Thursday, June 7, 2007

TV Raised Me!

...But I'd like to thank the streets that drove me crazy

And all the televisions out there that raised me


TV raised me. It became my addiction, influenced my language and impacted my diction. I see myself standing out there in the lights, Grammy, Oscar, Pulitzer or whatever award or statuette in hand, and then I give props to God, my father, my mother, and television. So I’m neither an artist, actor nor writer. Call me a dreamer if you like, but blame television because it played a part.

TV, that box with boundless content-some of it entertaining, some shocking, some stimulating, some sinful, and some downright evil. Food for thought? TV can serve up feast. I remember sitting in a classroom and just thinking of all the programs I’d watch when I got back home. TV was the motivation for me to finish my assignments and lunch pronto! The light from the screen would meet the light of wonderment in my eyes, and I’d spend so many hours in front of that box. Meals would be a distraction and every errand pulling me away from the TV, an absolute annoyance.

Long before satellite television and 24hr local channels, 4pm was H-hour for me. My brother and I would wait in front of the TV from about 3pm. We’d sit there watching those colour bars. Then we’d stand at attention for the national anthem. My father would be very amused. We would listen intently to the program schedule and then settle down. Wrestling was a big hit with us. Loved Hulk Hogan, hated Andre the Giant. My brother practiced a lot of wrestling moves on his willing volunteer- silly little me. Thank God my spine is still intact.

Back then, TV signals were very weak, or perhaps our antennae were not very receptive. Either way, there was a lot of pole turning going on. My brother would go out and turn the pole on which the external antenna sat, desperate to achieve a clearer picture. He’d be outside turning, I’d be inside directing.

Is it clear?
Is it clear?
How about now?
It’s even worse than before?
And now?
Blank, nothing…oh wait stop!
Go back, turn it back, it showed that time!

How can I forget such small screen delights as the courtroom comedy set in colonial times, Ichoku, the ever-hilarious Jagua or that classic gem of Nigerian television The Village Headmaster. It wasn’t all fun though. Sometimes, the TV was the source of a lot of animosity. My brother and I fought over the remote several times. There was this particularly scary program on at that time. If you grew up in Port Harcourt, you know Willy-Willy. Forget the fact that the title could be mistaken for a phallic reference. There was nothing funny about it. i didn't have the balls to watch it. Utterly hated it. I still do. As a matter of fact I don’t know anyone who has fond memories of that show even though it was a hit. Just the haunting melody of the theme music was enough to send me scurrying to my room. I’d be in tears begging that they turn the TV off. Unsurprisingly, my brother loved Willy-Willy. We still laugh about it now but my own laff na from my throat.

Cable TV was a blessing. I remember watching The Three Stooges on weekends. Coming back home from school to catch Captain Planet. Seinfeld, The Commish, Quantum Leap, Friends, I was getting sensory overload. I was having so much fun that I began to rebel against my 10pm bedtime rule. My father was adamant, after the 9pm Network News (yes, I used to watch it as a child, and no, I wasn’t forced to) I was banished to bed. I remember the guilt I’d feel whenever I was watching any movie that wasn’t rated for general viewing. My brother (yes, him again) would tell me to scram when a PG13 movie came on. Oh, the indignities one suffers in his pre-teen years! There was a time one of my darkest secrets was the number of R18 movies I’d seen!

When I went to boarding school, my TV obsession continued. I became something of an expert on the subject of movies. I could reel off Val Kilmer’s movie credits and tell you how much DeNiro got paid for Wag the Dog or what Waterworld made (cough!) at the box office. If you couldn’t remember the name of the actor who played the role of the prison warden in Shawshank Redemption, I was the man to see. There was a neat arrangement which saw us gathering in our common rooms at the weekends for some movies. Somehow that tradition wasn’t sustained. I began having withdrawal symptoms. Suddenly the hostel began to feel a bit like prison, or rehab. At some point my prayers were answered and our proprietress hooked us up with a satellite connection. We had such a good time with that for about a week, until someone stole the decoder. I was distraught.

The holiday could never come to soon. Back home, I’d pork on movies and TV programs. I couldn’t get enough. One day, I went to the video club to borrow some movies. After I’d made my selection, I was told that I had broken some sort of record and was therefore entitled to a bonus 10 rentals. Would I like to take some now, and the rest later? No siree! I’ll take ‘em all right away. There I was hauling a ridiculous stack of fourteen movies from the video club to our house. Of course my brother and I had another fight. He thought he was entitled to select some of the movies.

Whenever I was back home, I’d be caught up in the 30 minute cycle of TV programs. I’ll go and take a bath after this program. I’d say to myself. Then just as the program was ending and I was backing out to the bathroom, another interesting one would come on. The programs would segue into each other and I'd sit there, glued. Let’s just say that back then, I was taking my morning showers right around lunchtime. Eventually I was allowed to stay up and watch TV for as long as I liked. On a few occasions, my father would go off to bed just before 9pm. He’d ask me to watch the network news and tell him all about it in the morning. By then I had lost interest in the 9 o’clock news. I’d watch something else, then wake up in the morning and listen to the 7 o’clock news on the radio and relate that to my father. Ingenious eh? He knew the difference. He caught me in the lie. We laughed about it.

I've come a long way from those days when my life seemed to revolve around the box. I still love to watch Television programs and movies, but my attention span seems to have shortened. I flip channels so often that the buttons on my remote controls are worn. I have a bit of a reputation as a flipper. When some one else is watching, I politely yield the remote. One of my sisters suggested that maybe all that TV watching fried my brain and left me with ADHD -attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. My retort is that all those ridiculously colourful clothes she wore from the 1980's and into the 90's have somehow affected her ability to reason (hey, maybe TV made me a bit rude. hmmm). Today, I can only follow a sitcom or drama if I get it on DVD (bootlegs 500 Naira for an entire season) and then I never finish watching the damn thing.

So once again, raise my glass and doff my hat to that magical box that brings a lot into our homes, takes us to untold places, and fills us with wonderment, joy and sadness. If you think I'll ever stop watching the box, you can fuggedaboudit. Right now, I'm off to watch the Sopranos.