Being of an age where I can remember my parents’ black-and-white Zenith “Trend-Setter” television set (with “Jet” styling!) that gave me a shock each time I turned it on, I am well-familiar with the ubiquity of TV in our lives.
I watched the usual garbage in the 1960s that now seems almost archeological: “Gilligan’s Island,” “It’s About Time,” “The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Hazel,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Outer Limits,” “Perry Mason” (scary theme music!), and all the rest. It was a complete waste of time. On the other hand, it allowed me to write these baby boomer angst columns for money.
We also had something called “quiet.”
“Quiet” is a concept that not many people currently experience. During “quiet,” one could fantasize, hear birds, think about the personal nuclear hovercraft that will transport us by 1980, and otherwise get lost in another concept called “thought.”
“Thought” often occurred during “quiet,” and it allowed people to conceptualize ideas that they could use later in the day, such as what to have for dinner, like Swanson’s Fried Chicken TV Dinners, served on TV trays. Or, alternatively, these small moments of “quiet” could lead to greater “thoughts,” such as how to solve a particularly vexing relationship issue or maybe even get a cartoon idea.
Nowadays, we have very little “quiet,” let alone enough “quiet” for “thoughts.”
A modern case in point, or, as Rod Serling used to say from inside my Zenith “Trend-Setter” (with “Jet” styling!), submitted for your approval: Consider the curious case of the National Broadcasting Company.
The National Broadcasting Company, as I often heard it intoned by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, or NBC, as we know it now, has made it clear that “quiet” and “thoughts” are antiquated relics of a bygone era. You see, NBC has decided that we must watch NBC everywhere.
Whether we want to or not.
I first noticed this a few years ago at a grocery store in Oregon. NBC was showing me the wacky jibes of Jay Leno. Then I noticed it in a large retail chain store. Same deal: Leno. In San Francisco recently, I noticed that there was a TV screen directly in front of my face in the back of a taxi cab, showing, you guessed it, NBC programming.
A few days ago, while pumping my gas, I also noted that NBC had managed, somehow, to mount TV screens on the top of gas pumps. I could watch “Inside Edition” while I was trying not to spill my newly cheap gas all over the ground like we happily used to when it was 35 cents a gallon.
The blare from the NBC programming was actually interfering with my ability to remember my PIN.
Now, look. I am not a snob, or an antiquarian. I have all sorts of gadgets around me at home and at work that make me a bona fide resident of the 21st century. But I also enjoy having a small respite from the cacophony of daily life, even if it’s in a taxi cab or while pumping gas.
I have also noticed that one can use a urinal in a bar with a small television screen that flashes advertisements. This replaced the newspaper sports page in a frame, which I much preferred.
I also have noticed that I can’t change the channel of these involuntary televisions. No. It has to be NBC.
Well, hey, NBC: dig this. From now on, I will avert my eyes when I see your little peacock at a gas station. When I go home, I’ll watch Letterman. If something big happens, I will catch KCRA because Tom Duhain worked there. I have to draw the line somewhere. But Brian Williams may get a bit less of my attention.
Give me a break, NBC. A station break. Any kind of break.
And stop trying to make me watch you. At home, it’s my choice. At the gas station and in the taxi cab, it’s just noise.
Think about that in your few quiet moments.