Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Viewing Pleasure or Perversion?

For the first several years of my marriage, we didn't own a television. When we got a yen to watch the boob tube, we'd go hang out with our next door neighbors; close friends of ours who were happy to have us over. We'd have our little TV fix and that would be that for a couple of weeks or months.

Then, in the early 1980's, we moved to a new neighborhood where we didn't really know anybody. I was bored and lonely. Dov found a used television set and brought it home for peanuts.

There wasn't much on in those days. We didn't have cable and Israel had only one station at that time, though we did have a second channel, courtesy of Jordan TV. There were some old American shows on at that time, so that we had about three programs we watched on a regular basis. We had three kids at that time, a four year old, a two year old, and an infant. They enjoyed watching some of the educational children's programming in the afternoons.

Then, in 1984, we became pioneers and moved to a settlement in the Judean Hills. We duly brought our television set with us, but at some point during our second year there, there was a communal decision that no one would have televisions. The rationale was that television polluted the mind.

Most people ignored the ban, hid their televisions away, and told their kids to keep mum. But things got hairy.

People would rat each other out—they'd say, "We saw a blue light in so-and-so's living room," and someone volunteered to do spot-checks. We decided that we didn't want to hide anymore or fight this thing, so we got rid of the TV.

We didn't miss it too much. Like I said, there wasn't much on in those days. One memorable cooking show from Jordan TV sticks in our minds until today and sends us into paroxysms of laughter every time one of us quotes the (Arabic) instructions for filling a cantaloupe with Jell-O.

But as the years went by, living on that isolated mountaintop became ever more lonely, especially during the rainy, cold winters. We read a great deal and played games of all kinds—we're big on gaming, but we started to long for a television to fill some of the empty hours.

Then we got our first PC so our eldest child could study computer programming. A local computer whiz confided we could get a TV card for the computer that would enable us to watch television right from our computer. We went ahead and bought the card, and our geek friend installed it for us. Voila! We had television! But there still wasn't much to watch.

At some point, we moved off the settlement and came to live in Efrat. We brought our PC with us, of course, and discovered we could pick up cable TV from the neighbors through our television card. Wonders and miracles!!

But along with this bounty came the disturbing realization that we'd been living under a rock. We had complete culture shock. No longer did we watch old imported sitcoms like Flipper and Sesame Street. We were getting the newest shows now. The dialogue was filled with obscenities, and the women appeared to be practically naked to my unschooled eyes. I found I had to really keep an eye on the kids' viewing habits. Suddenly, TV no longer seemed such a treat.

We weren't too unhappy when the TV card died. We were told no one sold them anymore, they were passé. There was no way to replace the card, so we were once again without television.

We didn't mind at all. Unlike our former settlement, Efrat had a public library, and there were all kinds of activities and friendly people. To be frank, we didn't have much need for TV, so we were just as happy to take a break from being watchdogs for the kids' viewing habits.

Then we moved to a new neighborhood where, once again, we had few acquaintances. The new apartment was partially furnished and included a television in the master bedroom, which was hooked up to cable. We mentioned this to my mother in-law who made us an offer we couldn't refuse: Keep the cable subscription--she'll pay.

She wanted us to be able to watch the shows she enjoyed, so we'd be able to discuss them with her. We figured that as long as the TV was in our bedroom, we'd be able to limit our kids' viewing without much difficulty, so we agreed to keep the TV and the cable subscription.

After a year, we moved yet again. By now, my husband and I had become accustomed to winding down with the television at night, in the privacy of our bedroom. We were loathe to give up our habit and so Dov bought another used television set.

These days, at around 9 PM most nights, Dov and I can be found in our bedrooms in front of the television, surfing around for some interesting programming. However, most nights you can hear us moaning that, "There's nothing on." We've become pretty inured to the delights of television programming.

Last night, because there was little else to watch, we tuned in to the American Music Awards. The event appeared to have little to do with actual music. There was a great deal of pageantry, lighting, and drama. But the main focus appeared to be sex. The producers and the players were trying to titillate the viewers as much as possible with rotating pelvises, lots of skin, and eyes rolled up into heads as if in the throes of sexual delight. Each act seemed to vie with the last for tastelessness.

Most memorable were Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert, whose sexuality went over the edge into downright perversion. I can't even bring myself to write about their antics onstage. Dov thought, "We're old," but I thought, "Are viewers so jaded that they need such blatant sexuality on the stage to wake up their senses?"

When the show mercifully came to its conclusion, I desperately surfed for something, anything that would make me feel better, without knowing what that might be. I happened on the television channel Mezzo, which airs prerecorded concerts, mostly classical music and jazz. I lucked out and got the Berlin Philharmonic performing a gorgeous Rachmaninoff concerto.

The music was like a sweet balm for my heart and soul after all the raunchy perversion of the AMA program. I swooned and reveled in the beauty of the music, smiled with sweet relief, and thought, "Thank God. There is still this. There is still beauty in our world."


  1. I watched a couple of clips of that awards show because the press about it tickled my interest. How horrible. It's almost like an alternate universe!
    My parents had season tickets to the Boston Symphony for many years. We each got a turn, at least,once a year for a concert. I remember one concert with Alexis Weisenberg playing Rachmaninoff"s 3rd piano concerto. I was just a kid, but knew I that this concert would be a memory I would treasure always. So beautiful. My piano teacher owned Rachmaninoff's piano. I studied on his piano!

  2. Varda, that comment wasn't supposed to be from anonymous!
    It's from me!

  3. We are Sistahs, Leora! My mother and I has season tickets to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra every Sunday for years. I miss concert-going so much.

    How amazing that your teacher owned Rachmaninoff's piano and that your fingers touched those very same keys. Goosebumps!! Like how I felt when I lived in the Old City of Jerusalem--as I'd walk to the grocery store I'd be thinking: Here walked King Solomon!!

    I studied piano for many years and one of my favorite, albeit challenging pieces to play was Rachmaninoff's Bells of Moscow.