I finally get what drove Bruce Springsteen to pen 57 Channels (And Nothing On).
Two years ago when we moved to the States, one of the perverted prospects I found myself looking forward to was increased television programming. Goodbye 'predominant and distinct' Canadian programming (merci beaucoup to the CBC and Canadian tax dollars)....hello big network TV due south, which has continued to hold a certain mystique for me, since that much beloved day we first opted for cable television upon moving to the big city in 1976.Well, ask and ye shall receive.
Yes, I got the plethora of television programming, it's true, but it wasn't exactly the kind I had bargained for. In order to work my way up the food chain on the remote to the so-called higher channels where Biography and History Channels are located, I first need to negotiate through a minefield of home shopping, C-Span, local political and no less than four Christian broadcasting networks first. ow there's nothing wrong with any of these channels per se ~ this is a so-called free country, after all ~but insofar as they happen to be mandatory broadcasting networks that take up a huge chunk of American programming, I think they speak volumes. If you are what you program, then it is safe to assume that consumerism, nationalistic political speak and evangelism fairly define the cultural fabric of this nation.
Schmeebs & Dweebs
Conversely, Islamic nations don't get quite the same picture of America.
Tune into their English channel fare, and you'll find the obligatory BBC News, together with two of our finest, quality television exports - Baywatch and MTV.
I remember sitting in my modest shalwar kamiz some 10 years ago, watching a retro Baywatch episode with a few gaggle-eyed Pakistani (male) hotel workers in the lobby of the boutique hotel that we were living at for a time, and having to give these boys a reality check that North American women don't actually strut the streets in Pamela Sue Anderson attire ~ beach and Spring Break locales aside.
This seemed to tarnish their American dream, but regardless, the impression was formed and I remember feeling relieved for once that I had chosen to dress in modest local attire that day. Small wonder though, that some/many/most of them have a narrow, and some (not I) might claim false, impression of American culture.
We are what we broadcast and always have been. In fact, the more other-worldly, the better, at times. Embedded in that 1938 Orson Wells radio wave oratory was the fear of impending doom and gloom of the world; which was an apt projection, given that these were the penultimate moments leading up to WWII. Conversely, broadcasting also reflects our greatest dreams, such as it did on that beautiful summer day of 69, when Neil Armstrong provided one of the most infamous soundbites about the seamless labyrinth between one small human and all of humanity.
Sometimes these broadcasts meme our highest familial ideals ~ think Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best ~ and sometimes they remind us that we are not as evolved a species as Darwin once claimed - or so the plethora of reality TV will tell us. To be fair, the one bright spot in reality television programming of late was the $70 million raised for charity this past spring during the special airing of Idol Gives Back.
So if we are what we watch, what sayeth this about turn-of-the-millenium America? Does this neo-religio/politico/consumerism broadcasting instantly gratify us, or are more and more of us beginning to tune out rather than tune in to the endless array of garbage strewn across the telewaves of the atmosphere?I, for one, am selective.
When I want my garbage escapist programming, ABC more than delivers with my perennial faves of the moment - Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters and Desperate Housewives ~ three of the best satirical abstracts of our popular culture as one could ever hope for.
When I want to know what fears and fascist food du jour stream the consciousness and neo-con-tours of this nation, I watch Fox News. Or Glenn Beck. Either suffices.When I crave subtle imprinting of subliminal imagery on my brain (heh, don't knock it - it's cheaper than frontal lobotomy surgery and often as effective) - I watch CNN News. And when I wish to live in a bubble and not have any news from the world outside our immediate 50 mile radius, I tune into the local Seattle news channels: they always deliver on this front.
Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?
Children's programming has come a long way since the shows of old from my childhood - Romper Room, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and that great Canadian classic, The Friendly Giant. I loved the Friendly Giant and all those other mythical TV heroes, real and cartooned. Sometimes I despair the world will never know another man like him.
But if you follow the yellow brick road back to the 70s kid's TV, Sesame Street was The destination. It was utopia. Still is. (Oops - no sooner do I post this than I read a day later about warnings on old school Sesame Street episodes - what is the world coming to?)
Unfortunately, retro shows such as this get lost in the remote shuffle. Enuf of Snuffleupagus. PBS is many, mucho, muy numbers removed on the remote control from Nickelodeon TV, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network, which is the land of the living dead where I often find my zombie daughter, when left to her own electronic devices.
She is so very much a product of this new media age of kid's programming ~ where product merchandising, the Net, and TV are one big happy ménage à trois ~ that I'm fairly convinced a cultural anthropologist need focus their lens no further afield than her bedroom for the perfect cultural study. Providing, of course, they can find a pulse and some semblance or sign of life, so mesmorized by the tube is she.
I can't begin to recount the number of times she has the sold the merits, features and benefits of a particular product, or imparted a little known piece of trivia, or even better, used a particular brand of humour with me. I ask her how she knows these things. The answer never changes: TV.
To television nay-sayers who see TV as the devil's babysitter, I say hear me out. TV is a form of junk food that is not good for the digestive system of kids, to be sure, but there are, at least, some merits.
I credit Popcorn Playhouse, a popular Saturday morning show that aired in my hometown of Edmonton and which featured a goldmining segment, with teaching me the fundamentals of kitty litter poop scooping. Digging for nuggets or turds, as it were, was all about depth of the scoop and quick flicks of the wrist.
Be this good, bad, ugly or a chimera of all three, TV is nurturing my daughter's inner diva. Whether this is because of too many Spongebob marathons, I cannot rightly say, but I do know that my daughter has a wickedly good sense of humour and keen sense of comedia timing, not to mention acute appreciation for voice, pause and intonation; things not as easily or affordably grasped from books or live theatre.
Case in point, she strutted on stage last week at her annual school cultural festival, and whilst many of her international peers jammed out at the mic, and shuffled away, too afraid to speak, she bucked the trend by confidently striding up to the microphone, boldly introducing herself, her class teacher, and the country from which she hailed, as though her obtrusive red maple leaf-shaped felt toque and bright, bold Team Canada hockey jersey weren't proof enough. "My name is (Holy Daughter) and I'm from Canada." It won't be long before she'll be drinking beer and spouting I.Am.Canadian rants, and/or I used to be Canadian rants.
And while she doesn't owe all of her personality to TV, it owns a fair chunk of her. I know this is not a good thing, but in the cosmic scheme of things, when this grand alien experiment is finally over and the mothership comes to get us, she will fit in perfectly with the rest of us homosapien drones.
It's true - I saw it on TV once.