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On Not Watching Television

The first TV I remember watching was in Nannie’s room in my grandparents’ house in Westchester where my sisters and I stayed for a week each summer. Nannie, my great-grandmother, was dead, so her dark room scared me. I wouldn’t sit on her tidy twin bed or look at the oil paintings on the walls, which were, I believed, the last pictures she’d seen. I sat on the floor and stared at The Munsters, which also frightened me, because I didn’t understand that it was supposed to be funny.

I was there for the commercials, the origin stories of the breakfast cereals, the barrettes braided with ribbon, the Weeble Wobbles—all the fetishized objects that seemed to come out of nowhere, blazing like comets onto my classmates’ bodies and into their conversation. That nowhere, I’d begun to realize—I was 7 or 8 in Nannie’s room—was TV, shaper of desires, determiner of normalcy, the whisper below the sentence. I was there for the whisper.

From the start then, I went about TV all wrong. You’re not supposed to work at it. Back at home in Santa Monica, I read the TV listings in the L.A. Times to memorize characters and plotlines of shows I hadn’t seen, in the futile hope of becoming conversant in our nation’s common language, our Esperanto. In Nannie’s room, I was looking for patterns. It interested me that the commercials were populated by regular people, while many shows featured suprapeople with special powers, Jeannie the genie or Herman Munster or Morticia Addams. My grandparents’ house had a similar divide. My sisters and grandmother and I were regular people. My grandfather was not.

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My grandfather was the most interesting person I knew, and before The Munsters began, I would stand in the doorway of his small office

Article source: https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/264784/on-not-watching-television

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