Love American style: a TV story
Teacher, mother, secret lover!
—Homer Simpson singing the praises of television
We could read the clip above from ABC’s LOST, as fan/youtube-commentor “too0tricky” suggests, merely “an interesting foreshadow” concerning life and death and the ways that absence and presence take shape throughout the show’s arc. Likewise, we could file this moment away with many other Sawyer storylines as expressions of intertextuality—a performative display of the writers’ delicate and playful weaving of pop cultural signs into the culturally coded labyrinth that is the program. While we tend to think of LOST as centered around large scale myths and archetypes along with epic questions (Where do we go when we die? Do aliens exist? What is the nature of time? What could “God” be and how does It relate to us?) we could also follow this clip’s lead and read the show’s workings as a the meta portrayal of the small screen on the small screen. This final interpretive framework is how I often read and engage with the show.
Though I couldn’t shed a tear for many of the castaways as they died one by one, I was a snifflebound hot mess when I watched Sawyer watch a heartwarming, if not sappy, episode of Little House on the Prairie. Through Sawyer I saw the TV fanatic in me and this image was not relayed with a wagging finger or a tsk-tsk-ing tongue. Here, TV and the viewer are portrayed as in a gentle though melancholy relationship. The screen always giving story, an imagined place, a space to be “lost” and the viewer always taking, knowing that the gift is not tangible, but enjoying the sweet lie just the same. We often look at the limitations of this box of tubes, its reprehensible foibles (ahem, The Pick-up Artist), but I like to remember, as the Sawyer scene does, that the set isn’t all about what it takes away (brain cells, time); it has something to offer. When we’re lonely, or wish to disturb the quiet. When we can’t sleep or when we need to get away. When
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. . .
even if your name is Buffy. . . or Dexter. . .
The TV is there.
Sawyer gets this.
Maybe your father wasn’t Dr. Huxtable or Danny Tanner, Dick Van Dyke or Old Pa. Mom wasn’t Donna Reed or even The Nanny. That’s okay. Something awesome happens when people make and deliver a great television show; the audience makes friends with it, slits open a little piece of their heart for it, and the small screen memories are folded in with the “real life” ones.
Emotions, though not solid, are real. My tears for Roseanne, a widowed working class writer and mother, matter. My unbridled laughter at Balki and his bibbi-babka baking, Lucy and her relentless chocolates, saved me. When I’ve felt weak or ugly or stupid Julia Sugarbaker, the Golden Girls and Mary Tyler Moore showed me the way out, made me feel better. I can deliver a fiery speech (perhaps in a pointed southern drawl), do anything with the love and support of my friends (yes, I do have non-TV ones) and I’m gonna make it after all! (but I hope I can get my hat back).
You can keep your sports and magazines, mp3 players and board games. In that famous alone-on-a-desert-island, three-hour-tour rhetorical scenario, you better believe I’m taking my TV with me. And along with it, a really, really, ridiculously long extension cord because, baby, some cords just can’t be cut.