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Suburban Island

Channel Warfare Woes
Saturday, Oct. 09, 2004, 4:08 p.m.

QUESTION: What channel are you watching?

WHAT I LEARNED: Don't answer the phone.

This is the closest you are going to probably see in the way of a political posting from me. There’s a reason for that old saying about the wisdom of never talking about religion, politics, and money. In my family we have different opinions on all of them. It never turns out right in the end when I fool myself, or am lured by others, into thinking that certain members of my family and I can actually have a civil conversation about these things. So generally being one for a little peace and quiet, I stay away for these topics – most especially politics – and most especially with my dad.

My parents and I are on different sides of the aisle when it comes to politics. I love my parents but I have come to the conclusion that no political discussion can ever be allowed to occur between us because it is demoralizing, exhausting, and, in the final analysis, totally useless anyway. This is because there is no opportunity for an actual exchange of information. My dad can be the most charming man in the world and I love him dearly. He can also be one of the must undiplomatic people ever to open up his mouth on a controversial subject. My mom agrees with him with startling consistency. Consequently, there’s not much room for civilized political insights to be exchanged before tempers start to flair.

The way I figure it we don’t have much need to really exchange information because my dad believes: 1) I am wrong anyway, 2) he know more than I do, 3) he will always know more than I do, 4) if I can’t understand points 1, 2, and 3 then I am fair game for my dad’s re-education program – a self-esteem killing, emotionally and intellectually painful lecture series which includes important reminders about how ignorant I am about political issues and during which everything that I bring forth in the conversation as pertinent will be discounted, dismissed, and denigrated. Hey, why waste time respectfully exchanging ideas when you can use that time more efficiently to just strong-arm the other person into changing their viewpoint to coincide with yours. If I would just sit there, let myself be called an uninformed idiot, accept the remedial education lecture with a few nods, and say nothing else on the matter I suppose it might work out.

I’m not very good at that. I am not actually an uninformed idiot.

So in the name of good family relationships I do not engage in these discussions unless waylaid. My dad tries to squeeze them in though and is actually pretty good at it. For instance, this summer we visited my parents on the 4th of July and my dad broke the no-discussion-of-politics rule within the first hour or two of our visit. He did this by going off into long lectures of a political nature with my son and husband and then moving them out onto the deck where I just happened to be sitting trying to relax in the sunshine. My husband and son listened politely but I reminded my dad that we had agreed not to talk about politics. He was mad – at me! Silly me – it seems talking to my family about politics doesn’t count and also he gets to talk about whatever he wants in his house anyway. Those are the rules – from his perspective. Alright – he needs to brush up on his good host skills but it is a clever approach to broaching political topics in a no-politics-allowed zone. Fireworks ensued and not the pretty kind that you see up in the sky after dark on the 4th. So much for my restful 4th of July. Another few hours of peace and quiet shot to hell.

Last week my dad waylaid me during the first presidential debate. I was a sitting duck. There I was just lounging about on the sofa, minding my own business, when the phone rang. I told my son that I did not want to talk to anybody and to just tell whoever it was that I’d call them back later. Granddad gets through anyway because he has to talk to me right now – it’s urgent. My kid is a pushover – he hands me the phone. What’s wrong – I wonder. Is mom sick? Is dad okay? Does somebody need to go to the hospital? No. Dad needs me to change the channel. Now the debate was broadcast on over 30 network and cable channels – and it seems I was not watching the right one or at least the best one. I am supposed to be watching the one that my dad must think will finally prove to me through camera angles why his candidate is the best guy for the job. Mom calls this being helpful.

I don’t want to switch the channel. I just want to watch the debate in peace. I wouldn’t mind him calling and suggesting that I take a peek at the debate as televised on C blah blah blah. However, my hackles go up when I am asked what channel I am watching the debate on, am then subjected to a can-you-hear-my-eyes-rolling scoff and then summarily told – Change the channel. Change the channel. Change the channel now.

So now I am missing the debate. This is annoying. C blah blah? CS blah blah? CN blah blah? What? Why do I have to stop what I’m doing to locate this C blah blah on our cable service? How is this helpful to me? Oh yeah, camera angles. Good camera angles and those distracting if amusing split screen shots that allow us to make fun of the candidate we don’t like. Where’s a good radio broadcast when you need one?

It seems my reluctance to have my debate watching interrupting for some political sparring with my dad via the vehicle of channel-changing has elevated me in my father’s eyes from a regular idiot to a “f***ing idiot”. As you could imagine, more words were exchanged from there. You know how f***ing idiots are. Then everybody started to sound kind of stupid. I didn’t change the channel. I hung up the phone instead.

Maybe I should have changed the channel just to keep the peace. Maybe I should have told him I did and said thank you for your excellent guidance and just gone on watching the debate on the same channel as before. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Sometimes a woman has to do what a woman has to do. This woman had to make it clear that as a 50-year old educated professional woman and mother of two will entertain polite requests but not orders to switch stations during an in-progress presidential debate. At 50, I hope that I have earned the right to watch the debate on any channel I please. As my kids used to say - You are not the boss of me.

There’s more to the story. I’ll stop the tale here for now in the interest of brevity and weekend chores.

It’s going to be a long few weeks until Election Day.


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