Like most folks of my generation, I’ve never done much more than glance at a soap opera, but when I read the news that “As the World Turns” would be cancelled after a 59 year run, I was reminded of my grandmother. An immigrant, Nana acclimatized herself to North American culture by becoming a great fan of baseball, Muhammad Ali, and “ATWT.” No matter how hectic her day might be, you could bet dollars to donuts that when 2 PM rolled around, Nana would stop whatever she was doing, put up her feet, light up a cigarette, and turn on the tube.
Something tells me her own life, one that began on a hard scrabble farm in Ireland and revolved around the raising of 7 children, wasn’t quite as glamorous as some of the protagonist who graced her black and white set. Even if she couldn’t identify all that closely with the afternoon adultery set, she studied them to gain an understanding of her new world.
There is something mildly ironic that, as I type this note from a coffee shop in Shenzhen, China, I can’t escape the noise of the flat screen TV which is blasting the all too familiar and all too disturbing theme song (cue heavy violins) of CNN’s “The Situation Room.” Yesterday, as I tried to run away from mid-life on a treadmill in Hong Kong, the ever-present screen (Orwell was right!) showed “Sunday Night Football” live from Giants Stadium. (Good news: The Eagles beat the G-men!)
What does it all mean? Had Nana immigrated today, she’d probably surf the net, read “The Irish Times,” and watch Radio Television Eire (RTE) on line. While all of that might have been a reassuring comfort, I’m not sure it would have helped with her transition. I wonder, too, if today’s immigrants will be as inclined to immerse themselves in the collective cultural narrative, a source of which was once as pervasive and innocuous as “ATWT.” Something tells me that tuning in to “Jerry Springer” isn’t quite the same…