About a month ago, I shut off my cable television. I was tired of paying way too much money for way too many channels that I was barely watching. And when I was watching, I often found myself sucked into the 24-hour news cycle, and that was literally bad news. I wasn't sleeping well from all the broadcast sturm und drang, and that cable bill was jacking up my credit card debt for no good reason. I decided to try and survive without cable television. Now I have a digital antennae that barely works, and I get almost no channels. My evenings consist of watching very old episodes of "Let's Make a Deal" with Monty Hall on the Buzzr channel, which somehow comes through loud and clear.
In all honesty, watching those episodes has given me a real education. They're from the early 70s, so they reflect an entirely different, much simpler sensibility. Less complicated, less sensitive, less careful. I'm not saying this is necessarily a positive thing or that these times were "better," but I've been struck over and over again by how relaxed everyone on the show seems to be. One could say, "Well, Joe, it is the 70s after all," but I'm not sure that explains it entirely.
There are any number of costume choices in the contestant area that would be deemed culturally insensitive today. The banter between Monty Hall and some of the female contestants on the show presses all sorts of sensitivity buttons for me, but no one on the show, female or male, blinks an eye. I always thought of these early game shows as being populated largely by white participants, but in my anecdotal coding of contestants, there have been episodes with multiple contestants of color in the part of the audience where players are selected and multiple winners of color as well. And everyone seems happy to be there, happy to be participating, and grateful for the opportunity. I found myself thinking the other night as I watched an Asian American couple win The Big Deal, "This show would never survive today." Or would it? Or should it?
Of course, television makes everything look better than it actually is, right? Underneath the funny costumes, the luscious prizes, the glitz and glamour, everyone back then was really unhappy and disgruntled and weighted down by society's ills. No amount of kitchen appliances in the world was going to lighten that weight. But maybe I'm applying a 21st century sensibility on this. Was a new pool table and $25 dollars worth of Creamettes macaroni enough to right society's wrongs and make everyone happy? Sure does seem like it when I watch the show.
What has happened to us? Why are we perpetually unhappy and dissatisfied with our position in life, no matter our background? We keep hearing how unhappy people are all the time. Our presidential candidates are capitalizing on it at every step of the way. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
In this current election cycle, I'm starting to wonder if rather than making everything look better than it actually is, television makes everything look worse. Kind of like fluorescent lighting.
Last night I felt so grateful that I couldn't watch the election returns on television. Seeing notifications come through my phone was enough (#1stworldproblems). I didn't want any analysis of the returns from blondes, brunettes, redheads, silver foxes, or anyone with a touch of grey. I didn't want to hear from Sally New Hampshire Pants about why she voted for who she voted for. And I didn't want to see any of the candidates talking about how great it all was, and how great they were. Reading about it all this morning was far more relaxing. I felt way less frustrated with stupidity, and I could process what actually happened on my own and FORMULATE MY OWN OPINIONS. What a concept? No one told me directly or subliminally how to think about the results. I just looked at the poll numbers and then decided whether to read on.
It might be great if more people shut off their cable television, stopped reading Facebook, and started thinking for themselves. We're letting our agency and decision-making get flushed down the toilet because everyone else is telling us how to think about things and we're listening. That's the shocking thing. We're listening to this schlock.
People used to yell out advice to contestants on "Let's Make a Deal," and Monty frequently shushed them. He redirected the decision back to the contestant with a warning that past contestants listened to bad advice all the time. And lost.
We're losing, friends. Big time. And we're not going to like what's behind Door Number 3.