‘Tele’ — from the ancient greek, meaning I can hear you all the way over here, and ‘vision’ — Middle English for a trance-like state where you think Jennifer Anniston is funny. Copernicus was the first inventor of television. Other inventors were Galileo, John Coltrane and Bette Midler. Each had an instrument that allowed them to see from a distance (or in Bette’s case to sing “From a Distance”).
But does television exist any more? Probably not. You want to see Jennifer Anniston, go to Netflix. Not to be confused with Netscape. Which is something like Firefox. Not to be confused with Fios. But closer to Safari. Not to be confused with Amazon. Unless you’re wearing a pith helmet.
You see what I mean? You don’t need tele-vision for that. What you need is a degree from MIT.
With television, the challenge was all in snack preparation. But once you had your bowl of chips and Squirt the instructions were simple. 1. Sit on couch. 2. Turn on TV. 3. Fall asleep.
Today, no one has tele-visions, what they have instead are explicit blood-spattered nightmares, tasteless but titillating sexual inn-u-endo (as well as the actual endo itself when the Inn fills up and the ends spill out into the lobby), and amoral capitalistic rampages. Just take a gander at some of the new programs that will be on this year.
Monkey Go Home Homeless monkeys read Beowulf on the streets of New York while begging for spare change. With their Malaysian habitat destroyed by logging corporations, the monkeys hop a plane to the big city and the hijinks begin. The first episode ends with the monkeys getting wise and catching pedestrians unawares with the old banana peel trick, then taking their victims’ wallets and house keys–proving once again that you can never go home.
McDonald’s Copter Gunship McDonald’s corporate PR firm decides that a helicopter gunship is just the thing to sell more hamburgers but the pilot can’t get the obese thing off the helipad. With a final 1,2,3 they lift it several feet in the air only to be foiled by a ketchup salesman from DesMoines who gets caught in the blades. Stars Bill Murray as Willy Loman, the ketchup salesman who Hunts for Red October.
Knit for Gnat Reality TV show about which insects are the best knitters. The spiders win legs down.
Sing for Your Supper Reality show with celebrity chefs about giving free gourmet food to people who make $9 an hour working at fast food restaurants, but only after they have been made to sing songs that are personally humiliating.
Grandbaby Guignol Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and the ghost of Sam Peckinipah are put into a pre-school nursery where they must eat strawberries and read Barney to three year olds. The one who signs an agreement to disavow violent imagery and become the new Mister Rogers first, is the winner.
The Original Channel A whole channel devoted to series’ by clever young writers and TV serialists who think they are making great new original TV series. What they don’t know is that their mothers sprinkled old videotapes on their Fruit Loops when they were kids. The results, while perhaps being original to them, are hardly original…
- Seinfold – A quartet of cranky origami artists always seem to let the folds get the best of them.
- House of Farts – Political intrigue and high-flying ambitions at a nursing home.
- The Tenors – The mob makes patsy’s sing on a lower note.
- Spar Check – When the USS Enterprise loses its main boom, Dr. Spock sets off on an adventure through the Whole Mast Catalog. When they send him rocket parts instead of the spars he ordered, he gives birth to a whole new Enterprise.
- Al in the Family – A bigot named Al, who is a penniless pauper, happens to knock on a working class, single mother family’s door one night, and is taken in by the family when they realize that they don’t have a bigoted father figure at their center.
- Gomer Pyle CSI – Gomer and Aunt Bee track down Opie in the crack houses of Miami’s South Beach to investigate the death of innocence. Gollee!
- The Gilligan Files – Agents Mulder and Scully investigate an island crash site where alien life forms are mixing martinis and putting on skits.
The National Fireside Dims
It was that moment I’d been waiting for. The big event. When together, as a family, we could share at the national fireside, (the TV) something we could all experience–our family and one billion others.
I’m not really a football fan or a Super Bowl fan, but there are so few public moments we share together. In my youth that’s all there was. Gathered around the television with Ma and Pa, drinking Diet Rite Cola and eating bags and bags of barbecued potato chips, we experienced something like national unity, night after night. “That’s the way it is, ” said Walter Cronkite each night, signing off.
That’s the way it was.
So now my teenaged children, who don’t get many chances to sit at the national fireside to experience this kind of family unity, would at the very least, if they’re not football fans, which they’re not, watch Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz for the half time show. At least we would have that.
“It’s on,” I yelled as Katy entered on an enormous mechanical tiger singing, “Eye of the Tiger.”
“Look at that! Wow girls. Look at that Hunger Games-style fire dress! Girls! You’re gonna miss it!”
“Whoa now she’s dancing with silver chess pieces doing backflips! Girls!!?”
“Oh my God, she changed into a beach dress in 5 seconds and she’s dancing with sharks and palm trees. Come down and watch!”
“Okay, in a minute!” I finally heard from one.
“But it’s on now! It’s gonna be over!”
Katy jumped around a stuffed dancing palm tree and my heart sank. They’re gonna miss it. This moment. What iPhone video game, what FaceTime phone conversation, what Instagram photo share could possible be more important than this? I started to feel the blood rush to my face. They’re missing it.
I ran upstairs to my 17 year old daughter’s room. She was watching “Being Human” on my laptop.
“I hate Katy Perry,” she said, “She doesn’t stand for anything except crass American commercialism.”
“But this isn’t just Katy Perry, this is a global moment! The technology, the dancers, the pure bubble gum poppiness of it all. It may be popular culture at its crassest, but it’s worth seeing!”
“Not interested,” she monotoned.
I held my tongue and ran downstairs to ferret out my 13 year old daughter. She. Surely she would share this moment. She was on her iPhone with her friend.
“Don’t you want to see what all your school mates will be talking about tomorrow in the halls at school,” I ask.
“Not really. If I have to I’ll Youtube it on my iPhone later.”
“But you have to,” I demand.
Stumped and stymied I blurt out, “Come down to see the end with us or I’ll give you a consequence!”
She looks at me quizzically, shrugs her shoulders. “Alright Dad.”
“It’s on now,”I emphasize.
“I’ll be down.”
I return to the family TV, Katy is rapping about pedicures with Missy Elliott…but the joy has gone out of it.
“It’s almost over,” I yell. “You’re missing the best part,” I exclaim knowing that in this five minute tech orgy there really can be no best part.
Finally my 13 year old appears. Looks. Katy has silver eyeliner on and is flying around the stadium on a star crane with sparks coming out of every possible stadium orifice.
My 13 year old shrugs her shoulders. “Is there any cake left in the kitchen?”
So much for national fireside. Not Obama, disasters, moon landings, wars, peace, or as it turns out, Katy Perry being flown around a football stadium, can bring it back.