ally, mal, uncle andy, and the pernicious glass teat

I GAVE UP TELEVISION when the powers-that-be unceremoniously cancelled my fave shows. This was 1969 and I still lived at home with Mom and Dad and two siblings and they watched television, but I did not. I had my records, science fiction paperbacks, my comic books, and my drawing. But I did live in situations where the household had a pernicious glass teat.

During college, I lived with my Gramma and she loved her afternoon soap operas. I occasionally found myself sitting on the couch with her and getting sucked into the ersatz worlds of one Peyton-Place-like milieu after another. I would often have to tear myself away and sprint back upstairs to my room to study!

In 1975, I lived in Connecticut with a couple and their daughter. For them, TV was a must! A few other such situations occurred since then, but essentially I have not actively watched television in my own home since leaving home in 1970.

For the twenty years that Berni and I have lived together, our television set has not been hooked up to receive anything—not even set to receive free TV!


Pernicious: photo of Nathan Fillion as Mal Reynolds in Firefly.

Nathan Fillion as Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds in Firefly.

Six feet under with Ally and Mal

I never ave up on movies, and so home movie systems have been a staple in my apartments since the earliest VHS player. Berni and I watch a lot of movies, most of which we pull from the library, a few of which we buy used.

A few years ago, I asked my brother Charles about a movie playing in the theaters and he responded, “We stopped going to the movies since they all end up being made for 16-year-old boys. To see shows with adult themes with good scripts and good acting, we watch the series that are on HBO and Netflix and others like that.”

So it was that we were turned on to the many fine shows that have been brought to the small home screen in the past two decades. Berni had brought her collection of home-taped episodes of Northern Exposure, which I enjoyed immensely! We then started in on these:

• Friends (which could have run for ten more seasons)
Lost (which got lost after a few great seasons)
• Six Feet Under
• Life On Mars (and we are among the few who prefer the US version to the original)
• Ally McBeal (after which I will never look at waddles the same)

As we only watch such series on DVD, we tend to watch older titles that have run their course. With the newer series to which we are addicted (The Big Bang Theory tops that list), we wait until each new season is completed airing and then released on disc. We then binge-watch our way through an entire season in a week or two!

I could make a lengthy list of shows we have enjoyed, but two stand out for me: Firefly, which we saw after stumbling over the movie Serenity. Berni developed a crush on Nathan Fillion as Malcolm “Mal” Reynold, one of the few actors ever to have caused that in her!

The other is Deadwood, which should have made Ian McShane a superstar.


Pernicious: photo of Mary Louise-Parker as Nancy Botwin in Weeds.

Mary Louise-Parker as Nancy Botwin in Weeds.

Weeds and Uncle Andy

The series that we just finished watching was Weeds, an intelligent show with a likable cast that saw the flowering of Mary Louise-Parker into a wonderful leading lady—and one of the most attractive women on television and in films.

Towards the end of the series, when the arc of the original show was long since lost, Uncle Andy (Justin Kirk), discovered that as he approached middle age he longed to be a parent. In one episode, he impulsively marries a 22-year old college student.

When he goes back to the apartment she shares with three other students, the always animated Andy wants to celebrate and go out with his bride and her friends. After telling them what a good time they could have, they all look at him with expressionless faces, pull out their cellphones, and begin texting away, each wrapped up in his or her solipsism.

Funny but harrowing and all too familiar to anyone who pays attention to anything when they are outing and abouting: young people—especially teenagers, especially girls—seem lost in the electronic ozone o their smartphones and iPods even while in the company of others (you know, social occasions that call for actual socializing).


Pernicious: photo of Ian McShane as Al Swearengen in Deadwood.

Ian McShane as Al “Swinjin” Swearengen in Deadwood.

No weeds but lots of smartphones

That bit about Uncle Andy was a lead-in to Frank Bruni’s column in The New York Times (September 4, 2013). Titled “Wrapped in our digital cocoons,” he writes about how easy it is to travel through life in a thoroughly customized, electronic cocoon:

“I’m haunted by how tempting it was to stay put, by how easily a person these days can travel the globe, and travel through life, in a thoroughly customized cocoon.

I’m talking about our hard drives, our wired ways, ‘the cloud,’ and all of that. I’m talking about our unprecedented ability to tote around and dwell in a snugly tailored reality of our own creation.

This coddling involves more than earphones, touch pads, palm-sized screens and gigabytes of memory. It’s a function of how so many of us use this technology and how we let it use us. We tune out by tucking ourselves into virtual enclaves in which our ingrained tastes are mirrored and our established opinions reflected back at us.

In theory, the Internet should expand our horizons, speeding us to aesthetic and intellectual territories we haven’t charted before. Often it does.

But at our instigation and with our assent, it also herds us into tribes of common thought and shared temperament, amplifying the timeless human tropism toward cliques. Cyberspace, like suburbia, has gated communities.”


Pernicious: cover of the first edition of The Glass Teat (Ace, 1970).

This the first edition of The Glass Teat from Ace in 1970.


Pernicious: cover of the second edition of The Glass Teat (Pyramid, 1975).

Pernicious: cover of the first edition of The Other Glass Teat (Pyramid, 1975).

These are the second edition of The Glass Teat and the first edition of The Other Glass Teat. They were part of a series of Ellison books reissued with similar cover designs by Pyramid Books in 1975.

The pernicious glass teat

The term “glass teat” that I used in the title of this piece comes from Harlan Ellison’s weekly column of television ‘reviews’ for the Los Angeles Free Press. These ran from 1968 into 1970 and were among the first columns to both take television as a medium seriously, and warn viewers about the pernicious affects of watching too much TV—or sucking on the glass teat.

These were collected into a pair of somewhat legendary books, The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion on Television (1970) and The Other Glass Teat: Further Essays of Opinion on Television (1975).

They have been reissued as The Glass Teat & The Other Glass Teat Omnibus and are available through the publisher, Charnel House.

Finally

So, what were my two fave shows that were cancelled in 1969? The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Star Trek.

Of course . . .