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April 30, 2004

TV Bliss

Dear Friedrich --

Thanks to my DVR (a hard drive in my cable box that acts like a Tivo), here's some of the television The Wife and I have been able to watch in recent weeks:

  • A documentary about feral ("wild") children
  • A four-hour history of Russia
  • A profile of the baritone sax legend Gerry Mulligan
  • A long talk with the filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
  • A history of London, from the point of view of building and urbanism
  • A documentary about cannibalism
  • An interview with the YA novelist Judy Blume
  • An "Inside the Actors Studio" talk with Jay Leno
  • An "Inside the Actors Studio" talk with Julianne Moore
  • An "Inside the Actors Studio" talk with Francis Coppola
  • A very well-done episode of "American Justice" about the Dr. Sam Shepard murder case
  • A fascinating (really!) documentary about the development of bathroom technology
  • Several Howard Goodall music shows about choirs around the world
  • Kevin Brownlow's fabulous biography of Cecil B. DeMille
  • A profile of the guitarist Wes Montgomery

And that's skipping the movies we've watched at home recently.

So, explain to me again why we're supposed to feel apologetic about watching TV?



posted by Michael at April 30, 2004


Feral children? This is for real and not some urban legend? Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 30, 2004 10:11 PM

Yeah, kids who were abandoned and grew up either alone or with animals. A couple of amazing cases with actual video footage. One girl was abandoned by her drunken Ukrainean farm family and grew up in the family doghouse, literally, protected and fed by the family dog. She behaves entirely like a dog now that she' in her teens. She runs on all fours, growls and snarls like a dog, doesn't speak, etc. Amazing to see the footage of her.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 30, 2004 10:37 PM

Like that Jodie Foster movie, huh?

What are they doing with her now? Are they trying to teach her to be a person, or...what? How would you even begin?

Posted by: annette on May 1, 2004 9:08 AM

We're spoiled rotten. Even slugs like me accidently get to see great stuff while waiting for the next Sopranos to roll around.
TV: Just one more wonder of the modern age.

Posted by: ricpic on May 1, 2004 9:12 AM

Wait'll y'all get your very own DVR. No more waiting around for anything. I spend 15 minutes twice a week programming the thing to record what looks interesting. Then, every time The Wife and I are in a mood to watch some tube, we go to the list of what's on the hard drive. It's like looking at a shelf full of books. Pick one, watch it for a bit. If it's good, keep watching; if lousy, zap it and try another. Speed thru the commercials. Hit pause and get some food. I'm a big book lover myself, but I gotta say that TV experienced in this way almost rivals interacting with books. An hour or two (as opposed to 400 or 500 pages) is about the extent of my interest in most subjects -- and I'd rather be left a little hungry rather than overwhelmed. And it ain't trivial that you can watch the tube with a friend or partner. It's more social and fun, and you get to talk it over and compare notes as you go. I do love books, but one of the challenges of being a book reader (at least once out of school) is that you do it alone, and that it's hard to find other people to yak with about what you're reading, and the thoughts and experiences that are on your mind. All this excitement and interest ... and so often they just kinda die on the vine, or sit there and fester. Watching something on the tube with The Wife, yakking and pausing as we go, and yakking afterwards, the material has a chance to get digested and sorted out. Which is a great pleasure.

Are DVRs available in your neck of the woods? I think Americans are going to go nuts with pleasure once they've all got 'em. I didn't know about DVRs were available in my neighborhood -- the cable company bizarrely didn't let us know -- until I called up and asked about it. I think I pay an extra 8 bucks on top of the usual cable/internet/phone bill for the DVR. And it took all of about 10 minutes to figure out how to use it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 1, 2004 11:23 AM

Annette -- I wish I knew. The documentary didn't supply as much followup as I'd have liked. But she's probably lost her chance to become fully human. Apparently language acquisition is one of those windows-of-opportunity things. You get it during X number of years, or your brain's wiring fails to come together, and you'll never get it. There was another case of an LA girl whose whacko father kept her in a dark room, alone, from birth, and who wasn't discovered (neighbors didn't even know she was there) until she was 13. (Dad then, sensibly, committed suicide.) She was taken on by some doctors and scientists and slowly introduced to words, the world, normal life. At first she picked up lots and lots of words. But grammar never came to her -- she could never manage to assemble sentences.

Come to think of it, I should do some web research and see if I can fill in a blank or two about these girls...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 1, 2004 11:27 AM

It doesn't surprise me that the Bathroom Technology program was fascinating. I spent an afternoon at the museum at the Kohler factory near Sheboygan, WI, a few years back and would like to have gone back for a full day.

Posted by: Larry Felton Johnson on May 1, 2004 2:47 PM

Puberty or therabouts is the general rule of thumb for language acquisition though it begins around the age of 12-18mos as real language. Some thing happens in the brain after puberty to close off that ability. That's why children growing up bilingual have no accent in either language but adults and teenagers who acquire a language will almost always retain some vestiges of the accent and usuage of the mother tongue. Even with immersion, it'd difficult to become a complete native speaker after puberty.

Which has always made me wonder why languages arent introduced in school until middle school years, just when the kids are losing thier ability to easily learn them.

Posted by: Deb on May 1, 2004 5:43 PM

So what did Judy Blume have to say?

Posted by: Deb on May 1, 2004 5:45 PM


I've found something even better than DVR. It's called bloggers-who-watch-DVR. Basically, the guy spends 6 hours a week picking out the best of the best and watching it. Then he gives you quick summaries of all his viewing.

Having filters on top of filters is one of the best advancements of modernity.

Robert Holzbach

P.S. Yes! Deb and I want to know your take on Judy Blume.

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on May 2, 2004 10:33 AM

"So, explain to me again why we're supposed to feel apologetic about watching TV?"

Hmmm. Most recent post from your co-blowhard suggests that perhaps you should be busy with something else. Not that anyone would mention such a thing....

Posted by: j.c. on May 2, 2004 6:46 PM

The reason I would object to watching so much TV is not that it is TV but that it is "only" culture.

Like you, I suppose, I know that I am missing so much culture. In an ideal world all would be at peace and robots would do all our work, and we could all improve our knowledge of the universe... the universe contemplating itself. What would Socrates have people do in an ideal world.

But I feel that there are inventions that would make people happy, and wars to be ended, and social ills to correct.

So I feel guilty and conflicted, now matter whether I lean today to activism or tomorrow to culture.

So I suggest that is why we all feel a little guilty when we "only" pursue knowledge and culture.

Posted by: Robert Hume on May 3, 2004 10:54 PM

Michael: "Are DVRs available in your neck of the woods? ... I didn't know... DVRs were available in my neighborhood -- the cable company.. didn't let us know... I think I pay an extra 8 bucks... for the DVR."

Say _WHAT_??? DVRs are "available" anywhere. I have a TiVo DVR. I didn't get it through the cable company. I certainly do not pay them anything for it. AFAIK they don't even know that I have it. Anyone with satellite or cable can use a TiVo. One could use it with broadcast and a VCR.

So what do you have, and why on earth are you paying for it every month? (TiVo does require a monthly subscription charge for the program listings. I bought the lifetime subscription.)

Posted by: RIch Rostrom on May 4, 2004 4:31 AM

Why feel ashamed about watching TV? I'd venture this explanation: If you spend a lot of time watching TV, you're not getting out of the house and finding out what's new in the world. And if (like Michael) you live in New York, where something interesting shows up every day

Another thing: TV doesn't require you to commit to your more experimental choices. Don't like what you're seeing after fifteen minutes? Zap it. And yet some of the best films I've ever seen (Citizen Kane, Sunrise, etc.) require at least half an hour before they can really take hold. It'd be a shame to lose them.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on May 4, 2004 11:49 AM

Regarding Feral Children: Holy crap! It looks like is as good a place to start as any. Why knew? Fascinating, if more than a little sad.

Posted by: Nate on May 4, 2004 4:22 PM

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