Some of my fondest memories as a kid involved TV. The earliest show I can remember watching was Welcome Back, Kotter, I was probably 4 years old, maybe 5. I thought the sweathogs were the coolest and not so secretly hoped they would see me through the TV and recognize how cool I was and ask me to join the show. Like I said, I was 4. I next recall watching Creature Features, hosted by Count Gore de Vol when I lived in Washington DC and later by Dr. Paul Bearer when my family moved to Florida. I vividly remember scanning through the paperback TV Guide and highlighting or circling or otherwise marking the shows I wanted to watch and then making sure everyone in the family knew I had an appointment with the TV at those set times and nothing else could be scheduled because I desperately needed to watch Creature From The Black Lagoon, All Monsters Attack, Black Sunday, Them!, Forbidden Planet or whatever else these goolish curators had chosen for me that weekend. I would sit cross legged on the floor eyes glued to the TV and pretend I understood the jokes being made at each commercial break and try to figure out if these different monsters were all part of one giant story. I loved every second of them, and couldn’t wait to see what the next weeks showings would be.
I think about those movies often and revisit them from time to time. I think about how those helped refine my tastes and shape what I look for and enjoy in movies. I love good horror movies, would I love them as much if I hadn’t grown up with these proto-scary movies? I also think about how in many ways I was a captive audience. We only had a few channels and my choices were very limited so I picked the best option I could find and fell in love with it. And I learned the benefit of hunting for things, as I scanned those TV Guides trying to find anything that sounded interesting and marking it to make sure I didn’t miss it. But if I’d had other options would I have just passed these over? It’s hard to say.
I think a lot about this in context to viewing options today. My son watches TV too, he’s soon to be 7yo so pretty much right in the ballpark of when I was rabidly devouring these old monster flicks, but instead of having local television stations trying to fill their schedules with whatever broadcast licenses they could get for cheap, he’s got netflix and youtube and endless streaming and on demand options. He’s never had to sit through a commercial break, never had to choose between a soap opera, a game show and a b/w movie about a vampire. He watches an episode of Digimon and Netflix offers him every other episode ever made of that show, and then recommend 10 other shows just like it. I of course combat this by watching other things with him when I can, but left to his own devices his curators are algorithms not personalities. Some script is picking things for him rather than someone thinking about what might be complementary. Not trying to kick the algorithms off my lawn or anything, just noting the difference, and wondering how that will play out later in life. For him, and the rest of his generation.