Pleasure or More Pain?

In my dotage, I have been taking to television more than I should these days. I have also found myself staring into space for no particular reason and for longer periods of time.

My brother once used an expression, “I was just wondering….” when he was about to broach a family issue that he knew I would not respond well to. He never liked conflict.

I often rationalize my tv watching by convincing myself that my mind goes into mush after dinner. Or I’ve been thinking all day and I “just need to escape.” Or, my favorite: “I want to see what American culture is all about.”

I also defend my three hours of nightly conscious sedation in front of the tv as my entrance into the “wondering” stage of my ongoing intellectual development (My brother would be proud to know that I take “wondering” seriously)

So, my friends I have been wondering lately:

How do Americans escape from what the baby-boomer generation used to call the “rate race”? Where do we find our after-work pleasures to bring us down.

Now why would I say that?

Well, if you watch enough television, you would think that Americans are all about escapism. We seem to need our short-term, after-dinner, after-work interludes—reality tv shows, quiz shows, wrestling, competition contests, football games, talk shows, and pundits who have all learned the art of what I call the “megaphone issues.”

These are issues that pundits manage to “shout” into importance. In the pundit world, everything has an urgency; everything has drama; and everything has to be dialed up at least three times the decibel level for the assumed intellectually impaired. I guess the theory is that if you shout loud enough, you will be understood. 

Television escape, for those of us in the Silent Generation, used to be a 1950s musical with limpid starlets on a porch swing singing about the corn “as high as an elephant’s eye.” Or the Lawrence Welk Show with vocalists in matching-colored suits and dresses crooning a song into cotton candy. Or the Voice of Firestone when opera singers were mainstreamed into popular melodic slush (and no one seemed to mind). Or the Ozzy and Harriet show in which the blood pressure of the central characters never went over 120/80 

Except for the later soap opera craze, and thrill teasers like “The Shadow” or “The Lone Ranger,” much of early television was about a kind of soft-landing, often romantic escape from the harsh realities of daily modern life.

Now, America’s tv escapism seems to have morphed into caverns of more noise, more action, and definitely more confrontation. If there’s an enemy out there, some stentorian pundit will find him or her. If something is to be won or conquered the background music will slip into a frantic world of trumpet blasts and jungle drum beats—tension becoming a kind of theatrical emotional aphrodisiac slipped into an after dinner beer or wine-cooler.

One has to wonder whether some Americans have internalized all the tv noise to the point that, on their morning and evening commutes, their souls are still in a dry coma of restless rage or anxiety from all the tv watching the night before.

On the sidelines of tv shows are the ads and news flashes. And they don’t come in faucet drips. They harass the viewers with more noise every ten or fifteen minutes.

Cars—fast cars that can spin to a rubber-burning stop; viagra ads about the wonder drug that, in many women’s minds, just encourages the old guys to be even more aggressively horny than they were in their twenties; car insurance ads that try to convince viewers that every auto accident has a friendly insurance agent standing by your side as you’re trying to open the passenger side of your car after being t-boned by a 12-wheeler.

And then there are “Breaking News” interruptions to give you the latest news on a mass shooting, a knock-out hurricane, or a flash flood warning. If that’s not enough angst, news crawlers stream across the bottom of your screen giving the latest fatality data after another attack on a Syrian village.

Now, you would think, Americans would be tired of all the megaphone warnings, news flashes, and loud pundits. You would think.

But maybe all the noise is just making us more neurotic, less focused, more enraged, more anxious. Maybe the “pleasure dome” we think we are having as we start lounging in front of the television when the kids are in bed, the dishes washed, is just another rate-race of loud noise and battle fronts.

Something to think about.



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