Tune Out

FB friend Patrick Mulvey posted a great comment on my previous scribbling:
"It may a small sample size but many of my babyboomer contemporaries and younger extended family members who suffer from 'real' mental illness...manic depression, bipolar disorder and worse.......all used illegal drugs regularly in their teens, 20's and 30's. I'm not saying this is the only cause of mental illness but one only has to look at our homeless problem and know that lack of housing is not the major reason."
You raise an important question, and I am going to make a separate post. Here's a guess--and that is all it is: I am slightly pre-boomer, thank the Lord (April '45) but I am of the first generation that grew up watching television. Living at the back end of the world--a world captured in fiction by my friend Anthony Bukoski--we got TV late and for a few years only at night from faraway Minneapolis. Duluth briefly had a UHF station in 53-54, but no one saw it, and when a VHF station did open, programming started (as I dimly recall) in the late afternoon. Anyway, I was ten before TV really mattered, and I turned against television about the age of 15 and did my first poem in denouncing the "monster". (Thank goodness I did not keep a copy!) Most of my friends and people a few years younger, though, were addicts, and from the manufactured reality of TV, that created the illusion of fun, it was a small step to the dope-inspired virtual reality of the 1960's, which has fulfilled Ginsberg's silly line except it was not just the best minds of a generation destroyed by madness, but all minds. As I once preached in an essay "Turn Off, Tune Out, and Drop In (that is, into the reality of everyday life.)
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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

7 Responses

  1. Jacob Johnson says:

    I remember a reoccurring and very stupid theme of many television programs/movies which I had the misfortune of being exposed to in my youth by being in proximity of a plugged-in banality box. A group of spirited kiddies look forward to blowing off steam on Friday night by getting together and doing silly dances to some sort of Bay City Rollers-tier music, then, a group of lemon-faced moral majority types come in and put a stop to the fun, citing the Bible as justification. Actually they might even just kill them. Occasionally a plucky teenybopper would courageously stand up to the mean-spirited codgers and sanctimoniously give them what for. Another theme was nice, enlightened people stopping for fuel or a meal in a small, especially southern, rural town and being treated extremely rudely by the locals. If not the main plot, it was made sure to be thrown in as a non-sequitur side plot.

    Of course, almost nothing is more over-exaggerated. As one punted around, out and about wherever, the old people of not too long ago might damn near trip over themselves to catch up with a stranger for a five minute to hour long conversation. Sometimes you’d be running late for work and still couldn’t get away. As people got increasingly younger this became increasingly less common. I started to notice a sharp cut-off when I was about twenty. The strangers who looked like they were about the age where they probably would have had television as children more frequently seemed a bit timid until you said hello first. This brought to mind the countless programs about people being unnecessarily and repeatedly unkind to each other in a home or especially school setting. The sort of nth generation Brady Bunches and then the “reality” shows.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    It was always clear: Ordinary Middle American communities harbored Nazis and homicidal maniacs. You see, New work and LA, those were safe and peaceful places, while El Paso Illinois was a hotbed of violence.

  3. David says:

    But without TV how could you enjoy Daffy Duck during the Golden Age of Animation??

  4. James D. says:

    I used to refer to television as “the box in the corner that lies to you.” Alas, they are now mounted on walls or held in hands. I need an updated definition.

  5. Becky Calcutt says:

    I wish for Mr. James D. to consider an updated version that my wife and I use– the “Igod.” Note how worshipers stand scarecrow still in the middle of a parking lot, on a sidewalk, or on a train track with their heads bowed and their hands tenderly cupped around their most sacred object. And they won’t be distracted.

    Jeff Calcutt

  6. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Notice that Jeff practices what he preaches and does not have an iPhone or even an email account.

  7. Michael Strenk says:

    To Mrs. Calcutt’s comment, one can almost hear them whisper “Precious! Precious!”
    But this began with a lamentation on the general state of mental health in this country. While I would agree that TV has undoubtedly played a substantial role in this I believe that diet is even more important. The outrageous amounts of sugar consumed by most people is staggering (I think it is in the realm of 150 lbs/person per year). Add to this the enormous quantity of low quality carbohydrates which convert rapidly to glucose in the digestive tract and we have the perfect recipe for mental illness. Sugar is widely regarded to be the most addictive substance known to man, far more so than either cocaine or heroine, and some consider it to be the gateway drug to almost all drug addictions. But the high achieved from sugar is short-lived and the crash always imminent, thus the search for the more intense longer lasting highs of both prescription and street drugs. People in such an unstable, enervated state are perfectly primed to be easily manipulated by the trash being poured into them by those who control TV. As the major advertiser for the major media is now the pharmaceutical industry (the spear tip of the military/industrial complex) we have a perfect feedback loop of mental decay. The Huxleys spoke of drugs and injections and people coming to loving their slavery. Of course they were involved in experiments precisely to this end. Why else would the US government be subsidizing sugar production when its price relative to that in the pre-industrial era had already dropped precipitously due to mechanization. Sure there is an element in this of corrupt politicians (I don’t know why I even bother with the adjective) paying off constituent donors, but I think that there is far more to the story than this simplification.
    A diet high in saturated fat from properly raised livestock and healthy plant oils such as coconut, palm and olive is the road to mental and physical stability. Weston A. Price convincingly showed this in his ground-breaking work of the early 20th century on the traditional diets of people around the world that had, as yet, not been touched by the foods of modern industrial commerce. His work has been promoted and continued by the good people at the Weston A. Price Foundation (westonaprice.org).