Sunday, November 23, 2008

The TV Generation


About 45 years ago, give or take a day, is when my memory begins. I remember the black & white TV, on the wire rack stand with the plastic clear wheels, bringing the images of Walter Cronkite, a caisson, a horse with the boots backward in the stirrups, and a little boy, about my age, saluting. I remember realizing that it was very sad. For all that this event has done and meant to the collective consciousness and memory of this nation, it is that benchmark for me.

The fortunes of JFK's memory, from incredible American Hero and martyr to womanizing drug-abusing power-monger to the eventual accommodation that he was all of these things has mirrored my childhood, adolescence, adulthood, including my "middle-age" sensibility whereupon it is indeed possible for one to be all of these things at once, given enough money, power, and opportunity. Was George Washington, who could never tell a lie, also a wildly successful land speculator who rebelled against the government's efforts to limit his holdings? Yep. Is it possible for a leader to have a vision and mission for a nation/group that flies in stark contrast to their own secret desires, flaws, and appetites? Apparently so, it seems to happen all of the time. Does the power corrupt, or is it exactly this quality of capabilities, ambitions, and impulses inherent in these individuals that brings them to these roles?  Nature/nurture/chicken/egg?  Why do painful childhoods produce stand-up comedians? Why do we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? Questions for the ages, I suppose.

I have been shaped by the media. There is a CRT or LCD in 5 of the 7 main rooms of my home. My particular background was one where television was regarded with some conflicting emotions and attitudes - awe at the shrinking nature of the world and the growing speed of information, suspicion of the moral impact of such a device into what had, up until then, been the safe moral harbor of the home. There were only a few channels then, too, and the days of JFK were still run by an elite group of old-school newsmen and network heads who had ethical standards that they embodied by their control of the airwaves. The personal lives of public personalities were crafted, accepted, and the realities were off-limits. It was a matter of respect, to some degree, for how we wanted to be as a culture. Today, the results of the abuse of that respect - Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra - pick your poison - along with the explosion of media outlets (including this one) mean that we are all "on", nearly all of the time. I see no need to Twitter, but people do. My workplace is becoming increasingly covered by cameras, and employees and equipment wear badges that pinpoint their presence in the building. I am monitored - for various reasons - when I watch TV via my cable box, when I surf the Internet, when I purchase goods with 'club' cards, etc. etc. etc. I fully anticipate - and sometimes welcome the thought, what with all of the user names and passwords I almost manage - an RFID implant that would provide me with coordinated access to all of the things I now access. I began to leave a trail of minutiae on the Internet that I'm told will last for generations, or until the next great electromagnetic pulse that comes either from outside or off the surface of the planet. We've been provided with many different sets of privileges and responsibilities. Like that 'idiot box', the reality brings awe and fear at the same time.

What's my point? I don't really know, it's just what I've been thinking on this anniversary. Just as my Grandfather saw life go from horses and outhouses to a Lunar Landing and toilets with warm water jets, I'm not sure what's in store for the rest of mine, but I know where it began. It was TV.