Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gruel and Rabbit Ears


Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone



What was my favorite childhood television program? Ouch. This is where I have to tell my Dickensian story of a small girl’s deprivation and denial and how the harsh conditions of her upbringing led her to the life she now leads. My evil mother (she should be a step-mother for this piece but I am not actually adopted except when it suits me) placed strict limits on the amount of television we were allowed to watch. I know. It’s hard for me to pull this pop culture skeleton from my family’s closet but there you go. If it happened now, some enterprising pre-teen would be dialing the Department of Children Services abuse hotline. But back in the old days, this kind of parental domination was actually allowed to happen to poor little kids like me.

At first, when we still lived in Illinois, we were allowed Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. Mostly, I remember Marlin Perkins, the host, reeling off amazing facts about the animal world until some less than cooperative game animal charged, at which point he’d yell “Get him, Jim,” to his long-time assistant. Marlin, for all his hide behind the Range Rover antics, gave me a great appreciation for wildlife and its habitat. I write Animal Instinct mysteries for Pete’s sake. For that matter, some of my chase scenes bear a remarkable resemblance to poor underpaid Jim Fowler’s scrambles for safety. Walt Disney played a role, too. I doubt there’s any mystery writer who won’t tell you that Walt’s infusion of the happy ending doesn’t affect both their choice of genre and the way they go about it. Evil queens need to be bested. The schemes of dark princes must be revealed by the last page. And singing mice and whistling dwarfs make for fun, adventurous sidekicks. Uncle Walt did right by me.

When I was in the seventh grade, we moved to Wisconsin. The television time restriction was lifted but it was moot. We lived in the country. Pre-cable television. Yes, I’m old. But it left us with three channels one of which was forever being pre-empted for an endless program of question and answers by the state university’s hockey coach. No, I am not kidding. The second channel was one of the big three networks but it never really came into focus. Which left exactly one channel. PBS.

I still love PBS. I watched Ivanhoe and never again wrote a story where the hero chooses the vapid girl next door over the quirky challenge who was his intellectual equal. I saw Mother Love with Diana Rigg and David McCallum and realized middle aged women could be more dangerous than any hockey mask wearing psycho. This has never been released on DVD but it stuck with me so strongly for so long, I actually sent an email to the BBC asking them to release the darn thing so I can see if it is as scary and bloodless as I remember. I watched every episode of the Prisoner with the abrupt disappearance of Number 2 and the endless chess game machinations of good versus evil. It’s John LeCarre’ on screen long before he was. Masterpiece Theater’s Alistair Cooke brought me Austen, Hardy and Bronte so I could either compare them to the books I’d already read or add the books to my must read list. And read I did. For every hour of PBS I watched, I probably read ten hours. For every great story I saw on screen, I sought five more on paper. Childhood television made me a bigger reader. It was probably that evil woman’s (sometimes called Mom) nefarious plan all along.

Recently, she suggested I go back and rewatch Rocky and Bullwinkle which was a Saturday morning PBS staple when I was about eight years old. We used to watch it together. She’s concerned I thought it was about a raccoon and a moose when it really was one of the smartest, sharpest political satires of all time. I guess I’m finally ready for big girl TV.
Thanks for reading.

Gabi

8 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hi Gabi! Have you noticed how many of us writers didn't get to watch TV much when we were kids? I bet all of us felt wronged - I know I did - but here we are with explosive imaginations, channeling stories into another form.

I'm always tempted to say that makes the case for depriving kids of TV. And then I'll meet some genius, fascinating creative author who says he or she lived on nothing but TV during their formative years...

Gabi said...

I did notice. Like you, I felt deprived. Of course, it gave me scope for my imagination in the way that Lucy Maud Montgomery intended. It seems like the tv overload kids drifted toward graphic novels and television development deals. Room for all!

Jen Forbus said...

Oh Sophie, I think there's plenty of argument for limiting tv for kids....and video games. The biggest argument being their lack of reading and analysis skills! And somewhere along the line creativity and imagination begins to fade. And then they expect everyone to entertain them. They shouldn't have any active role at all. But I digress...

This was great Gabi. I, too, preferred to keep my nose buried in a book. This often worried my mother, but not because she expected me to be watching TV, rather she wanted me to go out and play with the other kids. I still preferred my books!

Shane Gericke said...

My folks let us kids watch pretty much anything we wanted, as long as the homework and chores got done. Funny thing was, we didn't watch it all that much even though we had the opportunity--playing outside with neighbor kids always had more appeal. Especially in the fall, when we could have acorn fights to the death and play rock hockey on our bikes ... with no protective head gear even.

Course, that was only possible because kids stayed in the neighborhood and did pick-up stuff together after school and on weekends, including sports. Now, everything fun is scheduled and cross-checked and the kids are transported and coached and watched over like hawks. No wonder they choose to do video games and TV and Internet and texting ... it's the only way they can get away from Big Brother in the form of anxious Mom and Dad!

Gabi said...

Shane,

I have the theme song to the Jetsons stuck in my brain and I can't get it out. I blame you.

Gabi said...

Jen,

Like you, I never did play well with others and I never took to my playmates. Of course, playmates were my siblings and, frankly, I never saw any similarities.

Shane Gericke said...

I keep getting the Jetsons and Flintstones themes mixed up, Gabi ... Jetsons, meet the Jetsons, they're the mod historic family ...

Help!!!

Kelli Stanley said...

Oh, Gabi--we have so much in common!! I read so much more than TV--I read while I washed dishes, did chores and would have read while bathing if it didn't get the books wet.

And I loved Wild Kingdom! And PBS and Mother Love (it was SCARY!!!) and am now the proud owner of Rocky and Bullwinkle (and Sherman and Peabody, my favorites) on DVD.

As far as themes songs go, it's "Now, listen to a story about a mod historic family and tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, Petticoat Junction."

I think ...

xoxo