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The "Nuclear" Family
in the Visual Age
that I have always imagined "family" in such nuclear terms
is quite profound when I consider my experience with the visual media.
Television has played a key role in my growing up and continues to
be a source of images that I constantly compare my own experiences
to. I watched much less television than my peers did, however, I am
inclined to think that my perceptions and ideas have been greatly influenced
by the images there everyday. The years of my life dabble in my mind,
one year fusing into the next. Although I have memories of people along
the way, I relate experiences directly to them in order to remember
when they occurred. Each memory I recall here remains vividly a part
of me . . . a reminder of who I am.
My first memories are from the first few weeks in kindergarten. One day, when
I arrived at the classroom, I could see a television set up at the front of
the room. Nothing could have excited me more, especially because I didn't watch
much television at my house, nor did we own a VCR. When the movie started,
we all knew that it was a Disney flick, so the excitement mounted. Mrs. Winkler
had decided to show us fire-safety videos with Donald Duck and his three nephews.
I don't remember feeling bad until I realized that my family could die if we
had a fire in our house. We didn't have any escape routes, ladders, or drafted
plans. My parents had never even talked about fire, so suddenly I was in a
panic that I had never experienced before. My classmates must have felt the
same way because we talked about fire after the movie. Most of us didn't understand
how it could be started, and the movie didn't really explain it very well.
I have a little recollection of talking to my parents about the video when
I got home. My mom told me that we didn't need escape plans or ladders.
I next remember all of the festivities that were surrounding the Summer Olympics
in Los Angeles in 1984. My uncle, Mike, was a graduate student at UCLA at the
time. I recall my mother's excitement at the prospect of going to the Games
and seeing an event. My dad was to stay with us while my mom went there for
the weekend. I do remember watching some of the less popular events on television,
hoping to spot my mom in the crowd. I was so excited when she returned because
she gave me my first "real" watch, with hands. I learned how to tell
time that summer with my new "Sam the Olympic Eagle" timepiece. It
was one of those things that I associated with the entire Olympic Games.
The most tragic national event of my childhood was the explosion of the Space
Shuttle Challenger in January of 1985. We had just finished our morning prayers
and pledge when we were notified over the intercom system of the explosion.
I was in one of the few classrooms that was not watching the takeoff live on
television. It was so high-profile because of the female pilot, Christa McCaulif,
on board. Her involvement in the public elementary school system in New Hampshire
was unprecedented by any other astronaut. In the moments following the explosion,
I wondered what it must be like to lose your mother like that. I think every
kid who remembers that day went home from school and hugged their moms a little
tighter. The television coverage of it was extensive, and the news reports
of floating body parts and fuselage was very upsetting to me. I tried to envision
the wreck and it made me sick to think about.
In the same way, I vividly remember George Bush's announcement on television
of the Persian Gulf conflict. I was my best friend's birthday, and she was
upset that her day was marked with such sad feelings. It was my first encounter
with the idea of my brothers being shipped off to combat. I prayed every night
that the conflict would be swift and decisive so that my family would not directly
feel the effect of having family sent to fight. My brothers, Chris and Matt,
were about twelve and nine years old respectively, at the time. I had visions
of the conflict lasting for ten years and seeing my brothers off to Iraq. It
was a scary time for me because of all of the unknowns. I thought about the
kids who had to say good-bye to their families and head to some distant place,
all by themselves. Some of them were going to die, and they knew it. It was
sobering to think of their situation and what their families must have been
feeling. I just knew that I didn't want to lose family members in such a way.
The sense of loss was a prospect too great to deal with because of the relationships
I have with my brothers.
In August of 1995, I packed up two trunks and few boxes an moved my life 3,000
miles from my home. I was not intimidated or shy, just a little insecure and
nervous about what was in store for the next four years of my life. It was
a truly monumental experience for me. I had visions of my parents taking me
to my dorm, helping me unpack, and waving to me as they drove away. Unlike
my dreams, I was forced to say good-bye to my father and two brothers at the
airport in Reno. Only my mother could make the trip with me and she was with
me for four days, while most parents only stayed for two. I was so excited
to be meeting people that I paid little attention to her. On the evening before
her flight was scheduled to leave Syracuse, we had a tearful, anger-ridden,
conversation about the roles we would be assuming with this life change. I
was mad because I felt that she was infringing upon the excitement of my new
experiences. She was hurt by the fact that I wanted to be so far away from
her for so long. I really believe that my perception of the college experience
was most closely formed by the images I saw on Beverly Hills 90210 and Friends.
The shows depicted people in their early twenties, enjoying the carefree, worry-free
life. They were surrounded with their best friends and had time to worry about
frivolous things like their clothes, hair, and boyfriends. I became very aware
of the depiction of college, and post-college, life. No other single influence
in my life was more effective in creating my ideas of college-life than those
programs. I watched more television in when I was in high school, so I had
pre-conceived notions of how college was going to be.
After I said good-bye to my mom that morning, I fell victim to a problem that
plagues freshman girls in college. I had watched enough television to know
what was defined as beautiful in American culture. I became obsessed with clothes
and material things, but was also silently battling anorexia nervosa. I spent
my first year in college comparing myself to characters on television. I wanted
to be more thin than any of the women I saw on the sitcoms we watched in the
lounge of the dorm every week. I ate about 200 calories a day for over 4 months.
I exercised incessantly, and felt an eerie high when someone commented on how
thin I was. This carried over into comparing myself with other girls on campus,
as well as magazine and newspaper advertisements. I remember thinking to myself
one morning in November of 1995 that I would weight 20 pounds more than I did
for just have one ounce of self-respect . . . and it was a breakthrough. It
has become my easy for me to see how silly it is to compare myself to other
people. I now have the ability to watch television shows and understand that
it is just that: a television show . . . .not real life! The media's definition
of beauty is defined solely on physicality's, and it affects insecure, young
people. It still haunts me everyday because it devastated my parents and friends,
as well as my body. You never truly heal from it, you just learn how to cope.
My earlier memories were probably more influenced by what I saw others doing,
than by media images. However, I am definitely a product of the visual age
because I have experienced feelings and emotions that come from comparing your
own experiences to the ideal lifestyles portrayed on television. My concept
of family has not been radically altered my the visual media, however. I still
believe that the "nuclear" family is an attainable thing . . . I
live in one.
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