The rap on TV that it was addicting was there from the beginning. I was there. And though I was a kid, I saw it!
In the late 1940s a classmate, a kid up the block, had a TV: it had a zillion parts and filled half the living room: all for a two inch screen. His father worked on them, developed the engineering, worked at home! for some electronics company, or a radio network.
We were poor, however rich the neighborhood. The neighbors’ mothers hadn’t pulled their own economic plug by throwing the father out of the house! But we too got a TV eventually.
At my friend’s house there were about three shows: all week: baseball, Howdie Doody, Milton Berle. Otherwise there were station patterns. People who got TVs watched the station patterns!
By the mid-1950s more of us were watching more station patterns: but of course there were also more shows, better shows.
There were forecasts of doom, no one would know how to read anymore! (Did people really imagine that they knew how to read then?! (It’s like Christians worrying about the loss of the meaning of Christmas!))
I personally swallowed the idea that literacy was good for us. I also swallowed the idea that TV was bad for us. And, I lay on the couch, as a movie I wouldn’t have otherwise seen unfolded, punctuated by commercials!
(Notice: now and forever: no one asked me, no one asked you, if you’d rather pay for your TV and have some voice in the programming; or get it “free” and have commercials shoved up your nose instead! Notice: it’s that way with practically everything!
most irritatingly in a society that false-advertises itself as a democracy! When did we ever have the possible patterns of society laid out before us like dress patterns so we could pick, discuss, review, choose … cancel and re-choose?)
Enough of that: to my target story:
By 1960 or ’61 I was imagining digital facsimiles: like a photo negative, the potential mother of lots of prints. There could be only one Rosetta Stane, it could be only one place: the Louvre; but there could be any number of digital facsimiles. There could be only so many good clear large print copies of Great Expectations; but there could be lots and lots of dime copies, copies with smaller print, smaller pages, and there could be digital facsimiles too. In 1970 when Ivan Illich proposed his learning networks, pointing out that they could and should be cybernetic, that that was the proper use of computers, it dovetailed with my digital dreams, fit perfectly with my ideas of what democracy, freedom … could and should be. I offered the Free Learning Exchange, Illich became a trustee: a friend of sorts: a colleague: “Jesus” being our invisible but conspicuous partner!
TV is a tool not in your hands but in the hands of those who want you to be a passive consumer: the government, the corporations … Jesus, and Illich, and I want you up off the couch: and choosing!
You can’t inherit freedom, you have to forge it! (Sometimes in blood: blood from you own over-worked hands, not blood from a war victim!)
Once upon a time the universities were independent from the church. Universities got some state contributions, governments sometimes hired university alumni: as advisers, as courtiers: Polonius … Kissinger. Lots more scholars were not hired by the state: Dostoivski, Chekhov characters … Nevertheless, the universities may not have been without anchor, but it wasn’t a church anchor.
Universities had some help, some federal help; but it wasn’t dictatorial. It wasn’t the king sitting on your face till you couldn’t breathe.
But in the late 1940s US gave Columbia a cyclotron. By 1968 the Fed (the federal government, not the federal bank) could say to a college and its alumni and its administration, like Colby, Get rid of that guy! And the guy in question, thirty years old, with no savings, his lifetime’s money spent as university tuition, deracinated, moved at his own expense to some far away little college town, was tarred and feathered where the rails don’t go.
I went to Colby to teach when I couldn’t stand NYU not being competent to understand a thing I said a moment longer. In those days I believed it was half my fault: I wasn’t clear enough. No: Kepler, Copernicus … Darwin … Illich, Jesus … me, we’re most of us clear enough; we’re sabotaged! Illich’s networks proposed a public independent of the economy-sponsored experts: priests, professors, doctors, sycophants of Big Tobacco.
In a word, I got kicked in the head.
Illich and I offered a low-cost internet, independent of government, of Fortune Five Hundred. Twenty years later, government, Fortune Five Hundred was cooperating with Amazon, Google, Yahoo … to steal our ideas to further bury you under their influence!
So: I fell into Sebring, broke, helpless, the Chaplin clown no longer bouncing up despite broken bones. I fished with a guy named Terry. His family visits. There comes a moment when someone in his family, a sister, asks me who I am:
I said, “Thanks for asking,” cleared my throat: and
turned to the TV
their faces blanking out!
PS I lay on the couch through more lousy movies than I wanted to waste time with in the 1950s, but I’d pretty much broken the bad habit by 1958 or so. As an adult I watched ever less TV except for periods of obsession with TV golf, tennis, football, basketball …
A few years ago, TV went off broadcast, sets no longer worked unless passed through some converter box. I didn’t get the box, I just unplugged the TV: and there it sits.
I watch Wimbledon with my girlfriend at her house; there’s no TV in my house. There’s a DVD player, but no TV.
Who’s that guy who made a career of standup that iterated “You know you’re a redneck if …?”
One great one concluded “if the new TV is sitting on top of the old one.”
For these few decades I’ve mixed with rednecks because I can’t afford to mix with anyone else. In my case the TV sits on nothing: and I’m an Ivy League red neck!