I don’t know why HBO and Showtime don’t recognize how special I am. Here I am, year after year, season after season, sitting rapt on the couch and acting for all the world like a shameless shill for them.
“Oh — but I never watch TV.”
Yes, well, fine. Big deal. I’m sure you’re quite busy memorizing sonnets and Shakespeare’s plays and growing icy watching Bergman, but — haven’t you noticed? — some of the best culture around isn’t at your local movie theater or museum. It’s on that big, rectangular, HD television set you’re not watching. So, you’re missing the Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Flight of the Conchords, Hung, Nurse Jackie, Big Love, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights.
There’s junk on TV, you say? Sure, there is. But there’s also lots of junk in print — but that doesn’t mean you stop reading, does it? It just means you’re selective. I mean, I can understand the appeal of swearing off books just because Dan Brown’s unleashed some new worthless tome — but why? It’s like learning grammar from country and Western music: You can do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Here’s the gist of it. Watching these TV shows has broadened my mind. Yes, indeed, this is true. Like everyone else, I started out thinking that members of the mob were just useless, thought-free thugs. This is how I felt until I realized Tony Soprano was in so much emotional pain, he had to go into therapy for months at a time. I think I understand why: Tony and his wife Carmela were parents of a daughter and son just the ages of our own daughter and son. The two kids talked back as badly as our own, which led me to conclude that even when you’re a prominent member of the Mafia, your kids don’t toe the line.
More than anything, I learn tolerance and acceptance from these TV shows. Take Big Love. Oh, sure — I was like everybody else. I thought plural marriage was just some kind of misogynistic stunt. But, oh, no. After a while, I began to understand that the main family, with its three wives and Viagra-popping husband, were more normal than much of the rest of the world. They’re just doing their best! Leave them alone, you slimy hypocrites! I mutter to all the sanctimonious snits who try to mess with them. Live and let live!
For a while, I was a bit confused by Edie Falco’s (a/k/a Carmela Soprano) new role as Nurse Jackie in the eponymous series. Yes, she did have a few flaws Carmela didn’t have — such as a rampant drug addiction, a boyfriend who doesn’t know she’s married, a husband who doesn’t know she has a boyfriend, and getting into a bit of a rush since she was in a hurry to harvest some organs from somebody who may or may not have been dead. Oh, well, though. Who am I to judge? Maybe I’m just bothered by Edie’s new haircut, which I’m still not reconciled to. You have to draw the line somewhere. (Do something about the hair, Edie!)
So, go ahead. Look down your collective noses at television. I’ll nevertheless be right there, a couple of nights a week, absorbing culture and becoming a wonderfully tolerant person. You should try it sometimes. Tell HBO I sent you; they know where I live.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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