I spent a lot of my childhood horizontal. It’s not something that’s really changed. I can usually be found flat on my back with a book floating over my head or stretched out across any surface with a remote control in one hand and a beverage in the other. I just really like stories.
The cover story is: My life was shaped by the parents who loved me, the brothers who tortured me and the schools I went to for 20+ years.
But really? Stories changed my life.
Five Times Television Changed My Life
Married with Children
We were decidedly not allowed to watch Married with Children in my house. Well, we kids weren’t allowed. I’m pretty sure my parents watched it after we went to bed. Actually I know that they did because the way that Married with Children changed my life was simple: it taught me a life skill, silence and manipulation. All my brothers and I wanted was to watch that show. It’s not that we were completely invested in the storylines, characters or actors. We were kids. No. We wanted it because we were not allowed to have it. We learned to sit silently through The Simpsons and whatever else was on, and to make ourselves as invisible as possible so that we were ignored and forgotten about. And if we played our cards right, if we blended into the living room furniture enough, there was always the chance that we wouldn’t have to go to bed before we caught a full half hour of the forbidden fruit.
It may seem like a small thing – the way this silly show “changed” my life – but I have to say, learning the value of silence and discretion has helped me so much as an adult.
Gargoyles & Tiny Toon Adventures
I’m a procrastinator. In my family, we say it’s genetic. I can procrastinate procrastinating by doing super active things that have nothing to do with the actual task I should be working on at the time. I’m rather proud of my ability in this arena. Homework was my nemesis from the first time a teacher assigned it.
Do work in my off time? Was my teacher insane? Afternoons and evenings were for reading and watching TV. I was not going to do homework. I was going to put it off until the last possible moment no matter how much my mom yelled and my dad glared.
Then Mom and Dad decided that the only way to get me to do homework before I was already supposed to be in bed was to take away my privileges, namely the TV. For some unknown reason, they decided to break generations of genetic conditioning for procrastination by docking me hours of TV in the afternoon and weekends for each assignment I started after a certain time of night. There was no getting around it. I had to evolve as much as I didn’t want to. I had to learn to work at a sensible pace and not just do everything at the last minute. It changed everything. My grades got better. I slept like a healthy kid and not a crazy sleep-deprived zombie. I learned to actually plan things….around TV.
That’s healthy, right?
Do I really need to tell a story with this one? Do you know a kid who grew up in the US who wasn’t profoundly affected by Sesame Street? I don’t.
I remain convinced that half the reason I ended up living in Brooklyn is because Sesame Street indoctrinated me with a deep-seated need for brownstones and quaint New York borough neighborhoods.
Sex and the City
Don’t think I’m crazy, but right after Sesame Street, all I can think about is how that other show that basically featured New York City as a character also changed my life. Before Sex and the City, television was benign. The things I saw on TV – short of what censors may have considered “racy” on shows like Married with Children – were comedic, generally half hour, and of the sitcom variety.
We didn’t really have cable until I was well into my teenage years.
Sex and the City had smart, sassy women. They had real problems. They had sex. They talked about art and sex and the city and books and each other and real life. I became convinced that this was what being a grown-up would entail. A life of excitement with my girlfriends and cosmopolitans until I met the perfect partner and settled down.
I did finally pull my head from the sand. Clearly no one can lead the lives that the four ladies of Sex and the City live. Well, you probably could but it would be very expensive, hard to keep sanitary (seriously how did they all stay relatively STD and pregnancy free?), and exhausting.
But it drove me to change routines, get out of the house, and become a more social creature as I realized that it would be pretty hard to make a solid group of girlfriends if all I ever did was watch TV and keep my nose buried in books.
The West Wing
Grad school was a simultaneously awesome and dull place for me. I loved the excuse to read a lot, but I didn’t always love teaching. And what was I going to do with this new degree? I had no idea but I had the distinct feeling that if I didn’t go into teaching full time, I would be doomed to a life of sitting in front of a computer day-in, day-out pushing numbers around and generally hating my life.
Then I started watching The West Wing and found a future.
After I finished my degree, I moved to DC. I was going to make a difference with my education. I got an internship with a media nonprofit and started learning two trades at once: communications and politics. I got paid to watch TV a lot. It was cable news but I still learned something. Then I got a job on Capitol Hill, answering phones for a member of Congress. Then I got promoted to press secretary.
I would by lying if I didn’t admit to thinking of myself as a young C.J. Cregg. I don’t think any press secretaries on the democratic side of politics didn’t do that at the time. We were all devotees of Aaron Sorkin.
I left politics after a year and a half and spent another few years in the nonprofit sector. It wasn’t quite the same as running through the marble halls of Congress in high heels but it was rewarding.
I like to say I “blame” my four year sojourn in Washington on Aaron Sorkin. If it weren’t for The West Wing, the stories he wrote and the characters I fell in love with, I probably would have moved to NYC earlier and done other things. But I would have missed out on a lot of awesome friends, historical moments and things that made me who I am now. Can’t say I regret any of it.
The five times TV changed my life may not seem like earth-shattering moments to you. Change can be sneaky and weird. To me, it’s something that changes the path you’re on and makes you better or different. All five of these shows did that for me.
Feature Image via Shutterstock