Ralph Gardner Jr: A TV Timeout | WAMC

Ralph Gardner Jr: A TV Timeout

Jan 25, 2020

I couldn’t pick a worse time to take a vacation. I’m speaking only in terms of all the great TV I’m probably going to miss. The Super Bowl. The Iowa caucuses. The Oscars. The Trump Impeachment trial. And I’ll be gone for only a week.

We’re lucky to be heading south, the TV timeout aside. The house we’re renting in the British Virgin Islands may well have Internet. But that’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get American programming.

Even when I’m on the road in the United States – and I literally mean on the road, in our car – and there’s some event I simply must see, such as a much anticipated tennis match at the U.S. Open or, recently, one or two of the more compelling witnesses at the House Impeachment hearings – doing so typically requires negotiating a phalanx of websites and passwords and if that proves successful being plagued by spotty and occasionally non-existent reception.

It’s hard to say which event I’ll miss seeing most. They’re all important to me in one way or another. I like to think that distinguishes me as a well-rounded person, enchanted by culture in its myriad manifestations.

I’m not sure my children see it the same way. My daughters, who are traveling with us, think that the TV blackout presents a golden opportunity to read a book. They see our vacation as a welcome respite from the hostilities roiling the Republic.

I see where they’re coming from. But I can do both -- read a book on the beach and then, come sunset be brought up to speed on the day’s events by The Newshour on PBS, accompanied by some liquid refreshment.

Missing the Super Bowl will particularly smart. There are few events that any longer unite the country, that remind us of all we’ve accomplished as a nation of immigrants over the last 243 years, as much as men smashing heads and prancing in the end zone while we gorge on hot dogs and potato salad and rank the ads and halftime show.

I’m not sure why I’ll miss the Oscars, this year once again forgoing a host. The opening monologue is typically the best part. While I’m reluctant to admit it, I’ve even come to enjoy the Red Carpet. The show itself always disappoints. But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a reassuring ritual and one that, at my advanced age, allows me to connect the dots in my life from Bob Hope hosting in the Sixties, to Johnny Carson in the Eighties, to Billy Crystal and Chris Rock in more recent years.

The Iowa caucuses on Monday, February 3rd will probably deliver the most acute case of FOMA – fear of missing out. I’m a political junkie – if you’re not at this moment in American history you’re probably not sentient, as well as abandoning your solemn duty as a citizen – and Iowa officially kicks off the campaign season. I admit that it seems to have been underway for a while already.

Also, I want to know who wins. Will Joe Biden triumph? That would probably suggest his popular support genuine since my understanding is that other candidates have better ground games. Would a Bernie Sanders victory suggest that a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont with a Brooklyn accent has a genuine shot at the Presidency? How will Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg fare? Might Amy Klobuchar surprise?

At least I’ll be back for the New Hampshire primary the following Tuesday.

I’m less concerned about President Trump’s impeachment trial. Actually, I’m extremely concerned about it. But by the time we depart it will already be 12 days old. The process will probably have settled into a groove unless Mitch McConnell has figured out how to short-circuit it; though with President Trump you can fairly well count on him doing something, whether it’s to his advantage or detriment, to gin up the ratings.

I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that with Trump it’s all about the ratings. The wall-to-wall analysis and psychoanalysis provided by the media is overthinking the situation, even if it’s good for their own ratings.

Wondering whether the President’s attacks, insults and tantrums are the result of some infantile insecurity, a warped soul, or to his supporters refreshing norn-busting bravery, is how we stay hooked.

I have no doubt that going on vacation, even going cold turkey on the news for a mere week, is a healthy lifestyle choice. Especially if one manages to do so somewhere separated, however modestly, from American culture, from the daily drama deranging our nation.

Also, nature – whether it’s the woods around our home or the coral reefs of the Caribbean – has a way of grounding you. Reminding you that the real show, where we humans play infinitesimal roles, is actually much larger and more spiritually rewarding than the one being broadcast on Fox, CNN and MSNBC.

Yet, nature, too, at least in this suburb of the solar system, hangs increasingly in the balance. Who we send to the White House come next November will also affect the fate of the planet. Nonetheless, it won’t hurt to take a week off.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.