I had forgotten about it, but my father once reminisced about finding elementary school-aged me habitually “watching” TV with my back turned to the set.
He said I explained that I could imagine more interesting scenes in my mind.
The real demonstration of my creativity was that I could conjure a more tactful response than “How about springing for a color TV, Ebenezer?”
I still have trouble giving the boob tube my undivided attention.
My wife and I dearly enjoy certain programs; they are not just background noise.
But our busy lifestyle forces us to multitask. In my case, I scroll through newspaper PDFs, outline a column or answer email while casting glances at the screen.
But several recent trends make even the most visually boring programs a hassle to take for granted.
Perhaps the most innocuous is the unexpected transition to a scene where characters are conversing in American Sign Language (ASL).
Truly, it is heartwarming that the hearing-impaired are no longer marginalized as nonexistent; but when I recognize a conspicuous silence and scramble to rewind to play catch-up, it’s just one more example of Hollywood guilt-tripping me.
(“You can’t dance like celebrities on Dancing with the Stars or sing like contestants on The Voice or spend money like the clowns on C-SPAN. You didn’t even learn ASL. Or marry a doctor who knows ASL. Or give me grandchildren who used ASL in the delivery room …”)
Next are the shows where characters perfectly capable of speaking English suddenly go all Tower of Babel and subject us to a mind-numbing string of don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it subtitles. Perhaps the writers are practicing for their own travels. (“Where is the library? Do they have cocaine in the library?”)
Most annoying is the unheralded shift to characters engaging in a rapid-fire texting marathon, with pivotal messages that are readable only with an IMAX home theater.
Yes, texting is ubiquitous in 21st-century society and writers are trying to “keep it real.” But griping about the skyrocketing cost of streaming service subscriptions is ubiquitous in 21st-century society as well, but no one feels compelled to put those sentiments into the mouth of a dopey dad or hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold. Weird.
Also, the attempt to keep programs cutting-edge and relevant will seem merely quaint in a few years, when we all have brain implants and communicate telepathically. (“What are they doing in this old show?” “I think they called it texting … on an intelligent-phone. She’s probably inviting her friends to buy Pet Rocks and churn butter.”)
I know all the writers, actors, directors, set designers and wardrobe coordinators think there is a social contract that we are obligated to keep jumbo-size Visine handy and scrutinize every blankety-blank frame of every program, but that “all or nothing” volley against multitasking may push more viewers to turn off the set and focus on their pets, reading or getting a weekly colonoscopy.
What’s a good compromise? Maybe programs could have a warning siren when there is about to be a jarring change from a run-of-the-mill conversation. Not an Amber Alert, but more of a Pretentious Artiste Alert.
(We need a separate warning for “Stop sorting your grandmother’s recipe cards! This inane chitchat will be interrupted by your favorite character getting creamed by a hit-and-run driver. Again.”)
I wish my father was here to help. He probably even knew “Bah, humbug!” in Spanish.