Put on Tarzan

There is a story in my family about my grandfather, which comes from the 1950s or perhaps the 1960s, when he was not a grandfather but only the father of three girls. It’s not a long story; they had a television and would sometimes watch it. He had a habit of occasionally, and out of the blue, telling his children to put Tarzan on it.

They would then explain, once again, “but Daddy, you can’t just put Tarzan on. You have wait until they broadcast it.” The way the story is told, I suspect that he knew it perfectly well, and was only teasing his children. In my own experience young children never grow tired of telling their parents things that their parents already know, and a parent pretending to not know something makes for a game that’s a little bit like a baby bird learning to flap its wings.

The very curious thing about this story is how dated it was. When I was a boy, the story required no explanation, for television was still broadcast over radio waves at the time, on a schedule, and if you missed a broadcast you had no way of seeing it again. (Incidentally, when I explained that format of watching shows to my then-five-year-old son, the look of horror on his face was priceless.) This story made perfect sense to me without any explanation.

From what I understand there are still companies using the broadcast television model, though mainly over cables rather than over radio waves, though even that is, so I hear, still going on a little bit. However, the predominant way in which children watch video these days is all video-on-demand over the internet. Whether it’s Netflix or Amazon or Disney+ or YouTube or one of several others, the dominant way a child watches a cartoon is to think of what cartoon he wants to watch, go to the appropriate player, and hit play. Not everything is on streaming services, of course, which is why the DVD and Blu-Ray disks exist; they require a bit more exercise to put into the blu-ray player, but, barring one having a more important obligation, one can still watch whatever one is in the mood for, at approximately the moment one wants to watch it.

This is a story that I will no doubt pass on to my own children, but it is curious that I will have to include an explanation that what will sound perfectly natural to them was actually a joke at the time.

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