My kids are sitting in front of the television right now watching the 1969 film “Frost the Snowman” narrated by Jimmy Durante. It’s part of a Christmas DVD box set with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and others. It’s not a surprise to me that my kids enjoy those films, since they’re kind of timeless and fun. It does occur to me that they must be less special to them than they were to my sisters and I, growing up in the 70s and 80s.
At risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, I remember when there were no VHS machines, DVD players or iTunes. Television was king and whatever the 3 networks had on at the moment was the entire universe. VHF and UHF antennae were a very real part of one’s viewing experience. Those of you in my general age group will certainly remember this clip as something magical and important in your growing up:
The holiday season was time for the many animated and “claymated” films to make their annual appearance on broadcast television and mom and dad helped us look up the schedule in TV Guide or the newspaper. Lives were planned around the night when we’d all sit around the television and take in the special programming schedule. The word ‘special’ had real depth in this respect. The spinning neon word ‘SPECIAL’ was quite literally enough to give heart palpitations. It still has a visceral effect on me when I see it, even in YouTube form.
My kids don’t understand broadcast television. They get upset when we can’t rewind (a funny term that persists in the digital age) something or watch it on demand. They have DVDs and HDD recorders and cable television. There’s always “something on,” and it can always be manipulated in some way, shape, or form. Television isn’t special in the 21st century. Going to the movies ceased to be special, just as air travel became commonplace. It wasn’t that long ago that sending or receiving an e-mail was a magical affair. In 1989, when I was a freshman undergrad, our university was one of the early pioneers in internet/intranet communication and we were all awarded notebook computers upon entrance. Voice mail was part of our dormitory package. We all shared stories about communicating with some random person in the UK on the other end of the electronic divide. It was like communicating by telegraph, and it was really special.
The concept of ‘special’ is reserved for the new and the novel, the rare and the treasured. What fits that description in this world where nearly everything is on demand. I’m sure there’s a long list, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to make it off the top of my head.