The Boob Tube

If my parents wanted me to fit in with the world, they did a God-awful job in terms of culture.  Raised on a secluded farm in Northwest Ohio, I didn’t have prolonged experience with television until high school, and my exposure with COLOR television started at about the same time as my prolonged exposure to it.  I did watch a little television as a grade-schooler, all based in PBS and black-and-white films from the 30’s and 40’s.

My primary source of entertainment as a kid, young and adolescent, was reading.

Christmastime brings back that treasured activity, and if folks ask me what I want for Christmas, I usually ask for books or gift certificates to book stores.  Anything literary is a hit with me.  The earliest Christmas I can remember, all the way to the last “normal” Christmas I had at home in Ohio, involved gifts of books and words.  When I lived at home my parents didn’t put presents under the tree; they split the couch in half and placed my gifts on one side and my brother’s gifts on the other side.  In the middle, for both of us, was a luxurious spread of books, all signed with love inside the front cover in my mother’s small, spidery handwriting.  I usually ended up with the collection every year, since my brother was more into games than books.

Water-cooler talk at any workplace I’ve ever had the privilege to serve has rarely drifted to books.  There was some brief forays into literature with Harry Potter, but those moments were very, very brief.  Always the subject of conversation was last night’s episode of something that bored me to tears if I tried to watch it, and I tried to watch over and over, hoping to understanding the draw.  

Nowhere did that happen more acutely than when I worked for a little sporting goods company in Southwest Missouri called Bass Pro Shops.  Bass Pro was my sustaining income while I was getting my literature degree; I taught call center employees there in the evenings full time and learned about writing and history in the mornings full time at Missouri State University.  Bass Pro not only gave me the opportunity to teach, it gave me a restaurant called Hemingway’s to appreciate, and gave me a love of nature and environmentalism beyond the organic nature of my mother’s farming.  But in the break rooms and on the phones with customers, I didn’t get to talk about Hemingway the man very much.

I was talking to fishermen, and hunters of all kinds.  Including duck hunters.

Which brings us back to television, and my complete lack of understanding its draw, and the backwoods shows from the Discovery Channel and A&E, particularly “Duck Dynasty.”

There’s been a lot of fuss lately over this show, thanks to an interview with its patriarch.  Like most other forms of television, I tried to watch this show, and even though I used to sell duck calls and hunting accessories and I love Louisiana culture (in a Kate Chopin, Treme kind of way), I lasted only about twenty minutes.  And this was before the world heard Phil talk about his views on all things cultural.

Being a writer, I believe this guy is entitled to his opinion.  We all have protection of the First Amendment, provided we don’t shout “Fire!” for no reason in a crowd.  I don’t believe that most of his interview was a “fire” alarm.  Most of it was consistent to what I assumed he would say based on what I saw of the show.  

I say most of it, because at one point he did say “Fire,” or something that rhymes with it, like “liar,” in terms of US history.  And US history was my minor in college, so when I read that part, I couldn’t defend his First Amendment access for it…and I understood his appeal even less.  He insisted that in his part of the world, African Americans loved life under Jim Crow, preferred it to the welfare state that they have been in since it ended, and said it in a way that insisted that anyone who said otherwise was to be dismissed.  Numerous lynchings and hangings and humiliation endured were dismissed for trivial, because a star on the highest-rated US show on television said that time was preferred by the people it oppressed.

I know there’s no logic to that statement, but do the people who watch it see the logic in that statement?  Do they accept it as fact?  Do they believe it because they admire this show?  

Do they think for themselves?

I’m reminded of a scene from a movie that I loved, with good writing, that wasn’t based on a dusty classic–Men In Black:

Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.

Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

See, wisdom.  I’m hoping more people remember that movie and that sentiment than watch “Duck Dynasty” or listen to Phil…but I have to be realistic and agree with Kay…just enough.

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