#52 This Is the Way to Turn Your World Around
The great thing about writing these blog essays is the conversations they open up with friends and family. I love the comments but also the texts and (gasp!) phone calls from friends who want to chat about something I’ve written.
One of those was just today. A friend called me up to say she really liked that I often mention the tv shows and movies that influenced me when I was growing up. We chatted about being “raised by TV, movies, pop music.”
Her question: Why does everyone think that’s such a horrible thing?
And I get it. I have no regrets about being co-parented by the Big Three*, PBS, and UHF. My parents had 6 kids and ran their own business. By the time I came along, they were in their 40s and ready to start L-I-V-I-N-G. What were they going to do, play with me all day?
As I grew up, I went from Sesame Street and Mister Rogers to The Electric Company and Zoom to Charlie’s Angels and The Love Boat. I watched many shows that I didn’t even realize had been canceled years earlier, some before I was even born (I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Monkees, The Brady Bunch).
Sure, I watched some stuff that maybe wasn’t age-appropriate (I’m looking at YOU, Three’s Company), and, yes, I may have been left with a few scars from the portrayal of women as rail-thin foils to over the top men.
Charlie's Angels ("Angels in Chains") 1976! Totally appropriate for a 6-year old. Fuck you, Charlie.
But, those friendly hours spent watching the tube introduced me to new worlds, new ideas, women as superheroes. I developed an almost photographic memory for dialogue and story. I could mimic the characters, sing along with the theme songs. And I had an incredible vocabulary helped along by a voracious reading habit.
The Brady Bunch, 1973. Though I saw this in reruns, Baton Rouge was the only state capital I actually knew for most of my education.
Don’t worry: I had actual babysitters — my grandmother, neighbor kids, and — on special occasions when my parents sneaked off for a vacation — an old Irish lady called Mrs Mulligan. If I saw Mrs. Mulligan in the kitchen when I came downstairs in the morning, I knew my parents had stealthily slinked out of the house under cover of darkness. Mrs Mulligan would say, “Ohh, they’re in the Bahamas, hon” which, in her formidable Irish brogue came out “BaHAAAAAAAMas."
But my friend has a different perspective, which I share with her permission. She grew up overseas in a highly conservative, restrictive, and physically abusive household. Her refuge was American TV, movies, and — especially — music. The times when her father’s abuse was so bad that she thought she was going to die, she’d think about the New Kids on the Block whisking her away to a place called Boston or about Joey Lawrence singing, “there’s nothing my love can’t fix for you, baby.”
Joey Lawrence, 1993. He starred on a the quintessential 90s sitcom, Blossom. His catchphrase was "Whoa!"
She’d pretend she was Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend, or Baby in Dirty Dancing. Richard Gere might charge up to her window with roses. At this memory, she said: “I realize this all seems very ‘princess needs to be rescued.’ But back then there was no one to protect me. I did need rescuing.”
Escaping into her room to listen to Madonna, imagining that she, too, could wear fingerless gloves and be the center of attention, was more than mindless entertainment. It saved her life.
Madge, ca 1983
And then this: “If someone told me that they could go back and take away all the bad stuff in my childhood, but that they’d also take away my music, my movies — I’d keep the abuse.”
The joy, the pleasure she found now outweigh the pain she endured. As a kid, she rehearsed confidence and self-esteem by singing in the mirror so she’d recognize those beliefs later in life.
So she’d know that they were within her reach.
When I think of the tiny baby version of my friend cowering in fear but relentlessly holding onto the dream of something different, I'm grateful for Madonna and those ridiculous fingerless gloves.
*NBC, ABC, CBS, not the triplets on This is Us.