one man’s fight against the ever pernicious glass teat

Believe it or not, I swore off of television in 1969, when the powers-that-be unceremoniously cancelled my faverave shows, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (still unsurpassed as a comedy/variety show) and Star Trek (eventually surpassed with flying colors by Star Trek: The Next Generation, which only took me twenty years to discover and acknowledge). I still lived at home with a mommy and a daddy and a brother and a sister and they watched TV but I did not.

I did live in situations after that where the household had a TV: in 1970-71, I lived with my Gramma while I was in college and she did love her afternoon soap operas. (Remember when soaps were only on in the afternoon and considered an acquired taste by most but were rather addicting once exposed?)

I occasionally found myself sitting on the couch with her and getting sucked into the ersatz worlds of one peytonplace after another. I would often have to tear myself away and sprint back upstairs to my room to study!

In 1975, I lived with Jack and Judy and their daughter Kerry and for them, TV was a must! I often found myself watching reruns of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life with Jack late at night after the two ladies of the house had gone to bed. (We were stoned, of course). This was in the beautiful state of Connecticut, where I almost ran over Barbra Streisand’s dog (but that’s another story . . .).

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 past eight years, our television set has not been hooked up to receive anything—hell, it’s not even set to receive free TV!

Lost six feet under with Ally and Mal and O’Connell and friends

We do watch a lot of movies and we do watch select television series that have come recommended to us. For instance, we have seen all of FriendsLostSix Feet UnderLife On Mars, and our favorites, Ally McBealFirefly, and Northern Exposure.

As we only watch such series on DVD, we must wait until each new season is completed airing and then released on disc. The minus of this is the wait; the plus is that once the discs are here, there is NO wait between episodes.

So it is that we are currently following The Big Bang Theory (but then, who isn’t?) and Episodes.

Episodes stars Matt LeBlanc (Joey from Friends) playing Matt LeBlanc starring in a new series patterned after a successful British sitcom. The first season was enjoyable if only in pointing out the enormous differences in how the two countries approach the making of a television series. 

Weeds, Uncle Andy, and cellphones

The series that we just finished watching was Weeds, an intelligent show with a likable, able cast that saw the flowering of star 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 (played so well by 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 even while in the company of others (you know, social occasions that call for actual socializing).

And my carping about it as a sad state of affairs (despite the arguments that kids are actually benefitting from the increased exposure to “writing” via texting, which seems fatuous 2 me 4 2 many reasons) is just that, unnecessary and redundant carping. 

No weeds, Frank Bruni, and cellphones

That was all a lead-in to Frank Bruni’s column today (September 4, 2013), that originated in The New York Times and appears in our own Seattle Times. It is titled “Wrapped in our digital cocoons” and in it 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.”

Bruni ends his piece with an anecdote built around a speech that movie director Steven Soderbergh had given earlier this year. Bruni laments the ability of the smartphone user to have a device that is “capable of putting a galaxy of information within reach” but instead chooses to “collapse the universe into one redundant experience, one sustained note, a well-worn groove also known as a rut.”

Which is how virtually every non-smartphone user that I know views every smartphone user they know . . .


Coincidentally, I received this joke via email from Ami Pilon (of world-famous Ami’s Place) and thought that I would share it:

After a tiring day, a commuter settled down in his seat and closed his eyes. As the train rolled out of the station, the young woman next to him pulled out her cellphone and started talking in a loud voice:

“Hi, sweetheart. It’s Sue. I’m on the train.”

“Yes, I know it’s the six-thirty and not the four-thirty, but I had a long meeting.”

“No, honey, not with Kevin from accounting—it was with the boss.”

“No, sweetheart. You’re the only man in my life.”

“Yes, I’m sure. Would I lie to you?”

Fifteen minutes later, she was still talking loudly. When the man sitting next to her had had enough, he leaned over and said into the phone, “Sue, darling, hang up the phone and get that sweet little ass of yours back into bed.”

Sue doesn’t use her cell phone in public any longer.


Final notes: 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 from 1968-70. 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).

Used copies of both of these books are hard to find—and that includes all three printings of the first book! They have been reissued as The Glass Teat & The Other Glass Teat Omnibus and are apparently currently available through the publisher, Charnel House.

Finally, Kerry Thuemmler, one of my three roomies from Norwalk, Connecticut, back in 1975 (see above), is celebrating her birthday, one day before I try to forget mine, so . . .


Comments and arguments welcome!