It’s Week 2 of the No Television Experiment.
So far, I’ve missed The Beach Boys and Glen Campbell on the Grammy Awards and the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC.
Those are just the things my friends made sure I knew I’d missed. I was talking to the Ol’ Gunslinger last night on the Hillbilly Communications Network, legendary for the dropped call.
Back in the day, the Ol’ Gunslinger and I loaded our amplifiers in and out of many skeevy nightclubs. He is a wise and wily scoundrel, and, like most musicians, usually having serious fun. He was fired up about seeing Glen Campbell on the Grammy show.
“After his song, Glen Campbell didn’t know the mic was still on, and he said something like, ‘Am I supposed to say something, or just get out of the way?’ It was great.”
I gave the Gunslinger a brief rundown on the No Television Experiment. He was not impressed.
“You’re not going to turn into some kind of hipster, are you? I mean, you quit watching TV and the next thing you know you’re wearing hipster clothes and listening to bad music. And then you’ll fall in love with some crazy girl who likes The Smiths and it’s all over. I’ve seen this before.”
Yep. The O.G. had seen it all, and his cynical wisdom was bracing. But, before I had a chance to defend myself, the call dropped, and I returned to my book.
I’m currently reading At Home, a collection of Gore Vidal essays published in 1988. It’s the third volume of Vidal essays I’ve cracked since the beginning of the No Television Experiment.
Vidal has written well on the subject of television, a medium of which he is fiercely critical, but which has served his career in a splendid manner, I think. (Let it be noted that Vidal writes well about everything. One might not agree with his arguments, but they are always masterfully composed, and give excellent entertainment value. The delight with which he eviscerates those who dare abuse the language is contagious. I cannot imagine a fate worse than being labeled “second-rate” by Mr. Vidal. This is the adjective he reserves for serious offenders in all walks of life.)
Let’s say it, there are many who dislike Vidal because he is (at 86, Vidal very much is) a Damned Know-It-All, doubly damned in his country of birth for being an unapologetic “homosexualist” as well as a smarty-pants.
In his early prime, Vidal battled other heavyweight talking heads on network TV. These brawls with the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Mailer are definitely worth a look. (Check out Buckley and Vidal at the 1968 Democratic convention. Wild times in the ol’ Republic!)
Vidal’s essays serve up what the novelist William S. Burroughs called the “naked lunch.” Here is Burroughs on capital punishment:
As always the lunch is naked. If civilized countries want to return to Druid Hanging Rites in the Sacred Grove or to drink blood with the Aztecs and feed their Gods with blood of human sacrifice, let them see what they actually eat and drink. Let them see what is on the end of that long newspaper spoon.
In 1987, Vidal wrote a piece for Newsweek about Oliver North and the Iran-Contra hearings. The hearings, Vidal noted, would make North “the nation’s number one daytime television star.”
He concluded the piece with a characteristic swing of The Big Bat:
[North] will be a celebrity forever and will enjoy the friendship of Pat Boone. On the other hand, we, the TV audience (and that is really all that we are – passive viewers and active consumers), will be living on in a republic that no longer works, its political system burnt out and its resources wasted during the reign of an actor whom we allowed so unwisely to step off the screen and into the White House.
Going, going, gone! Outta here! Vidal has been hitting home runs with stunning regularity for more than half a century. Grudgingly, one suspects, he was honored with a National Book Award in 1993 for United States (1952–1992), a collection of essays. The lesson being, I suppose, that honesty will not win you a lot of prizes in Der Homeland (crypto-fascism, anyone?).
Let it be noted that I do not always write well, and have spent far too many hours of my existence staring into lighted boxes. But there is no better corrective than reading Gore Vidal.
A new Broadway production of Gore Vidal’s political drama The Best Man is in the works. James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury star. Previews begin March 6.