Educational Television

Several years ago now, I saw a movie called Chi-Raq which is a retelling of the story of Lysistrata set in present day Chicago. It’s a great movie, but judging by some of the comments I saw at the time, it seemed that some people missed the fact that it was a retelling of a Greek play by Aristophanes.

Naturally, people pointed out that they didn’t know that because they’d never learned about it in school.

I never learned about Lysistrata in school either, but I still knew the story. How?

Gilligan’s Island.

The first season episode “St. Gilligan and the Dragon” invokes a G-rated version of the story. The women, frustrated with the men and feeling disrespected, decide to go off on their own and stop doing the “women’s work” for the fellas. Mrs. Howell is actually the instigator, citing Lysistrata to explain to Mary Ann and Ginger what they should do.

So at six years old, I learned about Lysistrata. Thirty-some years later, I finally put that knowledge to use to be smug at strangers on the Internet.

Television has a funny way of educating folks like that. They just sneak it in on you and the next thing you know you’re answering the Daily Double on Jeopardy correctly.

Or realizing what the school curriculum didn’t cover.

After the statue of slave trader Edwin Colston was pulled down and dumped in the sea in Bristol, England, someone on Twitter pointed out that much of the racist history of Britain wasn’t addressed in their history classes there. One of these events that they cited was the Mau Mau Uprising, a violent resistance to colonialism by the Kenya Land and Freedom Army against the British.

It seems odd that the Brits might not to learn something about this, even a glossy, white-washed version it. It makes more sense that an American like myself wouldn’t know about it. After all, our high school history classes barely get past World War II.

But I’d heard of it. Why?

Magnum PI.

The third season episode “Black on White” deals specifically with the Mau Mau Uprising, particularly Higgins’s role in it since the men in his unit who were there are being killed off. It’s not an exact retelling of history, of course, but it does capture the brutality of the conflict, something most Americans might not have otherwise heard of.

A little history lesson snuck in between the action and Aloha shirts.

This sort of thing still happens in today’s television. A whole slew of folks were introduced to the Tulsa Race Massacre thanks to Watchmen. In 1921, white residents attacked the Black residents of the Greenwood district in Tulsa, destroying the wealthiest Black community at the time, injuring hundreds, and killing an estimated 75 to 100 people (according to a 2001 commission; 39 deaths were confirmed). Not many US high school history classes paused to even mention that in the race from WWI to the Great Depression.

They say that too much television can rot your brain. And I suppose it can. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. Television is no different, especially some of the so-called mindless junk (I do love me some intellectual Twinkies as a way to soothe my tendency to overthink). But it’s not all brainless twaddle.

Pay attention next time.

You might just learn something.

When the Stars Go Out

It’s been a sad week here in Rerun Junkie Land.
In the last few days we’ve lost both Markie Post (less than a month after her Night Court co-star Charles Robinson at that) and Alex Cord, as well as observing the anniversary of Robin Williams’s death.
It’s a strange thing when celebrities die. It’s a given that their family and friends will mourn them (unless they are absolute pricks, but it never seems like an asshole dies). But they also end up being mourned by strangers who thought of them as friends and/or family because by virtue of technology they became important and familiar.
However, even more curious is how -when you really stop to think about it- they aren’t really gone in the way that fans know them. Yes, they’ve gone beyond the horizon to have some new adventures, but the way that we as fans know them best is left behind. They’re gone, but they’re not.
It sort of ends up being this weird grief echo that surrounds that person.
Take Davy Jones and Peter Tork, for example. I was devastated when both men died. We’re talking straight up disbelief followed by heartbreak that lasted for days. Understandable given that I’ve been a huge Monkees fan since I was six. But my access to them hasn’t changed. I can listen to them whenever I want, watch episodes of the show whenever I want. They’re gone, but they’re not. And sometimes, I forget that they’re gone. It’s always for a brief moment and then I remind myself, but it’s always a disconcerting sort of feeling. Like, oh yeah. They’re gone.
I know that happens to people when someone they know personally dies, too. They have that brief bliss of forgetting that their loved one is gone before the reality comes crashing down. But the very nature of celebrity makes this a default. It’s so easy to forget that they’re gone because they’re always there.
And that echo reverberates differently for different people, and not always in a way that makes sense.
I was understandably heartbroken when two of my TV boyfriends, Martin Milner and James MacArthur, passed away, but the reminders that they’ve beyond the horizon don’t hit me as hard as you would think they would. In contrast, I was also sad when Ron Glass and David Ogden Stiers died, but for some reason, the reminders of them being gone are much harsher. I have no explanation for this.
I have no real point to any of this. Only my own observations on a phenomenon that might only exist in my head. But it’s something that I think about every time an old favorite takes that horizon ride.

I guess what I’m saying is that some stars never really go out.