“Frank Lloyd Wright said, ‘TV is chewing gum for the eyes.’ What are your favourite shows to chew?”
First: This should be my last post on the subject of vision, at least under the prompts of NaBloPoMo (National Blog-Posting Month). Tomorrow, the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is visiting my parish, and I plan to be on hand for that. Readers who are Orthodox will know what a Hierarchical visit entails, and I fully expect to be gone all day. (And for anyone reading this blog who thinks, “Oh, goody, a chance to break in and steal stuff” – nice try. My husband isn’t Orthodox, hates driving in Massachusetts, and won’t be coming with me.)
Frank Lloyd Wright was, as all good architects should be, something of an artist. He appreciated that all media should have, as its goal, the ability to move a person onto another plane, to make one think beyond one’s usual pathways and parameters, to expand one’s experiences, even if only vicariously. For him to comment on television as “chewing gum for the eyes” strikes me as a profound statement, for after all, what is chewing gum? It’s nutritionally devoid. It’s worse for you than ice cream, which at least has some dairy content in it, in addition to all that sugar and fat. Chewing gum has nothing. I guess it stimulates salivary glands, since I see people chewing it everywhere nowadays – I think the last time I had a piece of chewing gum, I was thirteen years old – but I know that when I see people chewing mindlessly, I don’t think much of whatever is going on in their heads.
And the same with television. It doesn’t have a lot going for it, especially nowadays, especially in the USA. That said, there’s really only one show I will only give up during Lent: NCIS. I got into it because I once worked for someone who had been an investigator with the old Naval Investigation Service (now Naval Criminal Investigation Service). I’m well aware that the television show bears very little resemblance to the job my old boss did, and not just because of all the high-tech gadgetry; it’s television, it’s supposed to be escapist and unrealistic.
But there are a number of cultural gags that I just can’t resist. Primary among them is the “family” aspect. The show is billed as being like “one big dysfunctional family,” and that about describes my family, too. Abby is my little sister to the life (except for being a goth). McGee is just like the oldest of my younger brothers, and Tony is definitely my nosy middle brother (the now-retired Treasury agent, so at least his bratty nosiness did serve a useful purpose n his life). (In case you’re reading this, Donald, that was a compliment.) Jimmy Palmer, the assistant medical examiner, is a lot like my youngest brother, who also has a very weird sense of humor, and to whom I owe my use of the word “distructions” as a cross between “directions” and “instructions.” Ziva is me. Definitely.
One of the other, really funny, aspects of this show is the generation gap. Every once in so often, they’ll run a show where the electricity goes out in the building, and all the high-tech gadgetry fails. The young people will start talking about “where will we find a dinosaur to figure out how to do this” – and up pops their boss, who not only knows how to get the job done, but also how to operate the ancient equipment that people of my generation always used. And in his ability to pop up seemingly out of nowhere, especially just as a young staff member makes a rude observation about him, Gibbs is just like everyone’s dad or mom, with the eyes in the back of his head. Ducky, the medical examiner, is like a kindly old grandfather with an endless well of stories, all delivered in an inimitable bumbling-old-Scot style – but his job expertise is unparalleled, and his knowledge of and comments on the dark recesses of the human mind, which result in the necessity for his job, are trenchant.
I miss that kind of family, all arguing with each other endlessly, tormenting one another with truly stupid gags, but all pulling together to get the work done. And caring about one another – that comes through very clearly, episode after episode. When one has a crisis, all the rest rally around him. When one is in danger, all the rest go all out to rescue her. Last season ended darkly, with the destruction of NCIS headquarters, and this season, the office “mascot,” Abby, is having trouble getting back to her usual upbeat self – I was reminded of the trauma so many of us felt around 9/11, and I wonder if this season will be a way of exploring that and helping people to find ways to slot it into perspective, so that we never forget – but can still go on with living.
So for me, this show has depth and perspective, definitely not chewing-gum material. It feeds a part of me that would otherwise go neglected, the point in time where my brothers and sister and all our cousins lived within a few blocks of one another, the part where we were Together.
There are other shows I watch – All Creatures Great and Small, primarily, Mystery! occasionally, and I do wish that the British television series around the Miss Read books would be imported, as that would be nourishing in a different way. But to get back to my Roots – NCIS, every time.