Raised by the Tube

I'll be the first to admit that I was raised in a household that had no ax to grind with the television. Some of my earliest memories of media bombarding my brain (besides Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell album, to which no 4 year old should know all the words) were of the television. I don't think it's adversely affected me (other than my 15-second attention span), but it definitely helped shape who I am today and some of the things I've done in the past. I'm not talking just about reciting lines from syndicated half-hour comedies or getting theme songs stuck in my head, either. But that is what this is about. And it all started, at least for me, in the early 1980s when television ceased being 'in the moment' and its powers could be harnessed for both good and evil by the common man.

My father was perhaps not the first on the block to buy a VCR, but he may have been a close second. I recall its 'remote' control, that is to say a small button on a 10 foot cord which controlled only the machine's ability to pause and then play. He had a passion (a fetish, perhaps) for electronics, and the video age must have put him in his glory. I recall him, every night, taping M*A*S*H at 10 pm, and hearing the clicking sound of the remote control as he tried so hard to edit out the commercials on the fly. Pity he missed the TiVo era -- though he might have considered that far too easy to appreciate later on when he would play those compilation videotapes in the bedroom to help him get to sleep.

Instead of watching the news or reading, Dad would put M*A*S*H on. He'd reset the counter each night before laying down, and watch as much as he could before drifting off to sleep. When the tape would run out, it would rewind itself to where he started the previous night. I would later learn that my mother would be awake for as much as an hour after Dad fell asleep, and every night Dad would pick up where he left off the night before, meaning Mom would have to endure the same episode for more than a week before finally forcing him to change tapes, or at least fast forward a couple of hours. In many ways, she was the real trooper, putting up with it all while quietly keeping her sanity while the rest of us were destined to lose ours.

I remember the time Dad took me to California to visit my uncle and his family. Knowing my father and his affinity for that Korean War-era comedy-drama, his brother had videotaped a few episodes himself, and offered that up as entertainment one particularly rainy afternoon. After barely seeing the end of the opening credits, my father's subconscious had kicked in and he was fast asleep on the sofa. My uncle, naturally, was puzzled until he learned of Dad's nightly routine.

When I was sixteen, I would wire the VCR outputs into our tape deck and put many of those same M*A*S*H episodes onto a cassette so that I could listen to my favourite episodes while on long driving trips. Luckily, my body didn't have the same inclination to fall asleep as my father's, which is probably why I'm still alive to write this today. And for several of my University years, I abandoned cable television in favour of the VCR and the recorded show. About every month, I would get back home and exchange my six tapes for six new tapes, and other than the news and a periodic rented movie, there was really only one option for television in my apartment. And if you didn't like olive-drab and blood, you could always watch the plants grow.

In our family living rooms, we determined that every station licensed to air the show would have only a certain number of episodes in their library. After moving provinces when I was 15, we learned of several episodes we had never seen before. Not only that, but different stations would insert commercials at different points in the story -- meaning that when you changed broadcasters, you might be lucky enough to get new scenes in your favourite episodes. Only after buying my father a bibliography of the episodes complete with the backstory of the movie and show's creation were we convinced that we had seen them all. And we had our favourites, and each of us had episodes we couldn't bear to watch. (Ask me sometime and I'll tell you which those are.)

I knew those episodes word for word, and I'm not even kidding when I say that. My father and I, and later with my brother, would (to my mother's nightly horror) trade M*A*S*H lines across the dinner table until we either couldn't breathe through our fits of laughter, or my mother's eyes rolled nearly out of her sockets and we took pity on her. These days, in order to actually watch that program with my wife, I had to swear I wouldn't recite the lines with the actors -- I can only imagine how annoying and distracting that must be.

Today, my brother has just collected the complete DVD library, and we watch them together when I'm back home. Dad's not around anymore, and I can't keep up with whichever station is currently airing it in syndication, or when it swings in and eventually out of their lineup. I'm heartened to know that when I do go home, I still remember all the lines, and I can trade lines with my brother and we can think of better times with Dad.

Years since Dad's passing, his memory lives on with me, and I keep a special place in my heart for the revelling in our common interest and love of that program. Before my oldest son turned 2, he would point to the television and exclaim "MASH!" whenever I was fortunate enough to catch and episode before dinner. Knowing his fascination with memorization, it makes me miss my father that much more -- having a three-generation script standoff at the dinner table would be sure to make my wife and my mother roll their eyes and question why fate has dealt them such silly families.

So thanks, Dad, for giving me such great memories, and for leaving me something of a legacy to remind me of you. And I wouldn't mind letting you have the last word, but then I wouldn't be able to continue talking about you.

Posted bythemikestand at 2:51 PM  

11 stepped up to the mike:

Jennifer said... 4:39 PM, May 29, 2007  

TV was also quite big in my household!

Great post about your Dad!

Lesley said... 5:24 PM, May 29, 2007  

It's amazing what can become family tradition and what can trigger happy memories.

Steph said... 11:26 PM, May 29, 2007  

MASH was a brilliant show and one of my all time faves - a not so subtle protest of the Vietnam war - wrapped in the humour of innuendo, moonshine and Klinger's dresses. I've got quite a few shows on tape too.

I think that if a family was to be obsessed with one show, then MASH is a much better alternative to some of the fluff on TV today.

(Have you ever watched the movie that started it all? I have it on VCR tape and pull it out once or twice a year.)

Megan said... 1:20 AM, May 30, 2007  

oh my goodness. The poor womenfolk. :) Well, I am like that with Buffy. Though I don't remember remotes with cords.

SRH said... 10:07 AM, May 30, 2007  

The general manager of the local NBC affiliate in Birmingham, Al (where I grew up)did not like Johhny Carson or the Tonight Show, so he would pre-empt the Tonight Show with backl to back episodes of M*A*S*H. I have fond memories of watching the show with my mom.

Wonderful post about a quirky family tradition.

sween said... 10:15 AM, May 30, 2007  

This is awesome. I went through a huge MASH phase when I was younger. It was easier then -- MASH was on then about as frequently as CSI is now.

quinbot said... 10:46 AM, May 30, 2007  

We watched M*A*S*H regularly in my household too, although not nearly as obsessively as your family. My sister asked for the DVDs so I gave her the first season a couple of Christmases ago. I think she still hasn't taken it out of the cellophane...:-/

Sassyk said... 10:07 AM, May 31, 2007  

Dropped by - hasn't been in ages (life too busy but now getting better) and LOVE this entry. Really touching. I don't watch TV now but I remember wonder woman was my FAV and my sister and I used to play it for hours. Amazing how TV can become part of a legacy and culture.

cronznet said... 1:34 PM, May 31, 2007  

Aw damn! Tears at work, never a good idea. Beautiful and funny post, Mr. Mike. I was fortunate enough to watch MASH frequently throughout my childhood and college years. I remember how scandalized my parents were by the shower scene in the original movie. Thanks for reminding me how lucky I am at my advanced age to still have both of my parents.

chRistine said... 8:39 PM, May 31, 2007  

funny what unites a family, no?

Brillig said... 7:16 PM, June 01, 2007  

Wow. And I thought I was a MASH fan!!! hahahaha. I never ever went to such extremes.

Thanks for stopping by my blog today! Good ol' arbitrarian. And I can't believe I've never been to your site until just now--I mean, I'm an Indieblogger after all, so I see your name everywhere. Anyway, it's nice to finally "meet" you. I'll be back!

Post a Comment