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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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My TV and me

March 1st, 2006

BY BUD GARDNER

I’ve had a fascination with TV about as far back as I can remember. As a young child in the late Forties, I first saw those tiny flickering human figures in small, usually round, glowing picture tubes in bulky wooden furniture pieces in appliance stores, arousing a curiosity and excitement that has never much abated over all these years. Despite endless yearning and pleading from my brothers and me, my folks were hardasses; we didn’t actually get our own TV set until 1954, so until I was about eleven, what TV my younger brothers and I got to see was mooched off neighbors and friends.

We’d sneak over after school to our neighbors, the Jacobs, who had the little chicken farm next over from our property to the west, to watch Capt’n Si, with his Popeye cartoons, and the Cisco Kid and Poncho. To the east of us was old Al Stocker’s place. He too got a TV in the early Fifties, and after we’d helped him with the irrigation in the summer, we’d have a pop and watch Texas wrestling and Gene Autry and Flash Gordon while ol’ Al rocked slowly, dozing, occasionally spitting tobacco juice into a stained coffee can beside his chair. I even liked the test patterns in those early years; just the whole idea of these pictures flying invisibly through the air to be reconstituted by this box in someone’s living room was amazing and exciting, and if there was content, so much the better.

When we finally got that big Motorola “table model” parked on its rotating blackened steel stand in the living room, I felt we’d truly leapt into the modern age. The family developed a television routine and began to structure and arrange daily activities to accommodate viewing schedules, which themselves evolved through the years, The Mickey Mouse Club slowly giving way to American Bandstand, Ed Sullivan and Walt Disney taking over Sunday evening. We always seemed to gravitate to the comedy stuff: Sid Caesar, Arthur Godfrey, Jackie Gleason, Uncle Miltie; or to westerns and thrillers like Gunsmoke and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Somehow, at least in my recollection, I was never impressed with the more insidious and negative aspects of television, or its potential for political and social manipulation. It was family entertainment, and it was exciting to have it available at the flick of a switch right there in the living room. My perception now is quite different, and though I remain a television junkie, I am now so wary as to be virtually altogether cynical about the veracity of what I am being allowed to see, and how what I am seeing is being characterized.

But back in those earlier years we were just beginning to realize the explosive potential of television to mobilize emotion and opinion. We now had a ringside seat for all kinds of disasters and turning points in world affairs. We saw raging floods and ruination from killer earthquakes along with vivid pictures of Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the desk at the U.N. and, within moments of Kennedy’s assassination, we were right there in sunny Dealy Plaza, and at chaotic Parkland Hospital, on the scene with horrified and befuddled reporters, and we all stayed there glued to the tube through the weekend of continuing horror, with Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald right there before our eyes, and then on to the state funeral, the horse-drawn gun caisson with the President’s casket, the lovely widow in her black veil and the heartbreaking salute from the stalwart three-year-old son. An overwhelming torrent of images, shared by the nation and much of the world.

From then on it became relentless. We watched the Vietnam war, complete with firefights and body counts, around the dinner table with the nightly news, for years. Then came riots at the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago and on campuses across the country. We saw the first man step on the moon. Watergate and the Watergate hearings and Nixon’s resignation — our daily attendance at the molding of human history became commonplace.

Since that time, though many others have become jaded with all the “infotainment” that passes for news today, news is still the focus of my TV watching. And I include in that Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, both of which embroider “real” news with whimsy, irony, and blistering sarcasmm sorely needed in these spoon-fed sound-byte times. We have a satellite hookup and it feeds to four TVs in the house, even though there are only the two of us, a dog and two cats. Now we can include TV no matter where we are or what we’re doing. On Friday evenings our public TV outlet schedules four straight hours of news and news commentary shows, and I’m in hog heaven. On Friday evenings only the TV in the guest room is off, as I wander from kitchen to living room to bedroom having dinner, changing clothes, puttering, and digesting the rundown of the week’s events.

I have good friends who have for years foresworn having a TV in their homes, and there’s part of me that really understands and applauds their apparent ability to get along without it. But there’s that other part of me that comes right in after work, shucks its coat, and flicks on the nightly news, and that part’s still in charge and unapologetic, and still amazed that these flickering pictures of now, from anywhere in the world, just fly through the air and land here smack in the middle of my life. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Television Issue, Gardner | Link to this Entry

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