The afternoon had begun inconspicuously enough. My friend Brandon had a date that weekend with a cute guy
he had just met. Friday night, they were going to go to the big dance club downtown
, then Sunday they were going to go to the only real gay bar in Lincoln
, where Brandon's heartthrob
was to perform a number in drag
. The only problem was that Brandon, being a minor, had never really been to a bar or dance club, so he didn't quite know what to wear. I, however, having been to such clubs, had a vague notion what was "cool" and "appropriate" for men trying to look attractive to other, half-drunk men. Brandon thus enlisted me to the task of "making him over," more or less against my will.
Me, as fashion adviser. It felt like something from Full House, like I was Kimmy coming over to help D.J. find the perfect outfit for the hot guy from school, and somewhere in the whole mess D.J. would be broke and would have to get a humiliating job at some fast-food joint so that she could afford the expensive make-up and blouse (not to mention a prodigious amount of hair-spray) because Danny already gave her an advance on this week's allowance for the shoes she just had to have, because everyone else at school had them, so that we get set up for a nice moral by the end of the show, where we learn that you don't have to buy things in order to be liked, in fact if a person is worth knowing you at all, they will like you for who you are, and not for what you wear.
So there I was, playing the part. Brandon and I were at Gordman's, perusing the latest Fubu had to offer. Brandon only had a twenty-five-buck gift card to spend, so our options were limited. I did the best I could in my awkwardly-fitting role; it was largely a benevolent foray into consumerism, though we bought nothing.
It had begun to rain by the time we left. We jogged to my minivan and we drove to Taco Bell for lunch for under five bucks. He had a ten, and the sitting room was open, so we didn't have to go through the drive thru and pay with quarters. Like we did last time.
We got our tacos and jazz and sat down next to the windows, and Brandon told me a little bit more about his latest infatuation, his latest preoccupation with the boy he affectionately called "Sammi."
The normally dour continence of his face softened a bit. He smiled that slightly-shy smile so indicative of twitterpation. He told me about all the ways Sammi was nice to him; how he remembered all the little details, how he listened to what Brandon had to say.
I couldn't help but think, I've heard this all before.
No, not from Brandon. But from other people. Like they were all following the same script. Like they had all picked up this script from an amalgam of sitcoms, romantic comedies, full-blown romances, and day-time and evening soap operas.
Then there's the time Brian and Tony broke up. Brian and I were in the study lounge of my dorm, where I was tutoring Brian for an upcoming GRE. Tony had given Brian a cell phone -- a gift, though they had only been dating a week -- and the cell phone rang. Brian mentioned I was with him. Tony asked to speak with me, and Brian, confused, obligingly handed me the phone.
"Hi Jake. What are you up to?"
"I'm just here, helping Brian studying for his GRE. What's up?"
"Hey, listen, are you going to be there a while?"
"I don't know, it's kind of hard to say..."
"Well, will you just keep him there for like, ten, fifteen minutes? I have a surprise for him."
It seemed innocuous enough. I mean, what frilly queen doesn't want to shower his newly-found soulmate with gifts and surprises?
A few minutes later, Tony appears, with a large, rather well-built guy behind him. The phone, as it turns out, was the built guy's. Tony had borrowed it for the purpose of catching Brian cheating.
Tony demanded the return of the phone. Finger-wagging ensued, where Tony accused Brian of not being faithful. Brian flatly denied everything. I was silently caught in the middle.
When does the bitchslap happen? I thought. Or the next convenient plot device?
People like to say that television rots your brain, but I'm not sure what they mean by it, or that that's all it does. TV's effects can be felt in just about everything we do, in the expectations we have, in every area of our life.
It seems that people, when pursuing an object of their affection, attempt to emulate the rituals and examples set forth by the dominant media outlets. They have the same insecurities; they say the same things; they have the same feelings. We come to expect our friends to be like Ross, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, Rachel, and the other girl. We come to expect work to be a colossal pain but a necessary evil.
The television tells us there are two political parties, and we come to percieve Democrat/Republican splits. The television tells us that drugs are bad and that good and evil exist in the world, and we believe it. We see the world in technicolor.
But none of it is necessary, as in, a logical consequence of the world as it is. The television captures a reality that does exist, but when that reality is itself a reflection of the media which feeds it, it captures nothing but itself. Our imagination colors the way we perceive the world through our media; reality imitates our imagination; and thus our entire world is subject to the dry creativity of a few people with their fingers over the "On the Air" button.
Television also teaches us to expect life to be exciting and quick, served to us in bright colors and profound moments. It is truly McLuhan-esque, where the way we live our lives is shaped by one of the most dominating media we have. Real life doesn't come in half-hour segments punctuated by commercial breaks, it isn't defined in segments between sweeps weeks. But we live our lives that way.
Why else do we obsess about closure for our grief? Why is it so hard for people to imagine the viability of intimate relationships once the initial romance is gone? Why else do we seek constant sensory stimulation, whether it be in the form of music on our car stereo, the candy bars we munch on between meals, the sexual flings we embark upon in our youth and in our middle age? Why else do we fear boredom and quiet, eschew introspection, and pursue the next exciting installment of our lives? Why do we compare a humorous episode from our daily lives to what could happen on a typical episode of Full House? We supersize fast-food meals, not because we need the extra food, but because we want that oh-so-blissful moment of Mikky-D goodness to last just a little longer before we have to return to our regularly scheduled programming.
We talk about TV, we learn from TV, we model ourselves after TV, we view our own lives as television shows. Television permeates our lives to the point that we use it to define them. It doesn't just rot our brains. It becomes our brain (collective).