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July 13, 2007
V 35 Issue 28

 
 
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Cost of the
War in Iraq
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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Gifts from the plague
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

In a world where telephones talk to you, make movies and shine TV, it is probably off-putting to admit that I grew up essentially without television. How my life has changed; or at least my mind.

Not Quite Adorable & Nothing to Touch
Not that there wasn't any television (I'm not that old). It's just that by the time my family had a television around, I had other things to do. Then too, television wasn't very interesting. At my grandma's, and at other kids' houses, I sometimes saw cartoons; maybe I saw them when I was too young, because I thought these animations (that fought so hard without injury) were a sort of second race. I knew the people running around the screen were indeed people, probably because of photographs-but I frantically wanted to meet and preferably make pets of, these little talking things. I would make them very happy; I would give them all the things that I would like if I were a little talking animal... When I realized, thanks to a repairman, that there was no little race living in the back of the televisions (and was laughed at to boot) I lost interest. Oh, there was I Love Lucy (when she was with Desi), but it was a long time between shows. Then too, I developed an obsession about kids' shows: I hated them. Idiotic kids in insanely mild situations infuriated me. I didn't recognize envy-which tells you about my life, not television.

'When I was a child, I thought as a child ' [I watched as a child and for a time, believed in elves]....

I Grew & TV Too
Then there were junior high and high school with all the things they brought to bear; and college, and jail, and a better college-and Gay liberation, women's liberation, etc. Strangely enough, it was in waiting for a woman's lib meeting that I saw my first good TV.

A PBS rendition of Jude the Obscure was playing on the set in the living room. Being a science type, I had never read Thomas Hardy... Jude, the would-be scholar, returns with his wife to their flat; where are the children? Ultimately, he opens the closet door, where hanging on the pole like laundry are their three small children-wearing a note pinned to a pocket: Done because we are too many.

I yelled--to the great amusement of 4 or 5 English Majors present ['we read for structure, not content']. It had never occurred to me that anything that much like life, let alone that graphic, could be on television. Art, in the form of television, was imitating life.

Then Came AIDS
In 1990 I stuck myself with an AIDS patient's needle and in the next few years became very sick indeed, especially at night. Nobody tells you that AIDS is painful; the combination of analgesics and high fevers rendered me brainless-and then there was living alone. I don't remember how, but I got a TV. I left it on, which made it sound as if there were people around.

At the best of times, I began to experience wonderful stuff: MASH, Designing Women, Star Trek: The Next Generation -- and of course, there were movies. This wasn't the general garbage of 50's TV. And though I had a few movies under my belt, I began to see enough that I could compare and contrast, to actually discriminate-as I began to do with shows like the above.

I have a mild condition identifying facial features but remarkably, I began to identify actors (often); I began to understand acting as opposed to emoting, and, seeing an actor in different roles, my know-it-all-hood grew to include acting.

In the worst of times, I just watched modern cartoons-kindly and considerate, funny and cute [and on most of the day]; I missed them at night. When I was at my very worst-dry-dry-dry heaves, aching, feverish and confused-I tried to wrap myself up in anything that was happening on that screen, even if all I could recognize was patterns. I saw a lot of patterns.

Characters wandered back and forth across the screen giving me something to watch, something to take my mind off myself. They became my friends: entertained, comforted, confided in me. I could imagine one of them soothing me, cool cloth on my head [I think I can remember my mother doing that]. They told me their problems, and I knew they'd understand mine.

Then, really good antivirals came along.

Making the Best
There's no reason to think that I'd ever have become a TV type (unless maybe half-dead for some other reason), but AIDS brought that constant amazement, television, into my head.

It is sobering to recognize that what I am seeing is what a set group of people recognizes (and promotes) as my culture, my country [which is probably why I fell so hard for the Star Trek's, which are utopias linked with latter-day western culture]. They write it up and have it acted, and it takes a little time to see the adding and subtracting, the cut-and-paste of composition-especially without letting this spoil entertainment. And we do love that.

The last series I'd seen had been [my much-loathed] Leave It To Beaver; now I was seeing the likes of MASH-among historical drama, slapstick, and my beloved medicine-definitely the good guys, hating slavery, ignorance, un-democracy-and liking sex. There's even a sequence in which the lead characters sympathize with a Gay man!

One can lose sight of the fact that it's bloodhounding after and not leading the parade. But I learned to like it.

I can say I learned a great deal about my culture. I can honestly say I've learned to like the medium; was it worth the pain?

Hell no.

Would it have been worth it if it had saved the planet?

I'll get back to you...

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