My parents did not let us watch any television or listen to any radio as children. No Sesame Street, Mr. Rodgers, hell, not even Bob Ross’ Joy of Painting. I still don’t get any Muppets reference. I know, indefensible. We were the unfortunate family with just snowy basic channels. Instead, we could watch one musical a week; The King and I, West Side Story, in addition to the live musicals on the weekends. The rest of our time at home was spent reading or learning chess. We got a computer in the mid ’90s, but the internet use was limited to typing programs for the typing class I was taking at Belmont Hill. My dad’s exact words were, “The internet will never take off.” I said the exact same thing about Britney Spears. The lack of prescience doesn’t fall far from the tree.
This is no way to raise a well-integrated and social child. I still shutter at the memory of my neighbor driving a 12-year-old me and my brother in a carpool. All five other kids sang along to ‘The Time of my Life’ (I had to look up the title just now) blasting from the radio speakers in the back seat of the Volvo. When I didn’t sing along, the mother looked at me through the rearview mirror and asked me if I knew the words. Knew the words? I hadn’t heard of Dirty Dancing (in the ’90s!!) nevermind the song. Everyone had a good laugh, then the mother asked me what I was listening to at home and I said outloud: A Chorus Line. Instead of laughter, my peers were silent. Nobody knew what that was. At that moment, I realized musicals were my pop-culture references (I wouldn’t know what MTV was until I was 15, deprivation at its worst). It was official, I had no chance. My socially awkward fate was sealed.
My years throughout middle school and high school were chock full of morning and evening swim practices and musical theater rehearsals, so I didn’t realize all the precious time I was wasting away. It wasn’t until I was 21 and had my first apartment (and remote control) alone, that I realized all the culture I had missed out on. I was nannying during college and discovered the morning news and talk shows. I grew to have a routine of coffee and Regis and Kelly, then after college classes in the evening, I would race back to my apartment to catch The Osbournes, The Real World and Scrubs. I set a VCR manually if I was not going to be home. I was dedicated to my art (if you still set up a VCR to record, come here. I have a Nobel Prize in Patience for you). If we are going to be completely honest, I spent more time in front of my TV than socializing with 3D humans. It is because of my upbringing that I will never be in a room without that HD marvel within eye shot. I cannot be alone in my apartment without the friendly chatter of my bestie in the background, but I also have never suffered from ennui.
So I have blown out 2 TV’s from excessive use and my dog, who I believe is also dependent on its company, stares at the TV longingly if I forget to turn it on for her when I leave. I cancel plans if something is one I need to see in real time (the Golden Globes this year was totally worth cancelling a date). Of course I have a DVR, that I have to constantly update, deleting the old to make room for the new. When a plumbing mishap flooded my DVR ruining years’ worth of settings, I called the plumber “thoughtless” and the words “I should sue you” came out of my mouth. I’m not proud. I must have on Watch What Happens when I go to bed, and if a boy doesn’t like having the TV on? I’m sorry, but my relationship with that box has been longer and more fulfilling. If you’re not with us, well, there’s a couch that may put up with your attitude.
Having been robbed of the magical experience as a youth, I am making up for 21 years of topical entertainment. I know I will never completely fill the void left by those formative years, but I dedicate every homebound moment of my life to rectifying the damage. I may know all the words to Oliver, but I also can quote every episode every season of 30 Rock.
I’ve felt a bit neglectful of my partner, TV, with the increasing wealth of fascinating podcasts (Julie Klausner, I’m talking to you) I consume. But trusty DVR keeps my relationship together. There will never be a break up. If I am ever, God forbid, stuck on camping trip or hotel room without a cable connection, at least I have my phone. All of my electronics work together to providing my lifeline to subsist. I owe my ability to carry on a pop culture based conversation and my happiness to my adult babysitter. I am never lonely (or I just can’t hear it in my head) and most importantly, I feel less crazy and grateful for my low-maintenance friends because I spend my nights (and most of Sunday) with all the Housewives. I am everything I am (now) because of you, idiot box.
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