I’ll be honest: I had a very challenging childhood.
When it came to television, that is.
My kids don’t get it. We have YouTube on our TV, several streaming programs, and instantaneous iTunes rentals, which means that they can literally watch anything at any time. They are privileged jerks, and they don’t even know it.
I have told them how there was only kids’ programming on Saturday mornings, and how if you missed that maybe two-hour span, that was it and you were stuck watching Price Is Right and Days of Our Lives for another boring week of summer. (I did get really good at guessing prices for canned soup and acne medication, but I never did understand all the sexy jokes on Family Feud.)
But guys, it went so much deeper than that.
When I was a very young child, living in a rural area, our analog TV had bunny ears. This is probably true for lots of you. But the hills meant that our reception was especially poor, so WE KEPT THE TELEVISION IN THE UPSTAIRS BATHROOM. It was the only place where you could catch a show. I literally remember getting up at night and peeing next to the television while my dad watched something on TV. It was an oddly big bathroom, and he would kind of lie on the rug there. How many of you have had to try to make out the dialogue on your game shows and daytime melodramas over the sound of someone urinating?
No way! That soup doesn’t cost over $1.99!
Then we got what must have been the very first satellite dish ever invented. My dad was quite proud of it, and it was cool! It was about the size of…well, the moon. And it was outside and up the hill, where it could get reception. So each satellite would have a handful of channels on it. I’m pretty sure the Disney Channel was G-1. (We had the Disney Channel! Life-changing!) That satellite probably went through G-24 or so, though not all of those were functioning. I don’t think anything else good was on satellite G, so that basically still meant I could never watch TV, including The Mickey Mouse Club.
Why? you might ask. Because to change the channel, you had to go outside and up that hill and then TURN A CRANK until you reached the correct satellite.
And really, as far as I could tell, there was no way to tell when you were there. So I’d crank the thing and walk all the way back down the hill and into the TV room (no longer the bathroom at least), and then find out I’d really just jacked the whole thing up and made it unwatchable fuzz and maybe a little bit broken for whoever tried to watch TV next. Each time I tried, I risked angering my dad and breaking the only television system we did have, so I basically still only watched TV once in a long while, whenever it happened to already be set on something watchable and good. I honestly think I still ended up watching a lot of Wheel of Fortune and that weird game show with the little brown monsters on it. The good thing, though, was that at least I could watch TV with the whole family if anyone adept set it up, so we would watch Kate and Allie and The Cosby Show** together.
When I was in elementary school, every single other person I knew had a VCR. I remember this kid saying, “You don’t have a VCR???” to me on the playground. (He was the same kid who said, “You don’t know who THE SIMPSONS ARE???” when I was in fifth grade.
Who are the Simpsons?
No, James Clore, because they weren’t on satellite TV. They were on cable, which of course we didn’t have either. I was grateful that I at least could sometimes watch Donald Duck cartoons if nobody had changed the channel.) James was a jerk, but he was kind of right to be surprised because VCRs had become pretty popular back in the 1970s, and this was the late 1980s. I think we actually got a VCR in about 1990. It was pretty amazing to be able to choose to watch what you wanted to watch when you wanted to watch it. I mean, from among our five to ten videos, which included The Blues Brothers, Beverly Hills Cop,* and whatever random copies my sister had gotten a hold of.
In high school, everyone would ask me if I had seen the video for all of our favorite songs. NOPE. I hadn’t. You know why? Because MTV was on cable, not the satellite dish.
Thank goodness the 1990s satellite dish at least changed channels automatically from INDOORS. And in many ways it was probably better than cable. But I couldn’t see that. All I could see was that I could only watch MTV at Angela’s house because she lived in the city and had things like cable–and man, her own phone line! Her house had a candy dish too, and Pop Tarts! Like ALWAYS.
Now, I go visit my parents in that same countryish home. Sometimes it occurs to us to watch TV. And you know what? Those people HAVE CABLE NOW. And I don’t know how to use it because I NEVER HAD CABLE. And sometimes when I try to turn it off, I can still hear the TV show but can’t see anything, and I still make my dad mad because I mess it all up. %$*&
I like to think I grew through all these trials. I like to think I’m a strong person. Stronger than kids these days. Probably stronger than you, even. Because you probably recorded MTV videos on your VCR! I’m better than you, and gosh darn it, I’m better than James Clore with his Simpsons and his VCR.
Although I won’t say I’m better than you, Angela, even though you had it so easy, because you did your best to help me.
Miserably having to use my imagination
*This is not a complaint. Those are amazing movies.
**Oh Bill, how you let us down.