Tuesday, February 04, 2003

I watched some of the footage of the Columbia Space Shuttle disintegration on the day it happened at my parents' house. Dan Rather was the anchor (and by the way, have his eyes always been weird like that?). The whole thing was quite recent, and so you could tell that they were scrambling to fill airtime (since the rules of TV require that all non-related programming be banished from the screen within 24 hours of any American tragedy). They gave airtime to just about anybody who had seen, heard, or felt anything that had even the most remote connection to the day's events. It was boring and mesmerizing in that uniquely TV way.

For me, the most entertaining moment was when my mother complained about the people who were in the background of the TV set waving and maneuvering to get their faces onto the screen while Dan Rather was speaking. As if the whole tragedy hadn't already been turned into a circus! Personally, I thought it was kind of reassuring to see those people trying to get their face onto the television during such a sombre event -- sort of like hearing babies talk really loud at church -- a reminder that life isn't really as serious or as precious as we all like to think, despite what TV tries to tell us.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

My Big Fat Greek Life?!?!?!?!? Heaven help us.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Today is a day when I am very glad not to have television.

Maurice Gibb died today. He was the bass player and problem member of the BeeGees. Remember? -- the prematurely balding one who was married once to Lulu and had a drinking problem? I used to be a HUGE BeeGees fan when I was a teen. It was their pictures that were taped to my bedroom wall, their records that monopolized the stereo, their faces that populated my teenaged fantasies. (I never sent them a fan letter. But I did join the fan club.) And while Maurice was not my favourite (that was Barry), he did have a sort of lost soul appeal that teenaged girls really go for.

So I am very happy that I will not have to watch endless video clips of the dead Maurice and his grieving brothers on the TV. Happy that I will not have to watch a perfectly groomed Barry tell all the listeners out there in TVland what a great person his brother was, and how hard it is for him to accept his death. Happy that I will not have to see a white-suited John Travolta grooving to Maurice's bass lines twenty times a day for the next few days. Happy not to have to participate in television's transformation of mourning into an empty and lobotomizing experience.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Did you hear that Billy Van died? Whaddya mean, who's Billy Van? I thought everybody knew who Billy Van was? Even my husband confessed tonight that, until I started talking about Billy Van, he didn't really know who he was. I feel like someone nominated me President of the Billy Van Fan Club, but forgot to tell me.

Billy Van was a Canadian comedian who seemed to have some measure of fame mostly for having been a regular on the Sonny and Cher Show. He went on to star in "Party Game", which was one of my favourite tv shows as a young teen. It was on every night at 6:30 on CHCH, with a host named Bill, and a home charades team of Diana Christie, Jack Duffy, and -- you guessed it -- Billy Van. Then there would be an opposing team comprised of barely-known Canadian celebrities -- less famous even than Alan Hamel (who married Suzanne Somers, by the way). But Billy's most famous creation was the Hilarious House of Frightenstein. It kind of defies description. A true cult classic.

And now it's time for a guilty TV confession. I sent a fan letter to Billy Van. Can't remember how old I was -- somewhere around 10 or 11, I imagine. The bastard never answered, and I was actually disappointed.

My mother always encouraged me to send fan letters to celebrities I liked. That's why I have an 8X10 glossy photograph of Sonny and Cher, with "To Jennifer, Love from Sonny and Cher" handwritten on it. (I sent Chastity a birthday card that I made on my spirograph.) I also sent fan letters to Bobby Clarke, team captain of the Philadelphia Flyers (got a signed photograph), to a guy who made greeting cards (!?!?!?) named Wallace Tripp (got a handwritten note), and to someone else who I cannot remember right now. What a weird thing to do. I think maybe it was the Billy Van experience that convinced me to stop it.

If you think about it, writing fan letters is just plain odd -- telling someone you've never met how much you like them. Most of us can't tell the people we see every day how much we like them. And the worst part is that the celebrities answer! Rather than say, "This is the act of a person with too much time on his hands. I will not deign to dignify it with response," they authorize some overworked personal assistant to send a letter, dripping with mock gratitude, that the poor star-struck shmuck puts in a frame and mounts in the rec room. (That's where my Sonny and Cher photo hangs.)

Society needs heroes, but why celebrities?!

But back to Billy Van, his death has been the subject of much discussion in my house. My husband even made a Billy Van joke the other day. I was wondering if someone would now release a DVD version of all the Hilarious House of Frightenstein episodes. My husband said, "That would be a BVD," and wouldn't you know it, I laughed. Just as Billy would have wanted it.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Well, it appears that television rental is a concept whose time has passed. My websearch for "Grenada Television" only turned up references to the British television network and to the small Caribbean country that Ronald Reagan invaded. (Check this out to find out more about Grenada, including the story about how the US bombed the island's mental hospital.) So then I tried "television rental" and only got industry-type rental companies.

If you think about it, renting a home television is a pretty strange concept. Why the television? Why not the microwave oven, or the stereo? Obviously, the concept wasn't all that good, since no one rents out televisions anymore. But during the 1980s, Grenada was a major retailer. I rented from a big store on Yonge St. in Toronto. And I think every downtown had a Grenada outlet. Did they go bankrupt?

Does this mean that our relationship to TV has changed over the past 15 years, such that we now need to own the TV, not just use it? And if so, is this a positive or negative development? Have we seized the means of transmission of our own fantasies and dreams from evil television profiteers? Or are we trapped in the last stage of a Foucauldian/Huxleyan progression towards a technological enslavement of which we are the primary architects? I think there's a Ph.D. thesis in here somewhere.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

This is my first-ever foray into the world of web publishing -- one of the things I have time to do because I don't watch TV.

It's been 13 years since I sent my TV back to Grenada (the TV rental store, not the country). In fact, I don't even know if Grenada still exists, or if you can still rent TVs. I'll have to search the net and check. I seem to remember that it cost me $27 per month, and that it was a good one. But I had a roommate at the time who practically lived in front of the tube, and I began to resent the fact that he was always in the living room. One day, I just called Grenada and asked them to pick it up, which they did the next day. I'm not sure he ever forgave me.

Since then, I have lived with TVs in some of my residences, but they were never my TVs, and I never really watched them. Right now, I have a TV in the basement, but it doesn't receive any channels; it just has a hook-up to a VCR. So technically I have a TV, but I don't have television. And that's the important part.

So in this blog, I will talk about TV, about being TVfree, and about the other things I do instead of watching TV.

And by the way, the quote about how TV should get worse, not better, comes from Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Penguin Books, 1985, p. 159-60. It is an excellent book about how TV has changed public discourse for the worse, although I'm not sure I agree with his assessment of "The A-Team". (Now you know that I've actually seen "The A-Team". That's just the first of many guilty TV confessions I will divulge over time.)