Gather ‘Round the Radio, er, TV

by d

LBJ Visit Day: Mom & Anthony Parlor TV room 1966 60s * 1301 - 57stPerhaps one reason I’m so interested in talking about TV, movies and books here on Subterfuge is because I was raised in a family that regularly shares and discusses the media we consume. The family that posts on Raising Amazing Daughters has put up an entry about how they shared time and interest in TV shows. It immediately evoked similar memories in me.

I have very clear memories of watching Lamb Chop with my mother. I was enrolled in afternoon kindergarten, so the mornings were ours. We would have a leisurely breakfast while PBS ran. I adored Lamb Chop, and my mother felt it was one of the better programs for kids at the time. We would talk during commercials, often about what was happening on the show.

I think the first shows I watched with both my parents were Brit-coms. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced bouquet, if you please!) is very family-friendly (even if her sister Rose is not), and I knew all the little habits of the department store staff on Are You Being Served? (“Mrs. Slokum, are you free?”) Of course, no description of my childhood would be complete without a heavy dose of Monty Python. I was also introduced to Black Adder when I was very young, so I’ve always known Hugh Laurie as the buffoonish Prince. It was wonderful to share a sense of humor, to have inside jokes within our little family.

As I got older my mother didn’t feel such a need to screen what I watched. We had established an ongoing dialogue, and this conversation has never stopped.When it came to books, she curated my early library. I had exquisitely illustrated picture books, informational books, and the books she had adored as a child. I didn’t always like what she had, but they were available. My taste diverged, and I plowed through the public and school libraries. I remember some of the first times we shared a chapter book: Catherine, Called Birdy. It came from a school book fair, and we both loved it, though we surely saw different things in it. Then I discovered Tamora Pierce, and we both devoured the entire Tortall series. Now we swap books frequently.

My father is in on the book action now as well. He passes his Terry Pratchetts on to me. I knew he would love Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, but I was surprised when my mother insisted he try Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson books (diaries of a hysterically funny fourteen year old British girl). He loved them, and he even enjoyed Harry Potter!

Dinner time is family time–and TV time. Yes, we know we should sit at the dining room table like civilized people. Too bad. We watch the news and a great selection of shows that all three of us enjoy. (We never miss House.) And we talk about it. We talk in ad breaks, we talk while the DVR fast-forwards, and we talk when it’s over. We speculate. Often we pause to pick apart the day’s mystery.

Our socializing isn’t limited to external media. But it’s a great point of reference, something we can share. When someone is miffed we still have to have dinner, and we’ll watching something we all like. Which gets the conversation rolling again. It reminds us that we can have good relationships beyond the fight at hand.

What media, if any, did you share with your parents? What will you share with your kids? Should a parent play watchdog?

6 Comments to “Gather ‘Round the Radio, er, TV”

  1. kudos on a great post. People are not reading nearly as much becuase parents don’t role model it and don’t read to their kids. We are dumbing down in America.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

    • I’ve always been a big reader, so it distresses me to see how many people don’t read, particularly the high schoolers I work with. The role of parents is huge–even if all they do is read the newspaper or pick up magazines once a month, that demonstrates to kids that reading is useful, and maybe even enjoyable. I’m encouraged that two major pop culture touchstones of the past decade stem from books aimed at kids and young adults–Harry Potter and Twilight. The quality of these books vary, but they get kids excited to read. The success of other books that aim to mimic their success shows that kids are exploring, looking for the next thing to excite them. If they find it, they will continue to read.

  2. Thanks for visiting our blog and joining our discussion about watching TV together. I should also say we aren’t just “dumbing down America,” we do actually read and discuss books, too. But, I don’t think TV is a force of evil and I think it can be something shared, discussed, argued about and enjoyed, much the same as other media.

    • Debby,

      So glad you stopped by! 🙂 I’ve been enjoying your posts since I subscribed.

      I do think America has been ‘dumbed down’ over the last century, but I don’t place all the blame on TV. There are some really brilliant drama, comedies, and documentaries airing right this moment. As a writer, I’m awed by the storytelling of shows like Fringe and Covert Affairs.

      I do think that the quality of shows for kids has dropped dramatically. I was raised on Nickelodeon’s golden era of Nicktoons. What’s out now just doesn’t compare!

  3. As far as kids’ shows, the only two I can vouch for are Gargoyles, a mid-90’s animated show from Disney, and Nickelodeon’s much-talked-about Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both have complex character arcs–showing character development throughout the series–as well as plot arcs that follow an event or motivation to its conclusion or, more often, temporary resolution. There were some great voice actors on both shows, and the casts were diverse: the leading human character on Gargoyles was African American and Native American Detective Elisa Maza, a strong female lead belonging to an “ethnic minority” (personally, I find the documentation of percentages of the population somewhat dubious; what’s important is that they are socially identified as minorities and they inherit social constraints that limit their social mobility and opportunities, as a group); and as evidenced in the fan uproar over the casting of the live-action film based on the series, Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a holistic fictitious world where not everyone is White. In fact, all of the major players are non-Caucasians! And there are strong female roles on both the “good team” and the “bad team,” and the male lead is notably androgynous in style.
    I wish more kids’ shows were like Gargoyles and Avatar. The cast and crew had a vision, they were invested in putting together the best show they could, and they incorporated mythologies, practices, and actual characters representing a wide range of cultures from around the world. That level of commitment to the creation of an animated show, especially one aimed at children, is disappointingly rare in this country.

    • Clearly I used to watch waaaay too much TV as a kid. 🙂

      Gargoyles was really exceptional for kids programming, and unusual for Disney. I remember watching it on ABC’s The Disney Afternoon, sharing a lineup with things like Bonkers and The Goof Troop. It incorporated history and legend, and people actually HAD ACCENTS. (Some of them really terrible, but THEY HAD ACCENTS!) It stood out, and always will. I haven’t watched Avatar, but everyone I know who has swears that I must. It’s on my list of Things To Get Around To.

      This quest for plot arcs and character development nudged me into Japanese anime. There are a lot of wild and wacky shows, but they all have a continuous story. Miss one episode and you miss a lot, unlike American cartoons where they’re 98% interchangeable. It helps that the Japanese don’t see comics or animation as being only for kids, adults read and watch openly and many genres are made specifically for older audiences (and not just porn).

      The highest compliment I can give a show is to say that it feels like a novel–rich, deep, and spell-binding.

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