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History and Appliances: I Love the Gilded Age

Tags: Turkelectronics, a worry-free histo-tainment experience, that episode of The A-Team where Boy George played himself.

If you’re reading my colleague Bill Turkel’s routinely brilliant Digital History Hacks, you’ve already seen his recent posts on Luddism and history appliances . (And if you aren’t, why aren’t you? He won an award, you know.) Bill’s “history appliances” series starts like this:

Imagine wandering into your living room after a day of work. You sit down in your chair and turn a dial to 1973. The stereo adjusts automatically, streaming Bob Marley, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Jim Croce. LCD panels hanging on the wall switch to display Roberto Matta’s Jazz Bande and Elizabeth Murray’s Wave Painting. If you check your TV listings, you’ll find Mean Streets, Paper Moon, American Graffiti, The Sting, Last Tango in Paris … even Are You Being Served? In your newspaper you find stories about the cease-fire in Vietnam, about Watergate, about Skylab, about worldwide recession and OPEC and hostilities in the Middle East. If you want to read a novel instead, you might try Gravity’s Rainbow or Breakfast of Champions.

Sounds pretty swell, doesn’t it? And he and I have had some fun conversations about history appliances we might actually get constructed. But allow me to offer an alternate scenario:

Imagine wandering into your living room after a day of work. You sit down in your chair and turn a dial to 1973. Nothing happens.

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The Bochco Code

When I was a child, I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons

I felt a little queasy when I saw the following article in the NYT Magazine: “Watching TV Makes You Smarter.” Not that it isn’t a good article; it is. It’s about the cognitive demands placed on viewers by today’s complex multi-threaded television shows: The Sopranos, Deadwood, yadda yadda yadda. Hill Street Blues gets a nod as the big innovator of multi-threaded arc-within-arc storytelling, though the structure obviously comes from soap operas and from serialized fiction before that (as Jonathan Dresner notes).
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Blame Canada

I just got back from Upper Canada, where it was -30° C in the daytime, and the following bit of video from the time of George Bush’s Ottawa visit was making the rounds. It’s Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson taking a few cheap shots at Canadians while some gormless backbencher clucks feebly in the Dominion’s defense. I must warn you, the clip does neither country any credit. And it’s not nearly as satisfying as the justly famous video of Jon Stewart schooling Tucker on Crossfire. But you can go watch it now, in Quicktime or Windows Media. I’ll wait.

Are you back? OK. Yes. I know. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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