A shiny quarter. And it really did shine. Plus, it was kind of golden-looking. That was our remuneration for participating in a television-viewing survey, courtesy of Arbitron. Or perhaps Nielsen. Possibly neither. All I know is that back in about 1974, my family received a booklet in which to fill out what we watched on TV for several days. I was the in-filler. And as sure as this paragraph began with a sentence fragment, you can bet that creative license was taken.
I didn’t want to tell these people what we really watched, though I don’t really remember what that was. Instead, as far as the Arbitron people were concerned—or perhaps Nielsen; possibly neither—we watched an awful lot of PBS.
Television is a funny thing. It’s been a huge part of the American lifestyle for over half a century, and somehow it still smacks of low brows, or at least some of us fear as much. What’s your reaction when someone tells you they don’t watch TV? Do you believe them? Do you think they’re trying to show superiority? Are you afraid that you’ll be perceived as less intelligent because you do watch TV? Other reactions abound, no doubt, but those three choices are the ones that came to mind, because I’ve certainly felt all of them at one time or another.
Why are we—okay, why am I, because it’s not fair for me to speak for you—reluctant to cop to something that’s been so pervasive for so long? Why should anybody worry that someone might disparage his or her viewing habits? Does anybody really worry about that anymore? Why am I asking you? More to the point, why am I asking you without really getting to the point?
I am a relatively unabashed TV viewer. I’m fairly sure I know what’s good and what’s bad, and I’m not ashamed to say that “bad” is part of my TV diet. Sometimes it has to be. I don’t always want to have to reflect on what I’m watching—sometimes I just want to watch, to be entertained. I’ve devoted time to countless programs that are, objectively, crap. Most of the time, a single viewing of a bad show was enough to turn me away from it altogether, but not always, even when it was clear to me that what I was watching was bad.
Like many within, say, five years of my age in either direction, I grew up watching Star Trek, first in prime time (when I was a little too young to get it and was even willing to watch Lost in Space without being tied to a chair), then as part of the family dinner routine, since KTVU out of San Francisco—then an “independent” station; now a Fox affiliate—would run Trek every weeknight at six. As I “matured”—in quotes because you may not buy the notion that I’ve ever matured—I grew to really appreciate the good things about show while recognizing when not to take it seriously. I mean, as much as I still love Star Trek, I am very aware of the fair percentage of episodes, performances, effects, and premises that are just plain brutal.
But it seems to me that if you’re the kind of person who can watch science-fictiony things without batting an eye, you’re probably also the kind of person who can suspend your disbelief without having to try real hard, and that’s me in a nutshell: I use six-inch-thick steel cables to suspend my disbelief. And when some show, or element thereof, manages to break through that curtain of belief that I’ve managed to construct, it’s not always enough to put me off. I might snort dismissively and say “Yeah, right,” but then I’ll just keep watching, mainly to see how the story ends. As a result, I am perhaps way too familiar with Star Trek and a whole host of other shows.
Sometimes a TV show will spark an all-consuming interest. When I was in high school, Monty Python’s Flying Circus did exactly that: It wasn’t enough to watch the show. I had to audio-record each episode (and I do mean “each”—I still have all 45 episodes on tape), buy all the records, and record those onto tapes to prevent wearing out the records. I even bought the books put out by the Pythons themselves. In later years, I bought a number of books about Python, and when the Independent Film Channel recently ran a six-part series about the history of Python, I recorded it on a DVR and watched it avidly, and I have no intention of erasing it—at least not until it’s available on DVD (if ever). I’m very familiar with the sketches, having listened to the tapes over and over and over and over and over, all through high school. (I even audio-taped Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) The last few days, I’ve been listening to the Python records on my iPod. The material still stands up—these were brilliant comedy writers and performers. And if it weren’t for Python, I probably wouldn’t have developed much of an interest in other British programs, comedy and otherwise.
Another show that worked its way deep under my skin is The Prisoner, which I first watched around 1980. The imagery and the weirdness of the episodes was enough to get me hooked then, and I finally was able to video-record the episodes about 20 years ago. In 2000 I started writing about The Prisoner, to the point where, after two or three years, I completed the first draft of a really large book. (Sadly, I haven’t done much on it since then, having become discouraged for a variety of reasons, but that’s a crappy excuse. See, I want to make money from it, but I don’t know how realistic that is.) And in doing so, I watched each of the 17 episodes a billion times, stopping the tapes constantly to take notes. I audio-taped some episodes to play in the car during my commute, just to become as familiar as possible with the dialogue. I did lots of research, mainly on the Web.
That’s what TV can do, at least to me. And on this site, you—or whatever part of my reading audience sticks around—will see the product of that.
Why “Ruin Your Eyes”?
At one time I had planned a sort of all-TV-reviews-all-the-time site, but then I realized that I didn’t want to write just about TV. Movies, books, baseball, or anything else that inspired me to sit down and type—that, I decided, would all be fair game. Naming the site, though, proved to be harder than I expected. The name of my longtime San Francisco Giants site, EEEEEE!, was an easy choice, and if you’re a Giants fan, probably you know why. But this one... well, I wasn’t sure where to go. At first I thought I’d be doing a 100-percent TV-related blog, hence titles such as Televitching,” “Telerelevance,” “Televendetta,” “Televengeance,” “Televigor,” “Televibble,” “Televomitrocity,” “Trayf-O-Vision,” “I Won’t Have My Courtroom Turned into a Circus,” and “Gregg Make TV Blog.” I rejected most of these upon deciding that I didn’t want to limit my writing to TV, or even a blog, which led to titles that I hoped would be provocative, evocative, and odd enough to make you wonder what you might be about to click on. Candidates included “Uvula,” Uvulescence,” “Quink,” “Sphink,” and “’Muse Muse,” He Mused.” I considered “Willing Suspension of Disbelief,” but I actually had a website by that name in the late 1990’s—but nobody read it or even knew about it, and it had only a few pieces.
I settled on “Ruin Your Eyes,” mainly because I sort of liked it, but also because “ruin your eyes” is exactly what our mothers used to tell us about sitting too close to the TV or trying to read in insufficient light—and websites and blogs provide the opportunity to ruin your eyes in both those ways at the same time. (I say I settled on “Ruin Your Eyes” because I’m not enthusiastic about the title; if a better one comes along, I’ll grab it.)
Ruin Your Eyes is a website and a blog. (That link is to the website.) God, and anybody who’s been reading my Giants stuff over the last 13 years, knows that I was born without the brevity gene, so my long pieces will go onto the website, and shorter comments—including, I hope, yours—will show up here. With any luck, the piece you’re about to finish reading will be the exception.