Fifty years ago, mothers and alarmists everywhere thought television
would descend upon young American minds like brain-eating bacteria
, stripping their kids of independent
thought and Cold War
common sense. I hear Allen Ginsburg originally began "Howl
," "I have seen the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by the Flintstones
Their fears may have been justified. But all that ridiculous "kill your television" creepiness is futile at this point. Besides, TV is pretty amazing, and I love it just as much as every other mush-brained American consumer zombie. But there is trouble brewing in TV land. While our grandmothers wrung their hands over possibly IQ-sapping programs, our mothers now have more than 285 channels to disapprove of – and I share some of their apprehension.
Basic cable opened up new worlds of existential delight to isolated suburbanites. CNN is a great leveler, making information accessible to all on a 24-hour basis. Nickelodeon created "Ren and Stimpy," an important, albeit animated, formative force on contemporary youth, teaching the utility of logs and warning against the dangers of urinating on electric fences.
But digital cable, meaning channels 80 through god knows how many, is destroying the philosophical fabric of basic cable. Our young people are being kidnapped at their most lucid and absorptive stage, before they have gotten the chance to meander through the menagerie that is basic cable.
In our current mania for bigger, better, faster and more titillating cable entertainment, we have neglected the lessons from the Turner-era relics left over from cable's past. We are delivering the fallout from this dangerous oversight onto the next generation of TV-heads. I propose a renaissance, a rebirth and a rediscovery of what basic cable has to offer our parched and longing intellects. Let us relinquish our petty and simplistic infatuation with StarzAction! and Cinemax West and HBO and HBO and HBO.
Do we really need to see "Ready to Rumble" or "Pay It Forward" ... again? Should we be repeating these horrific mistakes on several different channels at once? Should we be making mediocrity even more prevalent? Should we be charged for it? The answer is a steadfast and pleading, "No!" Open up your TV Guide and behold the worlds of wonder that are at your fingertips, those that can be reached without the 100+ button on your remote.
For instance, the Lifetime channel is inaccurately advertised as Television for Women. It has something to teach all of us, regardless of which way our shirts button. Where would we be without the timeless wisdom of the Golden Girls? I know my life is richer now that I know the intimate details about sex between old people. I'm sure we've all lost sleep wondering.
Lifetime brings us this little slice of Freudian heaven at least twice a day, so if you didn't know already, you can easily learn what happens when old women go to the grocery store to buy condoms. Personally, "Golden Girls" is a constant reassurance that I'll still be able to get some when I'm over 60. Lifetime also provides little nuggets of truth and beauty in the form of orphaned TV movies that it adopts and reruns. Most of these star Kelly Martin as a deranged stalker or someone with an eating disorder. In my personal favorite, she plays both. It's called, "Mother May I Sleep with Danger?" (I know I have asked my mother this question many times. Strangely, she always says no. This Danger fellow must be quite something.)
And where else can you watch reruns of the "Dukes of Hazzard" but on The Nashville Network? Bo and Luke are paragons of American gumption and determination, plus they're hunky. You know, there sure are a lot of Boss Hoggs these days, capitalistic bullies in white suits and cowboy hats, metaphorically speaking of course. As our economy continues to trample the hardworking middle-class, we need to heed the lessons TNN is providing.
When the going gets tough, the tough take mud-happy joyrides in an awesome 1969 Dodge Charger named the "General Lee." TNN also teaches us how to line dance, which is certainly the 20th century's last unheralded American artform. Get thee to a boot scoot. I am not a fan of most professional sports. Thus, the Deuce, or ESPN2, is a modern miracle. Lumberjack contests, ladies billiards, and extreme horseriding? I never knew that sports could be this exciting or rewarding. Bob Costas would have you believe that all of man's primal conflicts can be seen in the grand metaphor of the diamond or the gridiron. Can we be anymore obvious?
The Deuce dares to create bolder and brassier sports metaphors. Try finding the meaning of life in a miniature golf course or in a midget bowling lane. Now there's a brain bender you won't find in your 3000 satellite sports channels. I can't wait till ESPN3 airs freestyle walking and human chess. Speaking of human chess, what about Court TV? You could literally watch every second of the O.J. trial, and after piles of insurmountable evidence were shoveled to jurors, you get to see, live, the formation of a huge pimple on the ass of the American judicial system. Not that I have a strong opinion on the matter.
As heinous a miscarriage of justice as that trial was, it brought the courtroom into the living room, and that can't be a bad thing. It was a great learning experience. For instance, I learned that my grandmother is crazy. After watching the whole trial, she still thought O.J. was innocent.
So in conclusion, I would like to make a final plea.
If you can't bring yourself to turn the TV off, at least take advantage of what basic cable has to offer. Watch a Spanish-language soap opera, or Emergency Vets or even Bob Vila. Make the most of your set, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste on bad movies on HBO Seven.