Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Horror of Finding Yourself on TV

Here's one that used to bother me, way back 30 years ago. Back in those days one of my favorite TV shows was All in the Family, and so the paradox happened to center on Archie Bunker.

Here's what bugged me. Suppose Archie Bunker were to turn on his TV, on whichever night of the week All in the Family was on the air. Suppose that, in fact, it was the very time of the evening when All in the Family was on. And suppose that he turned to whichever network carried All in the Family (30 years later, I believe it was CBS).

What would Archie Bunker see on his TV screen, if he tuned in "same time, same channel" as All in the Family? Would he see himself on TV? Would he see that very same TV show in which he himself was but a fictional character?

"What the... Hey Edith, come here and take a look! It's us on TV!"

For some reason, this scenario evoked in me a sense of almost Lovecraftian horror. I imagined that this was the one thing the characters on All in the Family must be careful never to do. They must never tune their TV to CBS on the same evening and time when (in the real world) All in the Family was on the air. Because to do so would be to show themselves up as nothing but shams and puppets, mouthing lines already written for them; sitting in a living room which, by some impossible Cthulhuesque geometry, had only three walls.

Archie Bunker and family inhabited a world in which there was no Norman Lear, there was no top-rated TV show called All in the Family, there was no nationwide debate on whether Archie was a lovable bigot or just plain a bigot. All these aspects of our reality had to be gingerly tiptoed past, avoided, and never ever mentioned or alluded to in any way— and in particular, Archie must never tune the TV to CBS when All in the Family was on the air— lest the veil be ripped away, and their whole existence be shown up as an unreal and paltry fiction.

There's a line I ran across the other day which sums it up just perfectly: Archie would learn, much to his horror, that "The clothes have no emperor."



Anonymous Lucy said...

With shock, I realize that you bear a striking resemblence to my boys. Lee has the same easy smile, and Ron has the same ... different ... mental approach to things.

With you in mind, I'll go post their ponderings on the Garden of Eden. I'll bet you also gave your parents plenty to think about!

Saturday, August 27, 2005 10:46:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home