17. September 2006 · Comments Off on Apostasy in Black & White · Categories: Domestic, General, Memoir, Pajama Game, That's Entertainment!

My parents stoutly held out against the menace of television until the late 60ies, when they accepted the gift of a tiny black and white portable television from a good friend who was moving into a smaller place and had to shed possessions to make that transition. The television itself was about the size of a case of beer, and since Mom had very firm convictions regarding the trashiness, aesthetic and otherwise, of putting a television in the living room and angling all the chairs towards it, the television was banished to the bedroom that my sister and I shared.

The television, with its miniature 12″ screen sat on top of one of the long toy chests that Dad had built to maximize space in our room, and we generally piled onto the bottom bunk bed to watch, during those limited hours per week that Mom had decreed would do the least damage to our school work, family life and general social development. We also had to thrash out a compromise amongst ourselves about what to watch on Friday and Saturday evenings from 7:30 to 10:00 PM, and on Sunday from 7:30 to 9:00 PM. (School on Monday morning, you know.) Generally, if a program aired at any other time than that, we knew it not; or only during summer vacation when we caught up on other programs through re-runs, or visited my grandparents.

So we were television apostates: but I was secretly even more than an apostate. As far as one particular TV icon went, I was a perfect heretic. I wondered for ages what would happen to me, should I ever confess my deep and heartfelt loathing for a certain ground-breaking star of early network television. But I digress.

At Granny Jessie’s house, and at Granny Dodie and Grandpa Al’s, the television— generally a large console model— sat boldly and unashamed in the living room. Grandpa Al even ventured into exploring the wide world of color television, somewhat in advance of the neighborhood, but they drew the line about watching TV during the day; feeling as Mom did that really, one ought to have better things to do during the day.
Oddly enough, Grannie Jessie had no such compunctions, or perhaps thought that by putting no limits on our TV watching during our visits, that we would become surfeited. Generally, she kicked us outside when her soaps came on, and we would stumble outside, blinking at the daylight, dazzled by the real world. After spending hours focusing on the comparatively small, surreal and black and white one, we would be cast on our own inner resources for amusement, and always be at a bit of a loss for a while.

One of the classic television standbys at the time were re-runs of even older television shows – especially reruns of ancient episodes of I Love Lucy. This has always been fawningly described as ground-breaking, insanely popular, luminescently humorous and a veritable Mount Everest in broadcast television. Lucille Ball is similarly worshipped as a genius of comedy, a master of her own image, genius of physical comedy and a canny business-woman, blah, blah blah – and I didn’t accept a word of it – well, maybe the business-woman part. And she was still making movies and television shows well after I Love Lucy, so it appeared that people did, indeed, love Lucy.

But not me. From my earliest memory of watching that show, I was horrified, and embarrassed at the spectacle of ineptitude presented. It wasn’t funny, charming, or amusing – it was cringe-making,pointless – even a bit masochistic. Watching I Love Lucy meant observing a very pretty but spectacularly dim woman make a grandiose and impossible plan, screw it up in every way imaginable, and then bawl her head off in a totally unattractive manner, until her exasperated husband made everything better – in half-hour chunks. I usually felt like blowing chunks, two thirds into the episode. It wasn’t funny – it was a train wreck of ineptitude. Not only did I not find any of it in the least amusing, it made me embarrassed to be of the same sex.

Laughing at Lucy seemed to me like laughing at a retard; kind of cruel, when the decent thing should have been to look away and pretend that you hadn’t seen her embarrassing herself, her friends and her husband once again. And this was – what? Classic television? At any rate it set up in me a burning desire not to look stupid, never to be incompetent, to view situations with a coolly realistic eye, and never, never, ever cry noisily and expect anyone else to rescue you from the consequences of your own stupidity. Which as good a reason to have developed into a small ‘f’ feminist as any other available.

Not only did I not love Lucy, I couldn’t figure out why the hell anyone did, either.