Before I got married I was at a cocktail party rubbing elbows with my fiance’s family. I was talking to a distinguished and clearly educated gent and the subject of the Korean Conflict somehow came up. Now, I did have a fair amount of knowledge on that because, like I said, I later educated myself. But there I stood, a pizza cook on the threshold of a potential conversational Armageddon. But I held in. Fortuitously, he came to an impasse in the discussion and was stuck on the parallel that the US military failed to cross, the one that would have been an act of war. I chimed in,
“That would be the 38th Parallel.” I was then complimented as being a smart young man. What he didn’t know is that I got that from the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School.
I was reminded of that today as I was reading an excerpt from one of my favorite books, A Prayer for Owen Meaney. There is no shortage of reasons why I love the book, I have always been a sucker for a coming-of-age story and it’s a great one. The excerpt that caught my eye was dedicated to the birth of the all-time opiate of the masses, the Television (my apologies to Karl Marx), in which the narrator observes the progression of the power that the television eventually held in his home. He told of how his Grandmother, who was always staunchly opposed to TV finally caved, and how the grandson reluctantly fell under its spell as well. Our hero Owen Meaney, ever the virtuous one, chastised the Grandson for watching TV. At which time the Grandson defended it by offering how many ways that it was educational. Owen promptly dismissed this, his unsolicited opinion was that TV was a slovenly way to educate oneself.
I was amused and a little embarrassed when confronted with this. While I consider myself adequately educated, I have attained a fair amount of passable knowledge, some decent Trivial Pursuit-ish information as well as some solid nuggets of pop culture as well as high society through TV and movies.
Now, of course, TV was not educational in 1958, the time period in discussion. You watched what was available and a lot of it was garbage. It’s not a fair comparison to today’s Cable and streaming options that offer many educational options. Which I take advantage of. Despite even that… some of my greatest stories that deal with gaining “knowledge” through unlikely and slovenly sources occurred many years ago.
Most of my knowledge of Opera, Classical Music, American society during the Great Depression, Prohibition, wartime, etc., comes exclusively from Bugs Bunny cartoons. That’s right. “Kill the Wabbit” taught me about Opera.
In addition, most of my understanding of politics I can directly attribute to Berkeley Breathed and Gary Trudeau, of Bloom County and Doonesbury fame, respectively. As a skirt-chasing teenager (and young adult and well, forever) dedicated to doing the bare minimum, it was Bloom County and Doonesbury that piqued my interest in the news of the day as they lampooned politics and known as well as not-so-well-known cultural figures. Where else did I hear about the Anti-gay activism of Anita Bryant, the anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, the disappearance of known American atheist Madalyn Murray-O’Hair, the Televangelist scandals, the Contras and Sandanistas, the Star Wars antics of the Reagan era, I could go on but I won’t. Suffice it to say that otherwise boring (to me) subject matter and events were portrayed comically way or ironically and consequently raised my interest. An interest in being current and informed on the matters of the world, and in being able to take a humorous, even absurdist interpretation. In the case of Bloom County, the political landscape was portrayed often through Children and anthropomorphized naive but politically charged meadow animals. Think of a Hedgehog, a rabbit, and a Penguin having a caucus to nominate a dead cat for President.
That shit was funny!
And it had the right effect on me, it got me interested. Which fortunately led to a lot of self-education of the shit that I should have learned in High School.
Snob appeal, slob appeal. Whatever. Learning can come from many sources, highbrow and otherwise. What matters is that I learned something, and I received the added bonus of getting a good laugh in the process.
Slovenly” Perhaps. Effective? Absolutely.