Beyond The Pale

On Childhood, The News

My parents, Baby Boomers by birth if not inclination, tried to raise my siblings and me in a manner that would keep us from becoming part of the next Television Generation. As a result, our television viewing was restricted, though not as much as I might now wish. We didn’t generally watch commercial television, and when we did, Dad would either mute the commercials or turn the TV off entirely. What’s more, our viewing options were severely reduced by the prohibition of any programs or movies that contained foul language, depictions of adultery, or short skirts.

There was one type of TV, however, that we were always allowed to watch, news programs. I sometimes feel as if I’ve lived all the important historical moments of my life through the lens of the television. My first public memory is of watching the news the day of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (My earliest private memory won’t be discussed, but it involves either being told by one neighbor that the doctor said she was pregnant and would have the baby when she turned 20, and I was the father, or reneging on my side of a certain “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” arrangement after the other party had already filled her side of the bargain. I don’t remember which happened first), and from then on, my childhood and adolescence through the present is sprinkled with those moments that I will one day describe as the defining historical moments of my life. Each of these moments is remembered through the static of a television set.

I remember staring with trepidation at the television as the results of the 1992 Presidential elections came in. And after my parents sent me to bed before all the results were in, my conservative programming in came in, and I lay for hours—so it seemed—staring at the ceiling and wondering if I was going to grow up before the rapture happened, as Clinton’s election clearly foretold the coming of the apocalypse. Of course, in the times since, I’ve realized that every age is the End of Ages, that the end of the world awaits each of us after our last breath, that the second coming is the first second after death. But I didn’t get that from my parents’ theology, or from the television. In fact, I think my dad stumbled upon it about the same time I did.

I remember watching the news on June 12th, 1994 as we received live coverage of the police chasing a white Ford Bronco down the highway, and as I was homeschooled, and my mom tended to spend her afternoons working at the church or driving around in her maroon Aerostar, conducting worship songs with both hands and driving into ditches, I spend numerous hours during the next several months watching the live videos of OJ Simpson’s trial for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. They were fairly boring, but I couldn’t stop watching them, so after I finished my math, I would put a cassette tape that I had made of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and listen to the movie over the monotony of the trial, only pausing it when new evidence would be presented.

There were other events: floods, hurricanes, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Columbine. They roll on in my mind, one after the other like a series of movie listings on a marquee.

My junior year at Central Bible College, I was taking some theology class at the earliest possible time, 7:50. This meant that I spent most of my time in that class taking copious amounts of note, not because I found the material all that interesting—the only thing interesting about that class was the professor’s style sense, Indiana Jones meets Minivan. On a certain morning, the professor walked into the classroom with his fedora gripped tightly in white-knuckled hands. He said that something terrible was happening in New York, that we needed to cancel class for the day. He said a prayer and told us to plant ourselves in front of the nearest CNN or Fox News enabled television that we could find. I met my girlfriend of the time, some of you know her, at Zee’s Student Union, and we stood hand in hand and watched LIVE as the second plane flew into the already burning towers.

The next day, as we were driving past the Get and Go by the highway, I told her that I was probably going to join the military and go fight in Afghanistan because I was already sure that we were going to war. She sincerely hoped not. I didn’t realize it at the time, but part of what I was saying was that I was sick of watching history happen on television, that I wanted to be a part of it.

It took six years, but I eventually got around to joining, and I’m here, fighting in Afghanistan, seeing things first hand. But being a part of events is different from watching them on the News, and in the way that you might think. It’s not all horrible, there’s just no perspective. If I want to have any kind of perspective on what is going on the world, I still have to go to the places that I’ve gone my whole life, the TV or Internet. Those are the things that give us the illusion of perspective.

What dawned on me this morning was that while there is really no escaping our television-filtered view of the world, we need to remember that the historical perspective that television gives us is an illusion. That’s all it is. We can’t really see beyond our actions of today, and we can’t understand an event as it happens. It takes time to gain perspective, and while the news might give us facts, the analysis that they offer is dubious at best. Still, I suppose it’s better that whoever the new Jerry Springer might be.


November 8, 2009 - Posted by | Army, Childhood, Christianity, Church


  1. This was fantastic. Really. I like being surprised, and I feel sufficiently surprised by the end of this. And you’re right. It IS an illusion, which is strange. We live in the heart of a lot of illusions. What’s even stranger is that the world uses these illusions as proof that no reality exists, further involuting into illusion.

    I have to go to class now. We’re discussing Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizome. Next week I’m presenting a paper on Deleuze’s Actual and Virtual. Which means I need to write it first. By the way. I think D&G are largely full of shit and pretty depraved. Does that lose me hipness points with the academy? I’m not sure I’m allowed to speak out against élite lewd French murderers.

    Comment by wordorgy | November 12, 2009 | Reply

  2. Adultery or short skirts. Fantastic.

    The TV thing made me think of Somehow Form a Family by Tony Early. He wrote a funny essay on his growing up years in relation to television.

    Do you feel you’re a part of history now?

    Comment by Rachel B. | November 12, 2009 | Reply

  3. Hmm. Teaching young teenagers whose perspective ranges no farther than Nine Inch Nails and/or Twilight, this really resonates with me, although I don’t want it to be true about me (which it of course is). But what I really want to say is that I had one or two courses in university in which I took copious amounts of note, too. Heh.

    Comment by arvallian | November 18, 2009 | Reply

  4. I like your description of the professor whose name I cannot remember, but whom you described perfectly. It seems that to someone unacquainted with him, this would be compltely confusing, but Indiana Jones meets minivan is completely true.

    (In looking at the comments, it is reinforced to me that I tend to be impressed with authors’ unique descriptions and wordings than whatever thought they may be expresing. I need to work on this.)

    Comment by Andrea | December 11, 2009 | Reply

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