She Loves TV So Much She Wrote a Book About It
By BETH HARPAZ
Professor Kathleen Collins (John Jay College) has written a book about “proudly and loyally loving something that’s derided by fancy, smart people.” That something is TV.
The book, From Rabbit Ears to the Rabbit Hole: A Life with Television, is part memoir and part cultural meditation on what TV means to all of us – but especially to Collins and her generation, i.e., Americans born in the 1960s.
Collins’ cohort was the first “to grow up with the fact of TV, meaning we took it for granted, it was never a novelty, we couldn’t imagine a world without it.” Her book is a self-conscious defense of pop culture as manifested on TV, as well as a look back at a time when children could watch TV all day and night without grownups interfering. Only in the ‘80s and ‘90s did it become “shameful” to let TV babysit your kids.
“I watched for many hours a day at a stretch, so the book is really about how TV was my companion throughout my life and served me well,” she says on the Indoor Voices podcast.
Shows from the era of Collins’ childhood ranged from good-for-kids PBS programs like Sesame Street, Zoom, and the nature series Hodgepodge Lodge, to classic but admittedly mindless sitcoms like The Beverly Hillbillies and My Favorite Martian.
Many shows were also retrograde by feminist standards, like I Dream of Jeannie, about a sexy genie literally living in a bottle and granting wishes to the man of the house, an astronaut she adoringly called “Master.” But Collins recalls her girlhood fandom unapologetically: “I wanted to be Jeannie so much that I would deliberately daydream about it. I had no interest in being a servant and/or wife of an astronaut – what I coveted were her digs (the cozy, cushioned bottle) and her powers.”
Perhaps Jeannie’s ostensible subservience was offset by Marlo Thomas’ independence in That Girl, about a young woman who escapes her parents’ suburban home for a Manhattan apartment. Thanks to that show, Collins says, “by kindergarten, I understood organically that women could live on their own and make their way in the world.”
Collins gives hits of later decades – Northern Exposure, 90210, Thirtysomething, and of course Friends – their due, along with today’s panoply of options. But which era is TV’s golden age? “Every era is someone’s golden age,” she declares.
Today’s endless offerings, however, preclude the experience from yesteryear of watching a show simultaneously with millions of others, simply because only three to six channels existed.
“To see a particular TV show you really looked forward to at eight o’clock on Wednesday night, or the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz – there was no on-demand content, so it was really special,” she said on the podcast. “And it was very different in that we watched together with people, at the same time, in the same room, and we, as a nation were seeing the same thing at the same time.”