I grew up in the glow of TV. It was black and white until I was perhaps ten years old, and color television after that. Color television actually was a big deal, once.
My childhood shows were foolish affairs mostly, quite amateurish by today’s standards. We watched The Honeymooners and Groucho, and after school The Adventures of Superman were on Channel 5 at 6:30. My dad would usually get home from work about then, and mutter “watchin’ TV again” as he’d hang-up his hat and coat and head upstairs to change his clothes. The television commercials were also just as foolish, featuring silly jingles, dancing packs of cigarettes and commercial logic so twisted even my pre-adolescent mind could see right through it.
As the years rolled by the content and its messages changed and became more sophisticated and slicker. Commercials eventually became high-production, thirty-second movies with real movie stars, like Matthew McConaughey gathered comfortably behind the wheel of a fancy car; in this age of global warming, commercial logic is still twisted.
But as 60’s media critic Marshall McLuhan so sagely noted, it is not the message that matters: The media is the message. The convergence of the human mind and the glowing tube of light at home changed everything. Preparation for it, the communal experience of joining others for a movie, made the habit of staring at a lit screen feel normal. Accordingly, the bringing of a lit screen into each American living room made the little, lit screen feel normal, too.
And so it’s been with each iteration of the glowing tube. The first generation of Americans to grow up watching TV now watches the glow on smartphones and tablets. We don’t need no stinkin’ living room, we carry TVs in our pockets. And soon, they tell us, we’ll strap the glow around our heads and “walk” into virtual reality to become part of a show, someone’s else’s manufactured experience (for a price, of course!).
One reason why Donald Trump was elected, perhaps the biggest reason, is because Donald is TV. Note I have not said “is on TV.” Just as Ronald Reagan was TV, so too is Donald Trump; he and TV are not dual, not separate. America, you see, is in love with the glow.
We have been well-trained to accept representation for reality; the narrative sound effects on early radio merely mirrored the earlier, narrative stage effects of live theatre. Movies married movement and sound and deepened our acceptance of representation. Now Facetime and Skype provide a furtherance of representation, real-time approximations of one another on glowing screens.
In our time, we have become the reality stars of our own TV shows, not unlike artist self-portraits by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, or Toulouse Loutrec in their times. Would Leonardo Da Vinci, I wonder, have posted selfies? Of course he would have. The first glowing screen, after all, was the mirror, and before that the still water into which Narcissus fixedly gazed at his own representation.
I may love the glow enough to try Virtual Reality. I do plan on waiting until they solve the nausea problem, though. If I wait long enough, reissues of early black and white TV shows are sure to be available. Perhaps I can be cub-reporter Jimmy Olsen, though at my age Perry “Great Caesar’s Ghost” White is more likely.