By James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 2, 2016
Talking with my old buddy Connell last night, I commented that everyone today has very different tastes in music. Out of 432 songs on my favorite Spotify playlist, I might share a unique handful with each of my friends. Back in the 1960s, when we were young boomers, we all watched the same three TV networks, listened to the same AM top-40 radio stations, often bought the same albums, went to the same rock concerts and movies, and pretty much shared the same pop culture. Living in the shiny future of the 21st century, pop culture has exploded. Everyone has gone off to do their own thing—usually tuning out with earphones and a personal screen—and won’t VR be even more isolating? I feel little pop culture kinship anymore.
I wonder if cord cutters, the retired ones, aren’t all sitting in our darkened rooms, by ourselves at night, watching the same TV shows? We’ve reduced our TV universe to a few local broadcast networks again. Going from 200+ channels to a handful might be a socially unifying trend. How many of us are watching Antenna TV, Grit TV, Movies!, Decades, GetTV or MeTV?
I cut the cable cord years ago. I planned to watch Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services instead. What’s weird is I spend more time now watching broadcast TV. What goes around, comes around. I own a Tivo Roamio, which allows me to record over-the-air TV—and zip past the commercials. When I do see the commercials, most are targeted to my demographic, the 55-plus crowd. At any random moment of the day, a quick flip by all the channels will mainly reveal commercials. To get folks to watch those commercials they use old shows and movies as bait. I guess they know what we’re biting.
If I didn’t have the Tivo, I couldn’t handle that. I hate commercials. Yet, I’ve got to admit they’ve got my number, because these networks broadcast content that appeals to me, and I assume, to my fellow baby boomer cord cutters. I hardly ever watch the major networks anymore. Their primetime shows aren’t geared to my tastes. Mostly I watch PBS. However, when I’m not watching public television, I love the local channels that show old movies, and to a lesser degree, the old television shows. Especially content created in the 1950s and 1960s, when I grew up. Is broadcast TV curated for us baby boomers? Or do young people like retro-TV? After we get on social security, and our fixed incomes become cable-unfriendly, lots of us go back to over-the-air television reception. Evidently, marketing gurus have discovered old episodes of Peter Gunn, Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone sell adult diapers, self-catheters, Consumer Cellular phone, prostate pills, unbreakable reading glasses, and other doodads for the 55-plus-set better than reruns of Cheers or The Mary Tyler Moore Show . I have 4-5 channels where I can watch the same shows I watched when I lived with my parents. Decades later, in the 1980s we chanted, “I want my M-TV.” Now I sing, “I want my GetTV.” (My city doesn’t have it yet.) There’s a tremendous number of broadcast networks, but no city gets them all. But as each city gets more of them, won’t there be less demand for cable?
How many over-55 cord cutters are watching these networks? By reducing the the number of networks we watch, do we bring ourselves closer? Will there ever be a time again when people share the same pop culture? Sometimes I think I could cut out all TV but one network – PBS. Are public television lovers my chosen peeps?
I cancelled my subscription of Netflix discs because I just let the discs sit around for weeks. I have Netflix streaming, but I don’t watch it much, mostly for documentaries. I also have Amazon Prime which I use to watch new television shows and movies when I have company. When I’m by myself, which is most of the time, I mainly watch documentaries on PBS or old westerns. I spice things up now and then by trying an ancient TV show, or an old film, in particular, a 1960s comedy, or a 1940s film noir. When I have friends over, we watch new TV shows like Mr. Robot, Humans, Fargo, The Knick, Man in the High Castle, Mad Dogs, etc. I do like modern scripted TV, especially if the show is one story told in 10-13 episodes. But I save those shows for when I have company and we can share. It’s great to have new shows to talk about. Solitary watching is different. I guess my comfort TV is old stuff.
I realize I have multiple personalities. I have my main personality that watches TV by myself, and a different personality for each of my friends. I almost never listen to music with friends anymore. I guess group listening to albums stopped when we quit smoking pot back in the 1970s. I wonder if medical marijuana for old folks is bringing back album parties? I do read books with friends, sometimes, because of book clubs. And I usually go to plays and art shows with friends. When I think about it, I spend a lot of time enjoying various art forms alone. Back in my K-12 years, that wasn’t so. You’d watch TV with your family, and then go to school the next day and discuss the shows with your friends. Our world was smaller, but it was closer. I guess in a couple decades when I move into a retirement home, I’ll be back watching TV together with a new family.
With over sixty years experience watching TV, I’ve gone though many phases of TV culture. I wonder as I get older if I’ll want to rewatch 1970s TV, and then 1980s TV, and if I live long enough 1990s TV. Do people get nostalgic for their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties? In the future, will baby boomers crave Must See TV and want to watch old episodes of Seinfeld, Mad About You, and ER? Right now I can’t even make myself watch old Star Trek series which I once loved. Will, I change in the future and crave them again? Or will nostalgia always keep me trapped in 1956-1965 TV-land?