Wednesday, October 29, 2008
When something like the Great Pumpkin comes along, I have to leave my computer and go watch it on television with my wife.
Not some newfangled wall-mounted paper-thin television set, either. No, our tv is cube shaped, faux wood paneled, and just a few months away from being completely obsolete.
So why do I suddenly sound like a curmudgeonly old bastard? The original Charlie Brown holiday specials will do that to me.
It's both strange and wonderful that, in the year 2008, a major network will make an event out of a fifty year old cartoon that you can probably find streaming on a thousand internet sites. This annual Halloween ritual underscores the oft-noted difference between the communal television set and the private computer screen.
For better or for worse, TV is the center of family life in the average American household. It draws disparate members of the family together to have a shared experience. That shared experience may be vapid, bland, and unhealthy, but at least it's social. The home computer, on the other hand, is designed for a single user, and encourages family members to enter their own private world to the exclusion of others.
On a macrocosmic scale, we see the same forces at work on our nation. Network tv acts to unite the country, while cable tv (and the rapidly growing phenomenon of internet tv) works to divide the country into small demographic slices. The watercooler talk used to be about last night's primetime network offerings; now, the water cooler people are going to have to really work at it to find a show they have in common.
So, within that context, I cheer on throwbacks like "It's A Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Families with children all across the nation are sitting down to tune this one in, and even though the ratings aren't what they once were, the ritual has that all-American, nationally unifying flavor to it.
In my home, my wife and I got cozy with some local apple cider and a bag of microwave popcorn and turned the show into a little quality social time. We've tuned in for as many years as we've been living together, and I have no doubt we'll be tuning it in for as long as ABC continues to make it available.
I know that Charlie Brown will forever get rocks thrown into his pillowcase, and that Linus will never be visited by the Great Pumpkin, no matter how sincere he and his pumpkin patch may be.
Lucy will be gruff and dismissive of her brother's namby pambyness even as she collects candy from the neighbors on his behalf. Snoopy will forever relive WWII, even as that war's memory grows dim and loses all practical relevance for the average American.
Even though the show holds no surprises for us, it brings us together and gives us comfort. And that's something that we could all use a little more of.
at 1:15 AM