I worried the other day, after my post on cable TV, that I’d completely failed at making my point. Which was, I guess, the one I think about the most these days, how our culture is driven by technology, and how technology isolates us into niches and those niches mostly are created by the calendar.
I’ve written about this more than once, because I think about it all the time: If you give me only one question to ask of anyone, in order to give me the most information about that person, it would always be, “When were you born?”
A person born in 1928, for example, turning 90 this year, would have been 13 years old in 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and the U.S. entered the war. This person would, in most scenarios, have graduated high school only a few months before the end of World War II, quite possibly missing all of the action.
That is, this 90-year-old and a 93-year-old, who could have attended that very same high school at the same time, would have very different stories to tell (or not).
Of course, these would be male-type persons. Whole ‘nother story on the other side.
And that’s just big-picture stuff. A look at the culture at different stages of this theoretical person’s life provides all sorts of interesting data points, from music to movies to, certainly, technology. If you’ll let me just pick a pronoun here for convenience, he turned 20 about the time televisions began to arrive in American homes. He would have been a full-fledged adult, quite possibly a husband and father, by the time Elvis and his wiggling showed up.
Let’s say he was drafted in 1947 and served two unremarkable years, completely missing Korea, all done by the time Eisenhower started sending advisors to Southeast Asia. He would have been 35 when JFK was assassinated, 45 during the Watergate hearings, 52 when Ronald Reagan was elected.
He smoked his first cigarette when he was 14, giving him more than two decades before the Surgeon General’s report on smoking came out. He was nearing retirement by the time computers started showing up in offices. He began drawing Social Security in Bill Clinton’s first year as president.
He was my age when Matlock came on. MY AGE.
Now, take a quantum approach to this, see all the possible timelines for this one person, depending on all sorts of variables. That’s a rich supply of cultural detail to have from the get-go. I mean, just give me a birthdate and I’ll create a character sketch, and I don’t even write fiction. There’s a lot of information in the calendar.
Thus my point about cable. One cohort isn’t interested; another can’t imagine living without it.
And I’m not talking about infrastructure; I hope that’s clear. Doesn’t matter if it’s coaxial or satellite or SlingTV or a fancy digital antenna on the roof, picking up those brilliant OTA signals, uncompressed by cable companies.
It’s about randomized distraction and routines. It’s about walking in the front door at the end of the day and turning on the set, because that’s what you always do. It’s about living in this world of cable news and constant messaging and reality TV that has almost nothing to do with reality. It’s voyeurism disconnected from consequences, and you know what? If you passively receive this kind of information on a daily basis, you might actually come to believe that the businessman at the head of the table on that reality show might make a good, you know. President. Or something. Sounds good, strong. A leader. Will shake things up.
You shook now?
I watched a new TV show the other day. I mentioned a while back that I was a fan of The Office, and that I’d started following actress Jenna Fischer online for unclear reasons, other than my affection for her and the show (she played Pam Beasley). She was suddenly making her presence known, first because she’d written a book (for young actors) and then to promote her new sitcom on ABC, Splitting Up Together.
The list of popular TV shows I’ve never seen would be as long as…your list, probably. Some titles I recognize; a lot I’m completely clueless about. Sometimes I have this odd sense of relief when I discover that a favorite actor, who’s apparently been missing in action for years, has in fact been working away on a series all this time. Good for him! Or her! I still won’t watch, probably.
And I wouldn’t have watched Ms. Fischer’s show, in all likelihood. It looked pretty conventional, the set-up seemed a little hackneyed, and the initial reviews were middling and filled with danger signals. These people were mysteriously affluent yet never went to work. And how could they afford that house anyway?
But I was eating lunch, and wanted something short to watch while I ate, and I couldn’t get Silicon Valley to stream for some reason, so I watched. And then I watched the next one.
I thought they were OK, actually. Clever writing, sometimes. Excellent characterizations, if a little two-dimensional (but they’ll always be, at this stage of a show). Jenna was remarkable, a different character completely from her Pam. Her husband is played by Oliver Hudson, who’s charming and goofy and flawed and a pleasure to watch, really. The kids are good.
And there are several references to work, and even a scene where Jenna Fischer is shown working in a shop that it appears she owns, or at least has a stake in. WTF, critics?
But it’s ordinary, really. I may watch more, just because I like the actors (Oliver Hudson is Goldie Hawn’s son, by the way, and Kate Hudson’s brother), but it’s not going to be an event for me.
I just wanted to make the point that it’s not television. I watch. I’ll continue to watch. There are great shows out there, including Silicon Valley (and VEEP) on HBO. And Better Call Saul, which I may prefer to Breaking Bad, actually. And The Good Place, which is hilarious and edgy and peculiar and may be the best thing on network television.
And The Good Doctor, which I began hate-watching because of the bizarre take on autism by the lead actor, Freddy Highmore, and then got attached to for reasons I’m unclear about.
But this is just taste, not worth mentioning. I’m not interested in anything that glorifies violence and sadism, for example, so I’ll always skip stuff like Game of Thrones and Westworld, but that’s just me. I know what I like. There’s a fair amount of it out there, too.
I just don’t want it flowing into my house willy-nilly, always waiting for a weak moment. I just want to pick. Your results may vary.