It was my birthday this past week; I turned forty nine years old. I don’t normally give my exact age on this site, just on the off chance that some casting director stumbles upon this website looking for fresh young faces – I wouldn’t want to disabuse them of the notion that I could play some sitcom’s kooky young barista or something. But in discussing other things that happened this past week, it is crucial that you understand something about me connected directly to my age. Namely, that in the year 1974, I was precisely three years old.
And I just wanted to watch Sesame Street.
Remember, this is vintage seventies Sesame Street I’m talking about here. The golden age. Back before Elmo. Back when Mister Hooper was still alive. This is the show that taught me how to read, how to count, how to perform old-time vaudeville routines with paperclips and rubber duckies. The whole PBS line-up was killer, of course – you had Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and The Electric Company and ZOOM. And it’s not like I didn’t appreciate the vast quantity of cartoons and monster movies the decade had to offer tykes like me. Even so, as with many kids my age, Sesame Street was truly my world.
And throughout the summer of 1974, I was unable to see it. Because the House of Representatives had opened up an impeachment inquiry into President Richard M. Nixon, and those hearings were televised.
That’s right. For my younger readers, there was once a time before Netflix, before streaming services, before cable, where there were only a handful of television channels to watch. There were three major networks, perhaps a local channel or two if you lived in a large city, and PBS. And this time of limited options coincided with a time in the history of our national character where we felt compelled to bear witness to major events, to (it was hoped) solemnly contemplate the world we made. As a result, when something like the Watergate hearings occurred, they were televised on every channel. You didn’t have a choice but to watch. You’d just have to wait to catch up on As The World Turns, or find out if Kojak had cracked his latest case – or watch Sesame Street. Because PBS preempted its programming as well.
I won’t lie to you, Constant Reader, three-year-old me was mad. A tantrum-throwing, screaming bundle of white hot rage. I knew nothing of the history of the moment – I only knew that Sesame Street was supposed to be on, and it wasn’t, and I was an utterly impossible monster as a result.
Well, here we are, all these many years later. (Okay, forty six years later, we can do the math here.) Unlike Nixon, who had the sense to resign and get us back to our regularly scheduled programming, our current president’s travails have gone all the way to a full trial in the Senate. Although it’s again being televised, the multitude of other channels available to us these days means that we can avoid the hearings altogether, or watch them filtered through our preferred commentators, or view a recap several hours later. No, these days, the people throwing tantrums about being forced to watch these impeachment hearings are the Senators whose job it is to hold them. The ones who’ve been observed, at this pivotal moment in our history, passing notes to each other and doing crossword puzzles and napping.
They know who they are.
I’m actually not going to take anybody to task if they’re not watching the impeachment hearings. We have far, far more ways to educate ourselves these days, more ways to stay connected to the world around us, then were available to us in those lost days of 1974. But they only actually work if we use them with some measure of intelligence and maturity. In other words, we can’t behave like three year olds throwing temper tantrums. Or, y’know, like United States Senators.
Let’s be better than that, shall we?