muppets and how they learned things.  I learned my first Spanish words from Maria and Luiz on Sesame Street, and even sign language, thanks to Bob and Linda.  I know all about relational words, because of Grover, and who in my generation can forget Cookie Monster telling us what the letter “C” means to him?

But it wasn’t just educational learning that I got from the Street, I was also introduced to vast amounts of culture.  My first taste of Carmen was thanks to this show, as was funk.  The diverse group of people taught me to be accepting of other people’s cultures, and even showed how so many different backgrounds could all get along, while still retaining their individuality.  And, I don’t know if Jim specifically intended for Bert and Ernie to be TVs first gay couple (and maybe they really are just roommates), but if so, he made it seem so natural that it never fazed me when I met my first real gay couple.  I just accepted them as part of the neighborhood.

I still crack up at the humor Jim always injected into his skits.  I don’t think there’s a single person in my generation who doesn’t know Manamana, and I loved two very memorable ways he gave to remember the alphabet: I still sing this one, on occasion, while this one still makes me giggle.

When Jim started up The Muppet Show, I was an instant fan.  Here was another  motley crew of characters who found a way to function together.  Even when there was anger between them, we saw issues resolved.  Sometimes it was done in a healthy way, while at others, the anger and humor took over.  Yes, there were archetypes among the gang, but even the archetypes were shown to be multi-faceted creatures.  Even more culture was introduced to me in the varying musical acts, from Alice Cooper to Beethoven, and wonderful guest stars, all woven together with large dollops of zaniness and comedy.

With the foray into movies, he was able to let his characters dreams come to fruition.  It clearly took a lot of guts for Kermit and his gang to travel all along the winding path they did until they finally got to Hollywood.  When the Muppets stood in front of Lew Lord and simply asked to be rich and famous, I held my breath right along with them and jumped for joy when their dreams came true.  Jim always encouraged being true to yourself, following your dreams and loving yourself just the way you are.

It was a sad day for me when Jim died.  I was working at Walt Disney World, and they had just reached an agreement with him to bring The Muppets to Disney.  When news hit that he’d passed, the WD Eye (the magazine for Disney’s Imagineers) included this sketch.  The Orlando Sentinel ran something similar that week.  I cried when I saw it, and the memory of it still brings tears to my eyes.

I never got a chance to meet Jim, though I did meet Bob from Sesame Street (I’ll blog about that day later).  But even though I never met him, I feel like he was as just as important in my upbringing as my parents.  Jim taught me that learning could be fun, and that it’s good to maintain my individuality.  Because, even though it might not be easy to be “green”, it’s still what I want to be.

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