Nothing ages faster than a vision of the future. Re-read A Clockwork Orange today and you’re reminded of the Cold War, Harold Macmillan, and B.F. Skinner. Re-watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and you wonder whatever happened to Pan-Am airlines. Re-read Fahrenheit 451 and you find yourself explaining the concept of rabbit ears.
Yeah, rabbit ears. Fahrenheit 451 was part of the summer reading list Dances With Mermaids brought home from school, so I got her a copy along with The October Country. Since she more or less lives with earbuds pumping dubstep directly into her brain, I derived some small amusement from mentioning Ray Bradbury’s image of people walling themselves off from the world with tiny “seashells” jammed into their ears. Then I remembered the scene in which Montag notices that the only house in his neighborhood where people are laughing and talking to each other is the one without a television antenna on the roof. And I found myself explaining to this child of the digital age how TV was once delivered into the living room through a roof antenna that looked like a deranged Erector Set project, or a pair of rabbit ears on top of the TV set, and that television reception was often a very iffy thing, apt to dissolve into a blizzard of static if the rabbit ears were improperly adjusted, or if somebody stepped back from the television after tweaking the controls like a safecracker. Even the way you sat affected reception on certain days. No wonder cable caught on so fast. I didn’t know from tai chi when I was a kid, but later on I instantly understood its purpose — an ancient Chinese technique for improving television reception.
I rattled on about all this, even throwing in a mention of the Peanuts comic strip sequence in which Charlie Brown has Snoopy stand on his TV and move his ears to clear up the picture. Then I caught the distant look in her eye, the look of a teenager who knows that if she waits long enough, Daddy will run out of oxygen and she will be able to leap free of the Old School Time Machine Tour. I do go on sometimes.
I was thinking of showing her some episodes of The Outer Limits, but I wonder what she would make of the intro, and the idea of someone else controlling the sacred vertical and the sanctified horizontal. The course of one’s evening TV viewing used to hang on those two pegs.
Maybe I just won’t worry about it. One of those tempus fugit things.