Watching TV uphill in the snow both ways
When I watched my child try to swipe a TV screen with his finger because he didn’t like what was on, I realized that kids’ television viewing habits have changed so much since I was a kid. Well, I realized it before that, but I realized I wanted to write a blog post about it then.
When was I a kid? Well, I’m in my late thirties now – NO – I’m in my mid-thirties. What’s a few years diff to you? Who are you, the KGB or something? The fact that I even know to fear them should tell you I am talking about late Cold War kids TV viewing. You know, like that episode of Head of the Class where they go to the U.S.S.R. and argue with Soviet teens about capitalism. Did you know that the “Mission to Moscow” episode in 1988 was the first American sitcom to be filmed in the Soviet Union? Yeah, I did. I wonder how?
So here are a few viewing habits, then and now:
THEN: The first TV I remember in our household had no remote (not even a clicky two-button clicker like my grandparents had), but a keypad. So I became a human remote: my father made me sit in front of the set and channel-surf for him. Fortunately there were only a few channels. The Yankees were on Channel 11. This repetition so engrained the TV station numbers in my head that though I have lived in the Boston area for 11 years, I still put on New York’s channel 2 when I look for CBS, instead of channel 4. 4 is always going to be NBC to me. Etc.
NOW: My little one is real proud of himself when he gets the remote in his hands (even though he doesn’t know what to do with it), such is the power of this device.
THEN: If you missed a show – sorry! That was it. The Sound of Music came on at Easter. If you didn’t tape it on your VCR (bonus points for pausing to skip the commercials), well, thanks, Easter Bunny. See you next year. Until VHS rentals – this allowed repeat movie viewing, but that episode of Square Pegs? Once missed, lost forever. Also: if you wanted to know who was that guy in that show, and is he the same guy from the other show? Sorry. Can’t help you. No internet. And that was OK.
NOW: My son doesn’t understand that even with a DVR, Netflix streaming, Apple TV, Hulu, etc. I cannot conjure up any show at any time. Which is why, when the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon premiered a few weeks ago on a Sunday morning, I made a little thing out of it and let him watch it live, giving him the sense that TV could be an event, with other people in their homes watching with the same sense of anticipation as yourself. But that meant he had to watch the commercials, and I have to say: this practice of FF-ing the F-ing commercials I have been doing – that’s some good parenting! Because every commercial was for a toy that it is scientifically proven that he would want. No wonder my mother was so stone-cold – THEN: I watched commercial after unskippable commercial as a child. Did I get a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine? NO. Did I get Hungry-Hungry Hippos? NO. Easy-Bake Oven? HELL NO. But I did convince her to get Shake n Bake – once.
THEN: At my elementary school, we watched cartoons in the auditorium instead of playing outside on rainy days. The cartoons we watched were relics from the dawn of the television age. I was telling my Dad this the other day, saying I remember a clown coming out on an ink bottle, for one. “Koko the Clown!” He knew it right away. We also watched Betty Boop. These cartoons weren’t even from my Dad’s generation – they were from the twenties and thirties: HIS father’s generation! They were short films, they weren’t even TV shows! Can you imagine elementary schoolers today sitting in a damp, dark auditorium, watching Howdy Doody, or Roy Rogers? Or watching cartoons at school at all? Or knowing what an inkwell is? What do they do with kids on rainy days now anyway? I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
It seems things – media, technology – are so much more ephemeral now. The connection to a generation before, even with the wealth of information available to us online, seems much more tenuous. THEN: I used cassette tapes to listen to and record music for pretty much all of my childhood and teenage years. I still knew how to operate a record player, and even owned one. NOW: when my older son wants to listen to music (he loves the Beatles, so there’s proof that some things can last. The little one? Ted Nugent. 4eva.), he asks me to turn on the MUSIC XBOX. I have no further comment.
Anyone have any TV memories from childhood they’d like to share? HEAVEN FORBID a few of my dear friends and relations comment on this blog!