Thursday, September 13, 2007

Growing Up with the Tube

When I was a child, I was absolutely enthralled by television. I still remember our first teevee, a black and white set that Dad bought at a fundraising auction of some sort; I was just shy of five, but I was excited about the idea that we were going to have a television set. And I was heartbroken when Dad tried to set it up and discovered that it didn't work properly. I remember how aggravated he was that night; the next day, we had a set that did work. (It still amazes me to realize that, until that time, we were teeveeless... how did we get by?)

For me, the golden age of television covers the shows that I watched from the time I was about ten until the time I was about sixteen. Andy Griffith... Dick Van Dyke... Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea... Lost in Space... The Man from UNCLE... Leave It to Beaver.. Honey West... Burke's Law... THE Cat... The Avengers... Secret Agent... Captain Nice... Batman... I'm Dickens He's Fenster... The Ghost & Ms. Muir... Bewitched... I Spy... so many great shows that I can still visualize, can still hear as they resonate through my mind. These were shows that were often designed with a younger audience in mind, but produced with sufficient appeal that parents enjoyed them as well.

And we learned a lot from them... we learned about loyalty and compassion and considerationa nd doing the right thing. Every element of popular culture teaches values, whether they're positive ones or negative ones. I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when most televison taught only positive values. Even Dennis the Menace failed to really live up to his name; inevitably, he did the right thing and made the correct choices in the end.. and even Eddie Haskell usually got his come-uppance.

It wasn't only the personal favorites that I watched on a regular basis. Even the second-tier, less appealing shows were sometimes memorable, even thought I knew at the time that they weren't particularly good. Petticoat Junction... It's About Time... Hazel... Family Affair... The Doris Day Show... they weren't great, and were sometimes positiviely hokey, but I still enjoyed them.

And then there were the shows that everyone liked... everyone but me, apparently. I never cared for Lucille Ball's television programs in any of their incarnations. I watched them, simply because they were on, but I didn't enjoy them. McHale's Navy--it never worked for me, other than the Tim Conway bits. Combat--I wanted to like it, but it was simply too real and too complex to hold my interest. Twelve O'Clock High--even with all those great planes, the stories didn't work for me. My Three Sons--unfortunately, none of those sons were guys I'd want to hang around with.

What made this time different, I think, was that most of us who grew up then watched the shows that we didn't like along with the shows that we did. Three networks, no cable... the choices were so limited that even if we missed 'em the first time around, we were bound to watch 'em on reruns (there were generally no summer season replacements). And of course, daytime television was dominated by syndicated reruns; after a few summers, I began to think that Leave It To Beaver and I Dream of Jeannie and Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke were made to be shown during daylight hours. If I was determined to hang around the house and read comics during the summer, of course I was going to turn on the television set; afer a while, I was virtually memorizing these shows, along with the ubiquitous Three Stooges reruns. The incredible variety that today's preteens didn't exist, nor did any means of recording or playing back video on demand. We watched television shows because we enjoyed the medium as much as we enjoyed the programs.

I was the same with comics. I would enjoy a Hot Stuff or a Little Lulu or a hot rod comic or evena romance book just as much as I would enjoy a horror comic or an issue of Flash; I was a comics fan, not a fan of certain characters or certain types of stories.

Today, children learn to discern too quickly what they want to watch and what they don't, and there's enough variety available to them that they can avoid the things they don't immediately enjoy. As a result, there's no reason for them to learn to appreciate things they don't necessarily enjoy. Kids are cultural sponges, soaking up everything to which they're exposed; for me, the advantage to limited choices was that I was exposed to good, sophisticated content along with the simpler fare that I sought out.

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