The Educational Rewards of Cable
By KATE ROWLAND
Shortly after I moved away to college, my family made several concessions to life in the modern world. They put screens in the windows. They got rid of the washboard and bought a washing machine. They got cable.
That's right. I was 19 years old before I saw my first in-home MTV video. I realize that for many of you this in unconceivable. You were cable babies. You were watching Nickelodeon in utero. You remember all the words to the Fraggle Rock theme song while I am still trying to figure out what, exactly, the hell a Fraggle is. People who explain to me that they are the magical creatures inhabiting the land of Fraggle do not help.
My family did not get cable in time for my little brother Patrick, now 13, to be a cable baby — he was reared on the same healthy Sesame Street and Mister Rogers that I was — but he is a cable brat. He has seen more episodes of Growing Pains than I have, thanks to reruns on the Disney channel. He one day informed me that Growing Pains is a "very '80's show." This from a child who turned four in 1990 and whose memories of the '80's are clear as crystal. I believe his entire knowledge of the '80's comes from cable, thanks to syndication of Punky Brewster, that show with Tony Danza and The Golden Girls. He claims not to like The Golden Girls, but will watch it if there's nothing else on.
I tell him that normal people get up and find something to read instead of watching 12-year-old reruns of The Golden Girls.
To his credit, he does enjoy educational cable. He taped the Discovery Channel's Provoking Dangerous Reptiles Week, with that Australian guy who also hosts the program where, show after show, he finds himself in precarious situations involving a ticked-off rattlesnake or a ferocious alligator. You'd think that after of working with these animals, this guy would figure out how to walk quickly and quietly away from kangaroos who are pounding their tails on the ground in the way that even I have figured out means they are about to attack.
But no. He keeps putting himself through these ordeals in the name of science. He always survives, usually by the skin of his teeth, to the wild applause of Patrick and his collected friends. No one ever stops to wonder how the camera crew, which must be extensive, based on the number of camera angles from which we see the fight between our hero and the emu, pulls through.
I don't think cable is all bad. My household now receives three Spanish channels, compared with the one we used to get. One of my favorite shows on Spanish TV is the Univisión news that not only recounts the day's past events but also offers predictions for tomorrow based on your horoscope sign. By far my favorite Spanish show is Los Simpson. I think I like this show because my brothers always fly into the room when they hear the opening music and then erupt into protest when Milhouse comes on saying, "No lo hagas, Bart!" or when we see El Señor Smithers waiting on El Señor Burns. They whine even if it is the episode where Bart, Milhouse and Martin buy the first Radioactive Man comic book which they have seen 800 million times and already know all the English words.
Thanks to cable, I have also had the chance — this was fun — to get the entire male population of the house deeply invested in a particularly engrossing episode of Chicago Hope, only to reveal at the end that they were watching Lifetime, the channel whose slogan is "Television for Women."
Imagine the horror.
Over the summer, I sublet a house with cable. I also worked the evening shift at a hospital, and sometimes I would get home around two in the morning and watch a little TV before going to sleep. One night, 10 of the 40 stations, not even counting QVC, were broadcasting infomercials.
My favorite is Natural Beauty Bust Enhancers. This product is advertised by showing "without" pictures of pathetically bust-less people who are clearly men in bikini tops and then showing "with" pictures of people who are obviously extremely well-endowed women wearing nothing more than small triangles of fabric that a Natural Beauty Bust Enhancer, even a size small, would not fit in.
Another great moment of late night cable is when ESPN changes over to broadcast We Know These Aren't Real Sports. One night I watched professional pool (men's, women's and mixed doubles), followed by professional bowling and darts, and then rounding out with Bass Challenge! A Fishing Show for All Skill Levels.
Our cable went out one night in June and stayed that way for the rest of the summer, and I have to say that after that we missed it. We missed professional fishing and we missed the infomercials and we missed Nickelodeon.
And just when I was beginning to learn the words to Fraggle Rock.
Kate Rowland has never purchased anything from an infomercial. Certainly not Natural Beauty Bust Enhancers. Her column appears every other Monday and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, October 11, 1999