Bad Habits - Surfing in shallow channels - February 03 2005

Does content of programming affect content of character?

As a 4-year-old, I used to raise eyebrows among my parents' friends by telling them I went to Martin Luther King Kindergarten. It was the early '70s in the cradle of the Confederacy, Charleston, S.C., and this bit of information marked my parents as progressives, not to mention that they'd gone to see Charlie Pride when he came to town.

Unfortunately, I didn't actually attend MLK Kindergarten. I only went to Martin Luther Kindergarten up at the Lutheran church. But see, I didn't know who plain-old Martin Luther was. Whereas I'd seen plenty of Martin Luther King on the evening news and on PBS, which my mom propped me up in front of every morning before she left for work.

Like I said, it was the early '70s. So there was no Nickelodeon or movies on demand. Just ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, and if the weather was bad, sometimes not even those channels. Cartoons came on once a day. Had they come on more often maybe I would have missed the shows on Dr. King - or failed to learn the alphabet. But I hadn't and was proud that I went to (in my mind, anyway) Martin Luther King Kindergarten; somehow I felt linked to goodness, destined for achievement. And it depresses me a little that King doesn't get more fanfare on his holiday.

On MLK Day, I couldn't even find a show about the man. It may be because as much as I flipped, I kept getting stuck on VH1. That channel really loves the '70s. And the '80s. And the '90s. How did I forget so much about the '90s in such a short time? And those celebrity reality shows are awesome.

Especially the one with the midget. I like that almost as much as the program about the jungle fever-style romance between Flava Flav and Brigitte Nielsen. That one is so good it literally made me dumber - in just 30 minutes. (Seriously, Chuck D, if you're reading, can't you do anything?) And I really hope Vince Neil gets (back?) into shape. But I can't remember what channel that's on, so I may never know.

I only wish Dr. King were around to be on one of those celebreality TV shows. I have a great idea: "Who Can Provoke Dr. King to Violence?"

The main reason I think it'd be great is that my boyfriend could handily win a cool million. I imagine Dr. King in robe and slippers and fedora simmering outside the bathroom door as Kevin spends 30 minutes in the shower and then another half-hour getting ready.

When Kevin finally came out, I feel certain Dr. King would whack him in the back of the head with his hat. No one can live happily with a man who takes that long to get ready, at least not without the occasional skirmish. Surprisingly, my boyfriend also enjoys thinking about this reality show because he believes MLK would yell less than I do.

I know. I know. I shouldn't write these sorts of things. Dr. King would never do a reality show. Marty King? Maybe, but Dr. King? No. He was one of those guys obsessed with dignity and self-respect, that stuff we don't worry about too much anymore.

In truth, I spend a little too much time wondering what King or John Lennon would think of "The Swan" or "Big Brother" or Iraq. I'm not fantasizing about the resurrection of relentless scolds. I enjoy the guilty pleasure as much as the next guy. I'm just thinking about a few people who might help us put things in perspective, who might provide some balance. When King and Lennon fell, there wasn't anyone to take their place. Just a vacuum created only to be filled by lesser channels.

Oh, hold on a sec: VH1 is revisiting the '90s again. Hey, do you think Dr. King would look as good in a track suit as Biz Markie? And there's Dionne Warwick, Madame Cleo and the Psychic Friends Network.

It looks like someone saw the future all right. And you can forget about content of character, characters of content and the content of your programming.


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