Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Misspent Youth (a.k.a. Raised On TV)

Hulu and Netflix have been immensely entertaining for me lately.

I've been on a nostalgia kick, which I know has been a bit of pure self-indulgent escapism.  After a real pressure-cooker this past month, I finally sought refuge in a series of blasts from my past.  I've been relaxing with some old friends:  Johnny and Roy, Steve and Danno, Reed and Malloy, and assorted other cops, doctors, nonconformists, rebels and superheroes.

Memory is funny.  There have been quite a few times I've remembered something from a particular show/episode, and upon watching it now (25-35 years later), it's interesting to see how what I remember from my childhood differs from what the scene actually showed.  Sometimes I've reversed the P.O.V., and other times my mind combined elements from two scenes in an episode into one composite memory.  Strange.  Very often I remember stuff exactly the way it happened, though.  Why do I recall some things accurately, and not others?  I wonder if any psych student with too much time on their hands, a love of classic TV, and a need for a research project ever looked into the science of memory this way? 

I'm also amazed at what my parents let me watch when I was a kid.  They enjoyed cop and medical dramas, and I was watching some pretty gritty ones when I was too young to really understand what they were talking about:  prostitution, murder, drug abuse, promiscuity, mafia/gangs, racial tension, medical emergencies, child abuse, and PTSD (before it was a named syndrome), among other issues.  Whoa.  I suppose it's a mercy that so much of it went over my head.  Watching those shows now is like a history lesson, sociological study, and second childhood, all rolled into one.  I can hardly believe what's on TV now, and that parents let their children watch ANY adult shows, given the language, violence and sexual content that would have been R-rated when I was a kid and young teen, and is now common prime-time fare.  It's enough to make me want to put blinders on my kids for the next 10 years.  And our son wonders why we're so adamant he won't have internet access in his bedroom EVER.

Some things that have struck me about these older shows, watching them with grown-up eyes:

How seldom anyone wore a seat belt, even first responders.  That just boggles my mind.

The total absence of child safety seats and seat belts for kids. 
I think of my sister and I running amok in the back seat of the car, on those huge bench seats, sitting on the floor and making tents out of our blankets and napping, climbing into the back of the station wagon (back and forth, until my parents gave us an ultimatum to "SIT DOWN AND STAY THERE!").  It's a miracle we never had an accident - we would have been thrown around like rag dolls.  Thankfully (now), by the mid 70s my parents were wholeheartedly behind the enforcement of seat belts, and we were duly tethered.

The common appearance of smoking EVERYWHERE.  Ashtrays all over the place, people lighting up all the time.  I remember hating that smell as a kid, an aversion that only got worse after my grandmother died of lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking (I was 7-8 at the time).  I am very grateful for New York's tough smoking restrictions in public spaces now.

How stinkin' huge the cars were.  My first car, an old '69 Chevelle, was big, but it was by no means one of the bigger land yachts.  Remember when three adults could sit comfortably in the front seat of the average car?  When a back bench seat was almost as big as a twin bed?  And it was still not big enough to keep my sister and I from bickering and fighting on any trip longer than 10 minutes.

The constant subtext of Vietnam.  I remember seeing the nightly news updates about the war when I was too little to understand, and I even remember seeing broadcasts about the Tet Offensive and the fall of Saigon, but I had no idea as a kid what was really going on.  (Ditto for Watergate - it was a big word all the adults talked about, but I had no idea of its importance.)  So many popular shows referenced the Vietnam conflict.  I wonder, since I watch so little prime-time TV now (actually, I watch virtually none except PBS occasionally, and The Big Bang Theory on DVD), do they reference Afghanistan/Iraq the same way?

How communications were much more difficult before cell phones.  I suppose that's a "Duh!" but it stands out to me now.  Related to that, I notice the total lack of personal computers (and the quick reference they provide in all situations).  Heck, in some of the shows I watched, the computers still worked on punch cards, and took up big cabinets.  I didn't get to use a PC until high school.  There are watches now with more computing power than the computers I saw on TV as a kid.  Safety Guy watches some of these shows and marvels at how inconvenient and/or low tech so many things were.  I feel like he's used to jet planes while I still remember the Model T.

Now I'm making myself feel really, really old.

Memory lane - quite a trip.  I suppose I could say, "Travel with care, you might be surprised what you see."