Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does Black Flag's "TV Party" Have Even More Relevance In Today's Society?

This is one song that slays me every single time I put on Black Flag's Damaged album and honestly, it takes a lot of discipline not to finger my way straight to the cut since the entire album is boss.

What a freakin' riot, though. Black Flag's commentary on apathy was inspired by Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys' similar panache for squashing all over a detached, unconcerned society--and you're talking about the eighties, man. As a Gen X'er, I can vouch we had more to do than today's generation, however that comes with a caveat. We didn't have as many tech-oriented gizmos to vedge out with, and we were encouraged to get outside and play football, jog, skateboard, BMX bike, fish, ski and throw rocks at abandoned buildings--the last activity being non-sanctioned events, of course. We did, however, have Atari and Colecovision, so we were often indoors, sad to say.

We were a bunch of t.v. junkies, even when there was nothing in our reach beyond VHF and UHF, the latter being a crapshoot of non-network independent stations which were subject to snowy screens and shaky resolution. Cable television was a gift (and a curse) when it arrived, even more so when VHS arrived, since laser discs and Beta ended up being the primitive test dummies for home video.

Once we had television that looked good on an everyday basis, it was a matter of hooking up with friends whose families had cable t.v. or VCR's and sure enough, it did become a t.v. party in many instances. I had a buddy whose family was the first to own a VCR in the neighborhood and that's where we congregated. We gathered en masse and kicked his family out of the living room so we could watch MTV or videos of horror flicks like Friday the 13th, Halloween II, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Microwave Massacre, Pieces and other things we knew the parents hated. Somehow they were cool about us 14 and 15 year old mad dogs watching them, though I doubt they took kindly to us passing around their gin like the sloppy, amateur would-be drunks we were.

Somehow, though, there was a balance to it all. We'd be outside playing Redline for hours, no matter how older we got as teenagers, and there was always the strategy (speaking from a male perspective) of encouraging girls into the woods on a seemingly innocuous hike just to try our luck, if you get me. Of course you do.

Okay, so I'm kind of straying from the intent of Black Flag's "TV Party," since the inherent message is a swat at rednecks, stoners, punk dregs and metal burnouts (yes, you beautiful people were included) sneaking beers and having "nothing better to do" than to turn into shitfaced vidiots. Take away their tube, and what is there to talk about? Hang out in any modern office setting and the adults are no better. What else do they talk about in a non-business capacity but what they watched on the glow box the night before? As Henry Rollins and the gang jibed, it's a big, scary world out there, so why pay attention--particularly when it's more fun to talk about who got kicked off the latest phony baloney "reality" show or who's slipping the "Bachelorette" some tube in the jacuzzi this week. Screw the war, screw the economy, screw the cure for cancer. Nihilism rules. Somehow, you get the impression the Jersey Shore "cast" (a contradiction of terms) might the logical 2.0 t.v. partiers.

Today's generation has finer television, finer definition, finer video playback equipment, finer audio, finer video games, finer everything than we did as teenagers. Hell, they can "watch" a comic book onscreen instead of actually holding one and turning the pages! Jesus wept. My generation can still attest to black and white t.v. Today's kids watch movies around their damned cell phones or on their computer monitors. Their parents (mostly my generation) are suddenly finding themselves bounced away from their mounted flat panels so their young 'uns can gnaw on pizza and pinch beers in grander style than we did. Hell, the sofas they get to flop on are better than we had!

When I see far less little kids actually playing outside than my generation did at their tender ages, I know technology has played a sort of enforcer role in keeping kids off the streets. The teenagers still get out, because nobody that age can stomach being holed inside with their parents all the time. I see them in the malls, at the movies, congregating in giant packs at convenience stores and gas stations, of all places. Then again, my generation was fond of doing laps in car parades around the perimeter of the local shopping center all night until the fuzz broke us up. Friday nights were made for catching the latest horror or comedy flick at the same strip center, waiting for the inevitable farmer fight after the show, then everyone circling around in their vehicles. Then we retreated home to Friday Night Videos on NBC. Some of us brought contraband beers and our riff raff friends until our parents reamed us out for making too much noise. Usually that was when the t.v. went off and we slipped on DRI's Dealing With It, going nuts in the house and trying to pluck our parents' nerves as DRI themselves did while recording "Mad Man," complete with the angry thumping on the door, captured for aural posterity.

Ahh, the good old days. It all comes down, as Black Flag alludes, to being young, being dumb, being unimaginative, because the tube is a reliable distraction to figuring out what your life's plan is going to be. Screw college degrees, there's time for that once they force you to declare in your freshman year. Junior and senior year in high school is all about being knuckleheads and hell, there's nothing better to do anyway, so pop a top and chug down to some tube.

I tell my kid frequently he's lucky he didn't live in our age because we only got to see The Wizard of Oz once a damn year and Scooby Doo once a day, plus we were at the mercy of the program directors which episodes got played and when. Nowadays you get to control your t.v. habits at your leisure and to whatever frequency you desire with home video, DVR and On Demand. A season of television was actually 23-26 episodes, which were interrupted by holiday programming and then repeated during the summers when folks actually went outside to have a life. Today's idea of a "season" on t.v.? 13 measley episodes. It's all about Hollywood patting itself on the back in an artificial numbers game.

At least today's kids have 700 more channels than we did. Now that's incredible, and if you didn't get that reference in the song, don't expect it to surface on DVD, Blu Ray or whatever format becomes the new rage to host your own t.v. party. Pabst is hot again with the underage crowd, but challenge them to find out what Hill Street Blues is, and I guarantee you the Jackass nation will assume it came from MTV--and not the one we grew up with. You can keep your smart phones and teen pregnancy shows, young bucks. A t.v. party used to be stupid fun highlighted by Flamingo Road, Dallas, Falcon Crest and late night reruns of Baretta and The Rockford Files. That's all we needed. Well, those and Headbangers' Ball, but they've even crapped that up nowadays as well....

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