June 8, 2016
When I was a growing up, I would sit down almost every evening with my family, which after my 11th birthday consisted of just my mother, my sister and me, to watch television. I suppose the medium was new enough in those days (1965) that the hobby was considered quality family time. Of course, I watched whatever program my mother wanted to see. There was no choice because she decided the agenda, and that was that. I was her remote control, responsible for changing the channel when she needed it changed, and also for pouring her a fresh cup of coffee as required.
Even if, at the time, I was upstairs in my room, reading.
Most of the programs she watched I enjoyed, too. She was a fan of Raymond Burr, so there was “Perry Mason”, and later, “Ironside”. My mom always put an “s” at the end to that title. There were westerns—“Rawhide”, “Paladin” [the show’s actual name was “Have Gun - Will Travel” but to Mother it was “Paladin”], and “Bat Masterson”. She liked “Star Trek”, and “Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea”, the latter being my favorite show when I was a kid.
My mother didn’t just pick dramas to watch, either. She liked some variety shows—Carol Burnett and before her, Milton Berle. She also loved comedy. Her favorite comedians were Berle, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Lucille Ball.
We used to watch episodes of “The Lucy Show”, and I credit that program with helping me to discover something very important about myself: I was capable of being completely mortified on behalf of total strangers. Seriously, there was something about Ball’s comedy that more often than not made me cringe, made me even at times cover my eyes so I didn’t have to see what was happening, or about to happen next. Why? I have no idea. What I can tell you is that I still have that propensity today. I will still feel extreme embarrassment for others—and not just when they’re on a television or movie screen, and not just for comedians, either.
I don’t know what that says about me. You know all those headlines on the Internet such as, “Person X’s most embarrassing moment”, or “Watch what happens when a moment goes horribly wrong”? Yeah, I don’t go there. I really don’t go there.
I suppose having such a highly empathetic sense has been a bonus in my career. I do hear from readers that they always feel as if they’re right there in my books, with my characters. They also tell me, when one of my characters is dealing with a situation that for them hits close to home, that they believe I really get what they’re going through.
I like to think I do, and so I am grateful, even if that sense was developed in part by sitting through some, what was for me, excruciatingly painful early TV shows.
Lately though, I’ve had that sense of wanting to hide my face again as I catch some news clips involving certain political candidates. I honestly don’t believe that some people actually willingly flirt with personal humiliation they way they do, but it’s true. Sometimes, lately, it’s been very cringe-worthy.
Maybe that’s just a sign that I’m getting older.
For good or bad, my television viewing habits were formed early and played a role in my character development. So it’s no surprise that when our kids were smaller, we watched television nearly every single night, just as I had done growing up. The major source of family entertainment for us and our kids, in those days, was our VCR and movie rentals. Some weekends saw us rent as many as three or four movies, which we would then sit down with the kids to watch Friday and Saturday nights.
There wasn’t a lot of communication between us as the movies played, true. But there was something to be said for the time we spent together. And I do believe there was a connection between Friday and Saturday movie nights, and Sunday mornings spent reading and snuggling and hanging out together in Mom and Dad’s bed—all five of us.
Sometimes I miss the good old days—when TV was free, popcorn was cheap, and the open discourse of our leaders, and would-be leaders, was civil and quote-worthy, not cringe-worthy.