A haggard-looking nurse in St. Patrick’s Day-themed scrubs and BRIGHT green crocks came in to check Uncle Pete’s vitals. She looked like she hated her job. He opened his eyes and glanced around the room, finally focusing on me. He smiled. “Well, hello Kimberly, fancy meeting you here,” he said with a nod. Tapping the nurse’s arm he said “This is my niece, she is in grad school and she ditched work to come see me. Isn’t she nice?” Though he was in his early seventies and ill, he was always prone to silliness. I smiled, shaking my head, closed my book and took my feet off the bed. We made small talk about the medical tests he had that day and my work, school and non-existent social life. Finally, we settled on talking about television.
He asked me if I had seen this new drama/science fiction program he was watching. I told him I didn’t have time for television but he went on, excited. Apparently, a new episode was coming on that night.
“Well,” he said, “it’s about these people who are in a plane crash on a deserted island.”
“Do they have to eat each other to survive?” I asked, wryly.
“No, now listen,” he replied, unmoved. “There are all kinds of things on this island and there’s some kind of monster and they’re waiting to get rescued.”
I was unimpressed. “Humph, sounds like the stupidest premise I’ve ever heard of.” And it was.
Uncle Pete didn’t waver. He was relentless. Every week, he would ask me if I had watched it yet and give me a brief synopsis of what had happened on that week’s episode. I felt even more determined not to watch it, since I now felt pressured. Uncle Pete teased me, claiming that I was being stubborn and just not watching to prove a point. He was good at people.
The next fall, I had a roommate and with her, came a significant increase in television time at my place. Inevitably, I saw previews for the show. Uncle Pete had been gone for four months and I chuckled each time I saw one of those damn commercials. It was if he were bugging me from another dimension, even cancer and death couldn’t stop him.
Finally, when a friend mentioned that she had bought the first season on DVD, I reluctantly asked to borrow it. For three days, I spent every stolen and created free moment watching that show. Aside from being ridiculous, the plot had really hooked me in.
So, I watched season two. And three. And four. I’m hopelessly addicted and I can’t help but think it unfair that Uncle Pete doesn’t get to see the whole story line play out. It seems like a small, probably immature thing, but that’s part of why I watch. Because he can’t and he would have. It’s almost something I do with him instead of for him because, in the back of my mind, I can hear the off-the-cuff and silly comments he would have been making during each episode. He and I were a lot alike in that way and on the rare occasion we would watch television together, it was like a MUCH funnier version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
In a strange way, though I’ve studied mass media and written more papers than I can remember on why audiences consume particular media, I’ve never had such a clear and obvious example in my own life. While I think that media, television in particular, has the power to tear people apart and waste our brains, I also think it has the power to bring people together. Even if they’re separated by death.
I’m still waiting for the folks on the island to become cannibals.