Raymond Chandler Looks at Television.

… Bleakly.

Raymond Chandler wrote mystery novels.  Also, too, he composed letters to friends. Caustic letters.  In 1950, at the dawn of the television age, he went out and bought a television set, and soon made up his mind about it. And, as he tended to do, wrote a friend:

… Television is really what we’ve been looking for all our lives. It took a certain amount of effort to go to the movies. Somebody had to stay with the kids. You had to get the car out of the garage. That was hard work. And you had to drive and park. Sometimes you had to walk as much as half a block to the theater. Then people with big fat heads would sit in front of you and make you nervous.

Reading took less physical effort, but you had to concentrate a little, even when you were reading a mystery or a western or one of those historical novels, so-called. And every once in awhile you were apt to trip over a three-syllable word. That was pretty hard on the brain.

Radio was a lot better, but there wasn’t anything to look at. Your gaze wandered around the room and you might start thinking of other things — thing you didn’t want to think about. You had to use a little imagination to build yourself a picture of what was going on just by the sound.

But television’s perfect. You turn a few knobs, a few of those mechanical adjustments at which the higher apes are so proficient, and lean back and drain your mind of all thought. And there you are watching the bubbles in the primeval ooze. You don’t have to concentrate. You don’t have to react. You don’t have to remember. You don’t miss your brain because you don’t need it. Your heart and liver and lungs continue to function normally. Apart from that, all is peace and quiet. You are in the poor man’s nirvana. And if some nasty-minded person comes along says you look more like a fly on a can or garbage, pay him no mind. He probably hasn’t got the price of a television set.

Television hasn’t changed much. You can still sprawl on the floor and gawk at it, turning your frontal lobes to “twilight sleep,” and miss … not very much. (I missed not very much paying only a small percentage of my attention to the recent political conventions.)

But the big improvement with TV is the DVR. You can now skip over commercials and cut viewing time by fourteen point two percent. Large strides for mankind in the past six decades.


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