05 November 2005

Chabon's a Nostalgic Buffoon

Michael Chabon, author of debatable greats like The Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, lives in a past that doesn't belong to him.

Now before I continue, I have to say Chabon is exactly the kind of feature writer I enjoy reading, because he isn't afraid to take a stand on issues. He's highly vocal and that makes him admirable. But, I think Kavalier and Clay was possibly one of the most convoluted books I've ever read; the story's great, but there's no reason to use a one-page paragraph to describe/list every detail of a piece of paper.

But, I digress.

There is a debate currently circulating about whether the flood of new television technologies is ushering in a new Golden Age of Television. Chabon, in true form, has jumped into this debate with a tremendously weak argument: Modern television technology doesn't present the lack of control that Golden Age television technologies did, so we can't compare the two.

Now, he backs up his assertion with stories of him and his family huddled around their black and white TV, getting only one chance to watch a program before it disappeared forever. He reminisces about the rabbit ears. He reminisces in a fashion that makes you think he actually grew up in the Golden Age.

Not true!

Michael Chabon was born in 1963, five years after the Golden Age of Television ended.

How can he speak of television as though he were a character out of one of his historical novels? I wouldn't have a problem with his analysis of the current television age if he hadn't tried to come from his "experience."

Now, I don't have problems with someone who grew up in poverty, in fact that's my roots. But, color televisions were taking homes by storm by the time Chabon was watching TV, so why all his chatter about huddling around a black and white boob tube. Could his family not afford one?

Michael Chabon, you were not born in the 1920s or 1930s. You write well from that perspective, but don't cross the line between fiction and nonfiction.

My apologies to Michael Chabon if he isn't the same Michael Chabon who wrote the article for Details magazine.


Robert Casserly said...

Interesting post.

I was just talking about TV history today while watching football with my wife's pop. I was thinking back to how when I used to watch something, say a movie that I missed or was too young to see in theater...and I think back in the day I watched TV more intensely, more as an active participant somehow, because once it was broadcast you had no way to see it again until someone decided to rerun it. There was no Internet, no video store, no instant access to a zillion movies.

I have no idea what this means, if anything.

Kyle Stich said...

No, I think you hit Chabon's point on the head, Robert, although you offered it in a more straight-forward, non-Fifties way. Television viewers until the mid-Eighties had no control over what programming they watched, so they hung onto every transmitted bit.

This is still true to some extent (can you say American Idol?). Unless a viewer has the will power to wait to watch the latest episode of Lost on their TiVo, they still plan their week around the initial airing.

My main beef with Chabon was more the way he depicted an early Fifties version of television viewing as though it were his own experience, when he wasn't even a sparkle in his parents' eyes yet.