PODIUM

Confessions of a TV addict

'We huddle around television as if it were the ancestral fire'

Brian Borealis December 29 1980
PODIUM

Confessions of a TV addict

'We huddle around television as if it were the ancestral fire'

Brian Borealis December 29 1980

Confessions of a TV addict

PODIUM

'We huddle around television as if it were the ancestral fire'

Brian Borealis

As a rock ’n’ roll musician on the road, I am exposed to unusually high levels of contamination from a variety of debris, but I have yet to find anything as addictive or as debilitating as the radiation emitted by a simple television set... the equatorial glare of a TV that is always on. You arrive in town, crawl out of the band truck, check out the stage, check into the hotel and turn on the TV. It stays on. Whether you’re in the shower, reading a magazine, coming in or going out, it’s on. If you didn’t turn it on, someone else did.

Within the unholy trinity of sex/drugs/and rock ’n’ roll, television serves as our electronic madonna. She waits in the wings, ready to cool the insomniac’s brow and furnish the amnesiac with another forgettable experience. We

don’t watch the tube so much as bathe in its aura, but even when we’re not staring at it we pay it a periodic nod of respect, as if it were someone else in the room. The glow fills a space, provides a sense of continuity and is an ongoing artifact. . . . Give us this day our daily pageant.

Now I know this is 1980, not 1960, and we’re all too aware of the harmful effects of TV: how it turns our brains to coleslaw and offers up enough sex and violence to transform the average child into a psychopath before he hits puberty. Yet, we keep watching it because TV is, after all, an unmitigated gas.

And we never know, something

might come on that we wouldn’t want to miss.

One night at an out-of-town gig, Playing for Time, the controversial program casting Vanessa Redgrave as a Jewish musician in a Nazi death camp, was on between sets. Our bass player (Arctic AÍ Antenna) kept changing the channel because he found the material unsuitable for musicians on a break. Upon reflection, he was right. This kind of gut-wrenching drama violates the principles of vacuity on which the integrity of television is based----It’s not

called a vacuum tube for nothing.

Of course, there are forces, even within television, that are pretending to undermine the tube’s sacred function as a mindless suckling mechanism. Recently I was horrified to see a commercial from a TV manufacturer urging that “television should be more than an electronic tranquillizer.” A TV screen looms into view and flashes scenes from a costume drama and a football game (presumably theatre and sports are pharmaceutically valid cultural stimuli— uppers, not downers). Then the announcer, with the kind of voice generally reserved for documentaries about the Louvre, makes the preposterous claim that his TV set is “a work of art.” This same machine that is capable of uttering such phrases as: “hundreds of original oil paintings at unbelievably low prices at Gulliver’s Travels Motor Hotel in Hamilton.”

The TV ad is especially devious. While doing everything to portray this one-and-only boob tube as some sort of majestic mother-god, a divine item of optical upholstery, Valium Voice tries to sedate any remaining guilt and anxiety we may have by reassuring us that this TV is not a tranquillizer but an art object. It’s like listening to the pulp and paper companies rave about the joys of fighting pollution. The search for the Perfect Picture is a righteous one.

Television is our first true robot, a machine with a human likeness. It has an adjustable complexion and glows in the dark. We huddle around it as if it were the ancestral fire; changing channels, a modern form of stoking.

TV is the first machine to successfully compete with religion and magic. There’s a poignant example in the Latin American film Bye Bye Brazil. We see Indians in a bar on the Amazon frontier transfixed by a color screen showing

only a test pattern.

There’s a French expression, rêver en couleur, that literally translates as dreaming in color and is used to describe pie-inthe-sky thinking . . . dreaming beyond our means. During the ’50s when I was a child and very few people owned color TVs, I remember having a recurring dream that by some miracle our black-and-white set at home was suddenly broadcasting in living color. Like the Brazilian Indians, I was amazed. Those dreams must have been visitations from the spirit of the Great Peacock, the tru-flame electric phoenix rising from the ashes of that ancestral fire.

Now that the Peacock has gone the way of the Edsel, I can stay up late with the real thing right in front of me. I can watch helplessly while Ronald Reagan’s victory turns NBC’s election map a brilliant shade of blue and David Brinkley (aghast) compares it to “a big suburban swimming pool.” The same night I can watch a preliberation Jane Fonda play Barbarella. Worlds dissolve in my TV. It’s my home disco, where all the political and sexy people meet.

My screen crawls with disembodied flesh and unattached ideas. It’s like a vast orphanage of ideas—millions of impoverished ideas that have no idea where they came from and no higher function than to titillate.

And late at night, when the thing is turned off, it turns on you. I lie awake and wonder. Just where does all the televised gloop go? Is it biodegradable? I have visions of the unconscious turning into a clogged sewer of colored particles, visions of psychic enzymes blowing themselves blue as they try to break down the screen’s chemical onslaught. What is the radioactive half-life of a commercial? ... How long does it take the brain to dispose of video waste? ... I mean, does this stuff ever come off?

Brian Borealis plays percussion with the Toronto-based rock ’h ’ roll band, The Nukes