The Idiot Box

BoobTube1977Don’t know what television is. But I remember what it was.

Let me just first mention that I haven’t owned a TV for nearly half a decade now. My last set was put in storage after a move in 2006 and later sold at a friend’s backyard garage sale. Whenever I come across a TV these days I think, “Boy, that sure looks boring.” It’s not that I have a “I’m-above-watching-TV” attitude—more a direct feeling that it’s something that no longer interests me enough to spend time with it.

But there was a time I was in thrall to the TV—the goggle-box, boob tube, live-in babysitter—or, as Dad liked to call it: “The Idiot Box.” There was a three-way struggle between my father, me and my television viewing habits, which I’ll get to shortly.

Tee-vee was the third major media presence in my life. It came before the movies, and likely before nursery rhymes. In the early days, baby brother and I were planted right in front of it, jaws agape as Tinker Bell circled ’round the Magic Kingdom.

The earliest programs, Captain Kangaroo with its theme song “Puffin’ Billy,” still brings me back to Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose and Mr. Bunny Rabbit, whose trickster antics I found endearing. Next were the cartoons: Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, Bugs Bunny, Looney Tunes, The Flintstones, all Disney, especially featured Sunday nights on The Wonderful World of Disney. Other cartoon programs, like Clutch Cargo, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Speed Racer, Jonny Quest (a personal fav), flicked past my vision.

When I was five, I appeared on the Indianapolis children’s program Kindergarten College. Recall little of the incident except all the children drew pictures and I drew an elephant, which was shown on camera. If anyone knows where archival video of this show can be found (would’ve been broadcast around May 19, 1965), please drop me a message.

Unlike other media, television invited my imagination into the spaces beyond what was merely shown on screen. Let me explain. The above photo of our living room, taken in 1977, with the black and white TV set atop our 1950s hi-fi stereo, may serve to illustrate my point.

In the picture, to the right is the hallway leading from the back door, the main bathroom and Dad’s den. The door to the right of the TV is a coat closet. Dark wood-paneling line the living room walls, wooden beams span the ceiling. To the left, the hallway leads past the den bathroom, dining room with its fireplace and picture windows with a view of the lake, and around to the right, the kitchen.

Zoom in on the television set, real close. A reflection of pictures on the walls, a lamp and shade, and daylight flowing in through a side window.

After getting off the bus from school, I come home and flip the channel to The Brady Bunch, then collapse either on the floor or the couch. In that space, on TV, everyone probably recognizes the Bradys’ front door, their living room, the wide open staircase leading upstairs to the bedrooms, the dining room table around which sat Mike and Carol, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marcia, Jan and Cindy all happily eating pork chops and applesauce. Further on, the kitchen, that hive of activity for Alice the maid. We’re now three removes in space: the Minnesota living room, the Brady family living room, and lastly my imagination about the spaces I cannot see beyond what is shown: Alice’s room, Mike’s den…all out of frame, but I’m aware those spaces are there.

Another day, another TV show. This time we’re outside, but we’re also inside watching Gilligan’s Island. That space is defined by the hut-village the castaways have built, and my favorite space on the island, the lagoon, where all kinds of crazy things happened because stuff drifted in from sea.

Dad comes home, yelling at Brian and me to turn off “that damn idiot box” and go outside to “blow the stink off.” This used to piss me off because I wasn’t just passively watching TV. It actively engaged my imagination; along with Sherwood Schwartz (who produced both The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island), I’m co-creating these TV worlds, wondering about the spaces I cannot directly see. It’s all there, just beyond a constructed set, in my imagination.

Not just looking at television, but rather looking through it.

Or maybe Dad was right after all.

Perhaps the Idiot Box no longer holds another pair of eyeballs hostage.

~ by completelyinthedark on March 6, 2011.

4 Responses to “The Idiot Box”

  1. Because I’m more than a few years younger, the power of the box is demonstrated in the fact that I share many of your TV memories–thanks to syndication. E.g. when you described the Brady’s entrance foyer it was, bam, and I had a perfect image of it. I didn’t even much like the show.

    I was a chronic TV user until 2002; now it gives me a headache. Lot’s of good TV programs being made but the experience of television (commercials in particular) is debilitating.

    Long live You Tube! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Long live the age of self-curated viewing. (With the occasional spin-the-wheel surprise finds.) 🙂


  2. I did some time in the peanut gallery of a children’s television show..hoping, always hoping, that I would one day be plucked from the audience and ‘discovered’. Alas, I was never chosen to draw an elephant 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lovely. All references to the Glass family and “It’s A Wise Child” hereafter waived. 😉


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