Skip to content

Old Things That Are Tough to Explain: You Could Only Watch It Once

July 16, 2016
(image via wikimedia)

If you were lucky, this was in color.  (image via wikimedia)

“It won’t fast forward!” my youngest daughter complained as she waved the remote control at the television and dvr box.

“That’s because the show is live,” my oldest daughter said.

My youngest looked exasperated.  She has been accustomed to watching recorded programs or videos uploaded on sites like YouTube.  The concept of a television show being broadcast sometimes doesn’t make sense to her.  She understands it, but she forgets every once in a while, and then she gets mad.  I don’t know if she gets mad because she can’t fast-forward or because she forgot she can’t fast-forward.

“That’s stupid,” she said and flung the remote onto the couch.

When I was a kid, I told her, we didn’t even have remotes.  You had to get up and change the channel.  And that wasn’t even the worst of it. There was no vcr or dvr.  If you really enjoyed a scene on TV, all you had was the memory of it.  You couldn’t go back and rewatch it.

If somebody at home interrupted the show, or stood in front of the television, you couldn’t go back to see what you missed.  If you disagreed with another viewer about something that happened or what a character said, you couldn’t go back and replay it to prove who was right.  All you could do was argue.

I would have stopped there, but my youngest had lost interest and was staring at her phone.  It rubbed me the wrong way, so I kept on lecturing.

Once a television show was broadcast, that was it, I kept explaining.  You weren’t ever going to see it again, unless it was on syndication years later or you caught in during a rare rerun.  I once missed the second part of a two-parter of Welcome Back Kotter, and I never saw it.  At the time, I was probably eight, I really wanted to see it.  It’s going to haunt me until I… not really.  I don’t care now.

You had the same problem with movies too.  Once the movie left the theater, it was done.  You might never see it again.  It was frustrating hearing about great movies that I’d never see. I was certain I’d never see The Godfather.  I’d never see Animal House.  Nobody knew that cable television was just a few years away.  When we finally got cable, the first thing everybody watched was Animal House.  It was great, but the nudity had been exaggerated.

At the time, theaters had only one screen, and a movie might stay for one or two weekends, and that was it.  When the multi-cinemas started getting built, that was a big deal.  Our multi-theater (when our area finally got one) had four screens.  We could select from FOUR movies on any given night!! That was awesome!

The first movie I saw more than once was the original Star Wars in the late 1970s.  A lot of people saw that movie twice.  That might have been the first movie that lots of people saw more than once.  Now I can watch it on my phone whenever I want.

While I was speaking to my daughter, I thought of a movie my older brother used to describe scenes from, a 1970s classic called Flesh Gordon.  I didn’t mention this one to my daughter.  The title Flesh Gordon tells you most of what you need to know.  My brother’s descriptions of the movie were hilarious.  I’m sure I could watch Flesh Gordon now if I wanted to, but I won’t.  It won’t live up to the expectations that my brother built up in me.

I explained to my daughter that the television networks would run movies during prime time, but those had lots of commercials.  I think I saw my first James Bond movies on network television.  They always went to commercial when the movie was getting interesting.  Late night, you could watch old black-and-white movies, but I wasn’t interested, and it was past my bedtime.

I was going to explain that back then we honed our story-telling abilities by retelling what we’d seen on television and the movies.  We used our imagination to picture what our friends and siblings had seen and what we had missed.

My daughter hadn’t looked at me the entire time I was lecturing her.  I knew I had overdone it, but I was making a point.  My daughter was holding her phone up in my direction so that it blocked her face, but then she’d peek up at me and then stare at her screen again, and I finally realized what she was doing.

“Why are you recording me?” I said.

She tapped the phone and set it aside.  “So you can watch yourself talk about how when you were a kid you couldn’t watch anything more than once.  I’ll send it to you, and you can watch this whenever you want.”

My oldest daughter laughed (I’d forgotten she was in the room) and said, “That’s very meta.”

I haven’t watched my video, and I’m not sure I ever will.  My lecture probably wasn’t as good as my memory of it.


What do you think?  What movie or television show did you miss out on watching when you were a kid?  Has anybody seen Flesh Gordon?


For more about old things that are tough to explain, read Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: Research Before The Internet.

From → Pop culture

  1. I actually own Flesh Gordon on DVD. Parts of it are very funny.

    Another thing that I remember about being able to watch things only when they were broadcast is the fights I used to have with my sister about what to watch, when we wanted different things that were on at the same time.

  2. Oh man, that’s cold, as we used to say back in the day. My daughters are still too young to be cold that way. Funny how cool and cold are pretty close to the same thing, but the connotation is so different. I want to stop time from going forward.

  3. happyfreeconfusedlonelyatthesametime permalink

    Don’t watch flesh Gordon. It’s not a good movie.

    I’m still pretty young so I don’t really feel you. When I grew up, we already had a vcr so I could fast forward whenever I wanted too 😀

  4. It was Horshack’s wedding, right? Jimmy Carter interrupted it with some stupid speech.

    • That’s hilarious! Stuff like that was the end of the world.

      • Political speeches were (almost) the worst.

        The Watergate hearings preempted afternoon cartoons for months, but at least we kids knew they were running the same cartoons over and over, so we’d eventually see them again. Still, I was pretty mad at Watergate back then.

    • Horshack got married? I don’t remember that at all! Ha ha!

      My family had a prior commitment, so we weren’t home when the episode (whatever it was about) was on. All I remember is that it was a two-parter (I think).

  5. your kids are awesome. very meta indeed

  6. H. L. Jaden permalink

    We don’t have a TV in our home (yes, you read that correctly) but we stream music all the time. I have a similar conversation with my daughters when we listen to an actual radio. They don’t understand why they can’t skip a song on the radio.
    And don’t get me started about trying to explain to them why we wanted to play Super Mario brothers when it looked so horrible. (My oldest actually asked me what was wrong with it when she saw it for the first time.)

  7. I’m probably a little older, but gotta correct you about Star Wars being the first movie a lot of people watched twice.

    Theaters would often run the same movie, or the same double feature, all day. It wasn’t unusual for someone with a day to kill to just enjoy the air conditioning all day, seeing it two or three times. No one cleared out the theater in between unless it was crowded with a really popular movie.

    I can also remember when theater popcorn was reasonably fresh and not ridiculously priced.

    For a long time into the 1980s, after cable tv and VCRs became common, there were many second-run and “art house” theaters showing old movies. Mostly dead now, like half the people I knew then.

    If your daughters have any patience, get them to watch this, about the REALLY old movies:

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Five Ways To Defeat The Screens | Dysfunctional Literacy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: