The dramas evoke emotion and meaning, so I haven’t been able to convince myself they lack value to my life and mind. Many are romantic, but not just; dominant themes are ethical quandaries and chosen family, amidst backstories that span multiple lifetimes. Distinct cultural paradigms. I love especially, exploring different ways of thinking about time, seeing how calculations play out iwhen characters buy into various conceptual measurements of what constitutes virtue and goodness.
It isn’t that there isn’t anything comparable, but very little in Western television resonates with me beyond ‘entertainment value’, whatever that is. When I talk to my therapist about the shows, as part of a ‘bundle of behaviors’ I get lodged into from time to time, she asks “What is it that you are getting from them, that you are not finding elsewhere?”
I reply with the answers I just gave, but there’s something else. She knows this and is waiting for my real answer. Me too.
My strongest childhood memories of television find me sitting on the floor of the great room of my elementary school, the space filling and emptying around me. Captain Kangaroo. Feelings around being the first one dropped off to school or the last one picked up, watching the teachers watching the door. The impressions are strong, even though this might not have happened often.
During weekends at home, Shirley Temple was often on TV, Tarzan, sometimes Fred Astaire at night. Astaire in fact, became my first crush, so much so that I teased my ex-husband about choosing him for the Fred shape of his head. I still love songs from those musicals, still feel happiest wearing long flowing dresses that swish and move in time, while as an adult, viewing the productions through a more critical eye. A child doesn’t ask themself what or who is missing from a story, or why.
Shall we dance
Or keep on moping?
Shall we dance
Or walk on air?
Shall we give in
Or shall we dance with never a care…
Later, my mother would have me videotape soap operas when I got home from school, so she could watch them after work in the evenings. Neither of us could program the VCR program to record correctly, and if I watched, I could edit commercials. I’m not sure if she asked me to do that, or if I liked them; it was more like second-hand smoke.
Saturday morning cartoons were a big thing, for other kids. While staying with a friend I paced restlessly as she watched her favorite show, tortured because she lived in an apartment building with a big pool I’d woken excited to get into right away. Speed Racer broke through the cartoon barrier eventually, though I can’t place what it was that caught my interest enough to wake a full hour early to watch the show before Jr High. The Japanese creator of the manga Mach GoGoGo, self-taught artist Tatsuo Yoshida, was inspired by Elvis and James Bond movies, which makes perfect sense. It was definitely a vibe. I wouldn’t want to watch it now, nor tamper with the early memories.
As soon as I moved out on my own (for certain values of my own), I traded soap operas for CSpan and BookTV, making efficient use of time. There was such an urgency I felt, to become someone of substance! And for the most part, I kept to that going forward, gravitating toward what I could justify as enrichment, with the kids once they arrived, as well. We watched animal and science shows, and there were long periods in which we didn’t have a TV at all, or where I closed it behind cabinet doors, restricting hours it could be on.
As I write this, I realize I may have strongly factored the influence of TV when sleuthing out reasons my mother was depressed, and later, suicidal. Alongside soap operas came Phil Donahue then Oprah, and she, like many mothers then, began to talk about childhood wounds and injustices more, and more dramatically. There was more crying, more shopping and debt. Arguments with my step-father intensified. My sister was born.
Always interested in biographies of suffering, I believe my mother couldn’t always tell the difference between her own stories and the stories she read, then the interviews she watched on TV. She began to re-frame her own narratives with those others in mind; I was captive audience for tales I couldn’t process. Terrible decisions to come would be justified by past-life regressions she learned about through Shirley McClain. Thanks, Oprah. Then, pendulum swinging the other direction, televangelists entered the scene.
No wonder my relationship with TV is so charged! These days my mother watches Fox News for hours, and ways in which I think and live differently are taken as attacks. There’s nothing we can say to one another, although with distance, compassion for her overall suffering is more present. The sleuthing energy is not needed to protect myself anymore, but for inquiry and exploration. Hopefully that exploration becomes increasingly generous, ever more transformative.
Hm. I’ve unexpectedly written into another layer of answer to my therapist’s question “What is it that you are getting from them, that you are not finding elsewhere?”
There is integration and healing going on.
I mean, take the show I watched a few episodes of last night, Our Blues. It’s melancholy, and I’m affected by how direct-facing and sad, yet beautifully too, the relationships are portrayed. Older actors express the disillusionment of aging… accepting one is not getting back some things they’ve lost, not going to become most things they dreamed of becoming. This, alongside of bright youthful memories.
There’s a phrase a wise friend introduced me to: nostalgia for the present. Even our brightest memories are not complete; if they were, they wouldn’t be quite so bright. There are angles we edit to isolate the strongest dose of what’s desired in any given moment as we flip through the channels, remixing impressions. Nostalgia for the present sees that it isn’t really the past, or redoing of the past one is craving. It’s always about genuine peace with the present, ‘the (current) whole catastrophe’. It’s okay to feel more than one thing at once. In fact we must.
There’s a story to continue to tell here, about the other side of the coin re permeable boundaries, mandalas of connection, and how to love, even so.