8824 NE Russell St.
Portland OR 97220

Black Lamb

ABOUT

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.

SUBMISSIONS

Black Lamb welcomes submissions from new writers. Email us.

QUESTIONS

If you have questions or comments regarding Black Lamb, please email us.

Thug in the corner

March 1st, 2006

bbcmike.jpgBY CLAIRE MCLAUGHLIN

For me, the television is an instrument of torture. Or no, it is the torturer himself, good at his job, with a cupboardful of trusty gadgets and a wide repertoire of techniques, from the unbearable, steady drip of water on the skull to the galvanizing agony of the electrode, to the continuous blistering pain of repeatedly lacerated flesh: a natural, bringing to his work a relish, and a touch of imagination, that put him in a class of his own. I have been a favorite victim of his for a long time now. He lives in my house, of course, so I cannot get away from him. Let me tell you how much I hate him!

I remember what it was like, you see, to be able to enjoy watching television. It was something I took entirely for granted, as I’m sure you do. I particularly remember the time — it was early in 1981, when I was still nursing our younger daughter, and sitting around with her on my lap for great tracts of the day and night, doing nothing, and much in need of distraction — when our old television conked out, and we got another one. I remember my husband turning on the new set. I was looking forward to having the familiar old moving pictures restored, nothing more; I hadn’t registered how much bigger the new set was, or even considered that it might be technologically more sophisticated. John turned the switch, and Pow! The size of the picture! The color! The definition! The sound! It was only a boring football match, but I was in it, right in it, whizzing up and down the field, feeling the air rasp in my lungs, the muscles ache in my racing legs, feeling the excitement in my heart, hearing the crowds roar! For the next fortnight I would have watched anything on that television, and did, even snooker. Oh, the prettiness of the shiny colored balls on the green ground, the contrast of white shirt against black tux, the wonderful big close-up pink faces betraying every tremor of emotion, every muscle twitch!

But it was the drama I really loved. In the 1980s the BBC was still commissioning new plays especially for television, and I still remember two or three plays I saw then, the rich experience they gave me, the deep impact they made. And it didn’t have to be serious stuff. I can feel myself grinning again now — can you? — as I recall the glee with which I turned on the latest installment of Dallas or Die-nasty, to watch all those impossibly wealthy and beautiful people prancing around their impossibly sumptuous mansions and offices, and behaving like perfect twits. And I loved the nature programs. How amazing it was to be transported under the sea, or to a polar ice cap, or inside a bird’s nest, effortlessly to escape the limitations of one’s bodily existence and, like a disembodied spirit, fly to any beautiful region of our extraordinary planet and become part of the intimate life of its myriad creatures. All this is lost to me now. I know it’s all still going on, on that big box in the corner — but not for me. For me, the television screen is just a smudge of pale grey light.

There was the family togetherness of television, too. When my girls were small, the three of us used to sit, one on my knee and the other cuddled against me, watching a cartoon or a children’s program in a snug little heap. As they got older, and videos came in, John and I had the fun of introducing them to our favorite films — and registering their often far-from-enthusiastic comments! People used to shake their heads disapprovingly, when television first began, about how it did away with family evenings round the fire or the supper table, sharing thoughts and feelings, the experiences of the day, but for us television was nearly always a sociable thing. It wasn’t until I couldn’t be a part of it any longer that I understood how precious they had been to me, those times when we all four sat watching a soap, jeering at the baddies together, heaving a mutual sigh when the hero and heroine clinched at last, or being gob-smacked together at the astonishing facts a documentary revealed. Perhaps it seems to you not much to lose, the largely second-rate entertainment television provides; but to be excluded from the family circle in that way, or not to be able to sit down with John, at the end of a difficult day, and share a good program we would both enjoy — that is painful.

Sometimes I do still watch. I made a point of seeing, with my husband and one of our daughters, the many installments of a recent dramatization of Dickens’ great novel Bleak House, with the USA’s own Gillian Anderson (you haven’t forgotten X-Files’ Scully, surely?) in one of the principal roles. But the very thing that would have made this so enjoyable in the past, when I could see — our cheerful family comment on the actors and the action — now made it a penance: it got in the way of what the characters were saying, the thread of sound which alone connected me with the television and what it was communicating. When I do, rarely, “watch” television now, it is often a sour experience. Those who create programs for such a visual medium are naturally much more concerned with the quality of the pictures than the words; but the words are all I’m getting, and so what I’m getting too often feels banal and lifeless. Now, instead of giving me the sense that life is rich, exciting, and full of infinite possibility, television makes it seem dull, repetitive, and thin.

So that’s what television is for me now, a busted flush, a spoiled meal, a bottle of wine, for sharing, and having a good time with, that was once full but is now empty. It’s a broken toy. Everybody else’s toy is still in working order, and they’re having fun with it, but mine is broken, and fit only for the dustbin. Lend me your Doc Martens, someone, or your old bovver boots, and watch me give it to that square-jawed, flat-faced thug in the corner. See that glass smash and splinter, hear those electronics fizzle and pop!
And yet… television is not a toy, and I am not a child. I am an adult, quite an elderly adult, with a disability. Loss is appropriate to my age and condition — and not the loss of television only — and I need times of quiet and reflection to deal with this difficult agenda, far removed from the 24/7, flick-of-a-switch distractions of the box. Television is a mixed blessing. I have had a great deal from it, and I have been lucky to see it in what will perhaps come to be considered its heyday, in the UK at least, when it was a medium that creative people of all kinds respected, and wanted to experiment with.

I don’t always find it easy, though, to sit quietly with my thoughts — to sit with loss and grief, or sit with another person and listen to him express his deepest self, and offer him mine. It is hard to turn away from the jigging, brightly-colored screen, or have it turn away from you. It is hard to be grown-up, and face reality fair and square. I do my best, but I have to admit that television, and the loss of television, sometimes make me feel very fed up indeed. •

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

LINKS

  • Blogroll