Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Massive Vowel Movements
I had a confession to make, here, in public, in front of all y'all: I watch crap TV.

This is a big step for me. Growing up, I, like many other Americans in the '80s, lived with my parents. This sharply curtailed my TV-watching adventures, because my father has always been more of a computer guy, except when he's ignoring the news or the live fake court shows but God forbid you change that channel, and my mother views television as the work of ... well, what's worse than the devil? Because I think she has a healthy respect for certain works of the devil. A work of Walmart, perhaps - that's far, far worse, in her eyes.

My mom belongs to a certain class of media consumers who cannot understand the value of watching crap for crap's sake. "Why would you want to watch so-called reality shows? They're not even realistic! And commercial television just caters to the lazy, unstimulated brain. It doesn't make you think!" In my mother's perfect world, I suspect, there would be no channels but PBS, no movie theaters with stadium seating and cupholders, and no books that didn't expand the mind and enrich the soul. She likes Art Theatre fare (faux British spelling intact), books with titles that include words like "soul" and "deep," and no TV shows at all. She takes great pride in scoffing at television as a weakness.

And, for many years, I bought into this mindset without a backward glance. I have vague memories of watching e.r. back when it was lower-cased and featuring George and Noah, probably in the spirit of exposing me to some form of pop culture and watching cute doctors do brave things. Slowly, even that was deemed unworthy. I still watched TV by myself, late at night, but always in a mildly guilty sort of way. Like I could get away with it, but I wouldn't do it in front of anyone else. If I was Catholic, I'd probably have brought it to confession.

Through college, I owned a television set but couldn't afford cable, so we rented a lot of movies. When I moved to Boston to get my first (two) masters degree(s), I didn't even bring a television along with me. Just as well, because my apartment had about 12 square feet of floor space, maybe 13. I took a snotty sort of pride in my televisionless lifestyle, and pretended not to sneer at all those people who passively relied on the boob toob for entertainment and stimulation. It's not like I spent my non-television-watching time attending museum exhitbits and live theaters and Zen retreats; in fact, now, I can't even remember how I spent my evenings. But it wasn't watching TV, that's for sure.

Then I moved in with Willem, and started joining him in the living room while he watched sports on his little 13" TV in the corner. I tried watching a new show, Wonderland, and was brutally and mercilessly cut off when it became clear the show was too intense and realistic for prime time and got yanked. I started to feel those old guilty feelings again, like I was doing something shameful. What kind of mother was I, sitting there a few months pregnant, allowing my baby to be prenatally exposed to the mind-numbing qualities of commercial media? Even if it was A Baby Story, which was clearly educational and enriching and tear-jerky and for the sake of the baby?

Time passed, and eventually, one night, I was sitting at home while my husband was at work and my by-then-three-year-old daughter was asleep. I turned on the television, and somehow landed on Temptation Island.

And I watched it. Every single episode, all season long. With a deep, abiding fascination for the way people behave in front of a camera or ten. After a while, I got brave enough to admit to Willem that I, the mighty I, was watching a TV show.

And with even more time, I got over myself, realized that there is a place in my life for crap, for completely useless and brainless entertainment, for passive background information to flow over me while I do other things. I can't quite sapire to be a true couch potato, because I get too jittery just sitting there - I have to DO something. I used to do crosswords, but now I knit. And I don't have the patience for commercials, but now that we have DVR I can record far too many shows every week and zip through an hour-long show in 42 minutes. Blissfully.

As for the passive entertainment, the not-thinking... you're darn RIGHT I'm not thinking! My brain is tired. Worn-out. Full of insanity from work, and sometimes even from my clients, and details about the kids, and a brazilian other things. I need a break, but I'm not ready to be unconscious.

So, last night, I sat and happily watched American Idol, and learned that if you're a cute 20-something, you, too could join a singing competition in which consonants are unnecessary, and you could warble a long string of musical vowels on stage. Enunciation is superfluous! Even key, pitch and rhythm! Who cares? Just sing, and wiggle it, just a little bit.

I can't wait for tonight's series of vowel movements. But don't tell my mom.