The Evitt sent me the above image, using one of my Infinite League drawings and some gimmicky website or other. I like the effect of seeing Ash art appearing on these old television sets, as if I had my own Saturday morning cartoon in 1976. In reality, I’ve never had that kind of opportunity to be Part of the Problem. But I have to confess the sight of these crummy old TV sets has me feeling overwhelmingly nostalgic.
In this new dawn of widescreen, high-definition, digital television, the fuzz and crackle of VHF broadcasting has now become an antiquated condition, known only to the eldest TV generation. In particular, the crappiest of these dinosaur sets, like the old portables pictured above, are now completely extinct, unlikely as they are to be converted to the new digital signal. This is the type of television I’ll miss most, the buzzing, black and white miniatures with scrolling vertical hold. I picture them plugged in on garage workbenches, tin foil on the antennae, desperately trying to maintain the sound and video of some deadly dull Saturday afternoon fishing show, while an aging dad secludes himself from the wife and kids by pretending to fix a toaster. An occasional tap on the channel changer might temporarily improve reception, but needlenose pliers are required to turn the sound up.
This was MY television, droning in the corner with strangled rabbit ears, surrendering to static when you walked two steps in the wrong direction. It was tiny and malfunctioned constantly, and it broadcast only two of the four available channels, putting you at the mercy of whatever public affairs program or Laurel and Hardy movie or college basketball game happened to be on. And at 1 or 2 am, the Star Spangled Banner played and the stations shut down, leaving that same hissing static that spoke to Carol Ann in Poltergeist. Let me emphasize that for those of you having grown up with nothing but cable: TV WENT TO BED. The box went dead for several hours. Not a program was stirring, not even a buckwheat pillow infommercial.
In short, this was TV that knew its place. It didn’t take up an entire wall of a McMansion living room, blasting Spider-Man 3 on demand with the booming bass of Surroundsound., and it didn’t offer 800 channels 24 hours a day. It sat unobtrusively on a shelf, doing its best to spit out Hollywood Squares between fits of distortion, just another element of environmental control, like the bubbling of a fish tank or hum of a window unit. It was often on, but rarely watched. And when it got out of line, it got smacked. And if it got especially irritating, unplugged. You were bigger than TV and you made the rules.
So now, in an age where television’s non-stop strobe of high-def intensity may soon be injected directly into your vein, I bid farewell to VHF, the Little Television That Could, But Usually Didn’t. So strange to think that Newton Minow’s “vast wasteland” used to be so very, very small.