How television makes us who we are

The impact of TV on our individual life stories

You’re reading Story Cauldron, where I pull apart and examine stories that exist within our everyday lives. In this newsletter, let’s consider how television shapes our lives and our personal stories.

Have you ever thought about how television shapes our lives?

The idea to write about this came to me after reading a discussion thread for subscribers of Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study, an excellent newsletter here on Substack.

In it, she asked people about how they remember TV in their childhood—not just the shows but the actual physical television sets. The answers were all over the place, and many of the Gen X respondents brought up memories that I had forgotten all about.

So then I got to thinking. Most Americans grew up watching TV. It’s interesting to think about how in some ways we’re a product of the shows we watched as children, as well as the technology available to us. Whether I want to admit it or not, I think that the person, the woman, and the writer that I became were made possible because of the shows I watched, and the habits I formed, from watching TV.

Childhood memories

When I was growing up, we had one large console TV in the living room. It was probably 4 feet tall and consisted of a big wooden box with a gigantic tube inside of a wooden case. It was a color tv with an antenna on the set and one on the roof. The combination worked well most of the time but sometimes had to be adjusted just so. If you moved the antenna just a hair to one side it could totally destroy the image.

The TV we had looked a lot like the one below.

When the TV acted up, we didn't go out and get a new one—we called out a TV repairman who came to the house and worked on it in our living room. And because there was no remote control, it fell to me to change the channel most of the time.

In the 1970s through the mid-1980s, we got ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, as well as two local channels (channels 11 and 30). We didn’t have cable, and only got Showtime when I was about 13.

As a kid, I remember some of my favorite shows were Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman, Hogan’s Heroes, M*A*S*H*, and The Love Boat. On Saturdays, I watched HR Pufinstuf and all the other Sid and Marty Krofft shows (for the longest time I thought I had imagined Lidsville because it was so weird), and during vacations, I devoured afternoon reruns of things like The Monkees, Speed Racer, The Brady Bunch, The Munsters, and Bewitched, all of which had aired just before I was old enough to watch them first-run.

What I found most interesting about my own recollections is how much time I spent watching a portable black & white TV that we had from my earliest memories all the way until I left for college. My parents and I would watch TV on that set at dinner (I have strong recollections of watching the Sonny & Cher Show and the Brady Bunch Variety Hour at dinner time). But later—even as a high school kid—I would sit in the dining room and do my homework with the B&W TV on in the background (Murder She Wrote and The Golden Girls helped me get through my AP classes). But on Sunday nights I did migrate down to the family room in the basement to watch Doctor Who on the big TV with my dad.

Eventually, that little B&W set migrated to my bedroom, and that was such a treat. I remember staying up late to watch reruns of The Fugitive and became a huge fan. Then in college, I had a tiny 4” B&W TV/clock radio in my dorm room which served me well for a few years. I remember watching the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on that TV, as well as the first few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It occurred to me that I watched so much TV on a little set that I’ve never really wanted one of these huge screens. In fact, to this day, I have a relatively small 11-year-old TV and am just as happy watching things on my phone or iPad as anywhere else. Given how prevalent TV was during my academic efforts (including two rounds of grad school), I wonder if that’s why I also find it easy to multi-task while I watch TV? Even though I am easily distracted generally, I can zone out doing artwork or playing video games with the TV on.

And stretching from there—could my time listening to TV have developed my ear for dialog in my own writing? I do credit TV with inspiring me to be a storyteller as a child—I would make up stories with my toys in my room, many somehow inspired by TV shows (plus I had a Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels dolls.) And on the playground, I enjoyed pretending to be a superhero—Isis or Wonder Woman—or playing Star Trek (I learned the Vulcan gesture in perhaps 3rd grade).

By the time I reached junior high, I had started writing stories down, and the rest is history.

As I watch Dexter for the second time while working this week, I have to wonder how this geeky only child might have turned out if not for TV.

Okay, your turn! I’m curious about your own memories of TV. What shows did you watch growing up? Do you remember the first TV in your house? Did your family watch TV all the time, or was it restricted? How do you think that made you the person you are today? Let me know in the comments!

Leave a comment

Coming soon: The Boy Who Can Taste Color

If you’ve followed me for a while, you might know that I’m publishing a serial novel series here on Substack. It’s called The Favor Faeries, and the first book in the series, The Girl Behind the Camera, has just concluded.

The next book, next novel, The Boy Who Can Taste Color, will be available here in October. In this novel, Jenny’s friend Holden goes to the Favor Faeries, where he wishes that his annoying step-brother Travis would just go away. When Travis vanishes, Holden initially can’t believe his good luck—only to face legal trouble as all evidence concerning Travis’s disappearance points back to him. Will Holden be able to find his stepbrother and bring him back before the cops are able to build a case against him?

In The Boy Who Can Taste Color, you’ll also meet witches who act as intermediaries between faeries and humans (and don’t all agree on what human-faerie interaction should be). Most of all, you’ll also find out a lot more about what these ‘favor faeries’ actually are.

To give people a little time to catch up, for the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing some character images, real-life settings, and other behind-the-scenes material, as well as a complete ebook of the novella that can be downloaded to Kindle or other devices. That should get everyone ready for the launch later in the month.

Sound good? I hope so! Subscribe now so you don’t miss out on any of this exciting action. Just $5 a month—less than the price of a single Pumpkin Spice Latte—unlocks all of this content, and allows you to help support my writing.

Book suggestions

If you're looking for new things to read, I’m doing a little newsletter swap with a couple of other authors.

If you’re into faerie stories, you might like the Fire Fae series:

A snarky fae, a caster prince, and a rebellion that threatens to destroy them all. Check out Sophie Davis’s five-book series entitled the Fire Fae and available on Amazon.

And for YA fans, Jenessa Connor is writing a YA serial novel here on Substack entitled STOP. KISSING. FINN.

Ghosted by her best and only friend, Charlie immerses herself in a senior-year independent study where, thanks to a scheduling mix-up, she meets Finn, an advanced art student who has zero respect for their shared space. She’d be annoyed if he weren’t so charming, and Charlie quickly discovers that breaking the rules is not only fun but borderline addictive, especially when you have an accomplice like Finn.

If that sounds awesome to you, be sure to check out Jenessa’s Substack.