My father is a meticulous man and he always has been as long as I can remember. Little things bothered him muchly, and when a man has three kids there are many little things that happen every day. My mother was not as bad as my father but she was very prone to shouting rather than explaining and we were guilty until decided innocent. It’s a mystery to me why two people like this would close to have children, much less three children, yet there we were. We humans had replaced parental instinct with reactionary cultural expectations based on thirty minute comedy television programs designed to sell products no one really needed. We were a family based on fictional characters who lived fictional lives and we lived in a neighborhood full of people being trained by Proctor and Gamble to live a certain way because it was how everyone else was doing it.
There were no writers, no paint artists, no sculptures, no poets, no one I knew who was writing the books I loved, no, that was being done in another universe entirely. Life was a structured thing. All the male children dressed a certain way and all like the same television programming. All the female children dressed a certain way and liked the same television programing. There were toys that were gender specific. There were games that were gender specific. We were trained to think in a very narrow range of what was good and what was not good because the people who were adults told us this was good or not good, but they were also the same people who were teaching us adults were always right.
Husbands beat their wives, parents beat their children, fathers raped their daughters, and a twelve year old boy put the barrel of a shotgun into his mouth and used a stick to push the trigger. Yet the façade remained intact because the television never blinked. The programming changed but only to those scenarios where we felt happy and fulfilled at the end of thirty minutes, and at the end of the day, before bed, if someone selling toothpaste said that life was good and people were smiling, and there were no cares in the world then that is what truly mattered. The television never lied. It never judged. It never stopped promoting the essence of time well spent and looked forward to spending. It was masturbation without the fluid of humanity.
The cocoon went from black and white to color, and with that color came a bold new world that was even more exciting than the last. We were modern people now. There was a sense of competition among friends now. Size mattered. Color mattered. Television, which just a few years ago was something owned only but those with money and time on their hands, was something that became mainstream. Hotels and motels were advertising a television in each and every room! Imagine that! And they were color televisions, too! You were being passed by, left behind in your cave with your club and wall paintings if you didn’t have a television. There were “shows” on now that glued people together as they discussed the plots and characters. The world in which these characters lived became the world in which we lived. The products sold in between canned laugh tracks were the products that became desired simply because they were sandwiched in between the shows that were the braces that held us together as a culture.
The equation became a very simple thing; if it could be put on television and made to last more than one season it became part of reality. No matter the premise or content or anything else. A television show became a powerful tool in which to sell products. Products sold on television had more worth than those which were not. In a store, or a shop, a product that was just sitting there, ready to be examined by a consumer, was nearly worthless. That product packaged in the magic of television became an object of desire. Packaging was born from this need for an image and people would pay more for less if there was enough pretty wrapped around a product, even to the point the pretty cost more than the product itself.
It was over twenty years ago my sister announced she and her husband would have a child. My father went out to the ancient shed and dragged out the old crib that had once served as a bed for all three of his children at one point in time, decades ago. He was retired by then, and he sought to restore the crib in time for my niece’s birth. My father was a meticulous man, and he carefully unscrewed each and every screw in the crib, and very carefully laid them out on a table he had prepared for just such as this. The patio was transformed in a large outside operating table, and a one man assemble line was created. Each piece of wood was carefully sanded and stained. Each piece of metal was carefully burnished. The crib would be beautiful and the craftsmanship flawless.
My father called me over one day so that I might admire his handiwork and I must admit I was impressed, but at the same time, I knew he had not consulted my sister and her husband in this. This was one of those surprise gifts that might, or might not, be welcome depending on their own plans. But he had packaged this in the pretty, and that would mean much. I edged away from the process before getting hijacked into “helping” which usually meant my father giving orders and criticizing while I worked.
A piece went missing. A small brace was gone. It was one of the integral parts, one of those support structures which could not be left out. My father called to see if I had picked it up while I was there. Why would I? But where could it have gone? He borrowed a metal detector and went over every inch of ground around the patio and combed through the house as if searching for lost gold. He never did find that piece. He wound up bolting together the two parts of the crib supported by the brace and it haunted him. No one could tell, of course, but he knew, and it got to him deep.
That isn’t found anymore. If a piece goes missing these days the whole thing gets tossed. If a piece in a television dies then it is cheaper to throw it away than to repair it. It cannot be bolted together. We live in a world where how something is made isn’t nearly as important as how it is presented to us. We seek momentary goods. We seek momentary lives. We are willing to invest into goods and services what we expect out of them, We mimic the thirty minute shows that teach us that, in twenty minutes plus commercial time, all we are, and all we can be, and all we love, can be found in programming designed to sell.