If you know me, you know that I watch a lot of television. I embrace a number of ways to escape from reality, but television is one of the most constant.
My family didn’t own a television until I was eight years old. In 1985, we piled into our brown Toyota Corolla and drove for a long time, until we arrived at a house, at the end of a long, fence-lined drive. There, we stayed in the car while my dad purchased a used Commodore 64 and a 13 inch television set to use as a monitor.
I was never impressed by the Commodore 64, but I desired television like I have desired little else in my life. Television offered an escape, a window into other worlds, and a point of connection to other children, to whom I could not, no matter how hard I tried, relate. It didn’t work. I have never understood Jem.
For the next five years, my brother and I were allowed to watch one hour of television each week. It wasn’t enough. I wanted to earn my mother’s approval by sitting at her side while she watched Highway to Heaven, but how was I to reconcile that with my desire to learn the ways of a champion from He-Man? It was an impossible choice.
When I was twelve, I went to live with my grandmother for a few months. There, ironically, I watched all of the television that I desired, but had absolutely no interaction with people my age. It was the best of both worlds. I returned home and my brother renegotiated with my mother, earning us one hour a day of television.
I admit that my television choices were awful. I loved Cheers. I had no friends, and as stupid as it was, it provided me with a story in which a lot of fucked up alcoholics make a family of one another. After that, I loved Roseanne. I still contend that Roseanne produced an important depiction of white, working-class family culture that is rarely portrayed on television. Finally, I loved MASH. I loved the desperation with which they embraced one another’s trauma, one another’s damage, and ultimately in some cases, one another’s death. In television, I saw beyond my shitty life, and I saw damaged, broken people, in horrible circumstances beyond their control, to whom I could relate.
I left home at eighteen and didn’t go back. Between now and then, I’ve lost myself in a lot of television. It’s gotten so much better. I’m no longer embarrassed to discuss my love of television, or the programs that I adore. I follow people now, on Tumblr, who share my interests.
I know many people who rarely watch television, and others who don’t even own a television. Many progressives devalue it. But I’ve been watching Sense8, in which one character asked another character why he would buy a television but not buy a bed. And so I both know and understand why television matters. It is a window into a place that is not here. I hope that your here is tolerable, but me, I need that window. I need it as much as I need air. It is the contemporary story; it encompasses our histories, our fables, our myths, and our ideals. It reminds us that we are not alone.