Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why I Heart HBO

On the eve before my beloved Game of Thrones returns, I am inspired to accomplish a post I have been thinking about for a long time.  No, it's not about Game of Thrones, although I did consider writing one of those since it's a topic of great enthusiasm for me.  Instead, it's about HBO.

HBO has been a part of my life for a long time, you see.  When I was eight, my parents decided to completely tear down the drafty old farmhouse on five acres we owned and build a new log house on the property.  My dad built the new house himself with some help from his friends and family while working full time.  This meant that while he did that, we lived in one of the apartments he bought for three years.  These apartments were my first foray into living in "town".  Now, I grew up in a town of about 6,000 people, so it wasn't like moving to New York City.  But in a way, it was.  We were now able to have cable.

When we lived in the old farmhouse, we had three channels. Cable did not come outside the city limits.  And during the winter of 1978, one of those three channels went out for months when the antenna for our local ABC affiliate went down in an ice storm.  In the apartment, cable was already set up, complete with free HBO.  I remember being amazed that there were no commercials on this foreign-to-me channel.  There was also no censorship.  There was profanity, nudity, and all kinds of violence.  Okay, so you're probably thinking that this was not the most appropriate viewing material for a child between the ages of 8 and 11.  And you're probably right.

But HBO is where I saw my first musical.  On Broadway.  Richard Harris in Camelot.  I probably watched that at least 102 times, no exaggeration.  In fact, I was a little disconcerted a few years later when I rented the movie from our local public library to see Vanessa Redgrave play Guinevere instead of Meg Bussert.  I also watched wordsmith George Carlin in concert with complete awe.  I watched my first play and documentary.  I saw the Bolshoi ballet perform.  I saw Kiss in concert!  And movies!  I watched countless movies in the days before VCRs and DVD players in a town that had one theater that we rarely visited.

Was most of it inappropriate for an nine/ten/eleven year old?  Yes.  But I loved it.  It was culture I never would have been exposed to otherwise living in a small town in the Midwest.  It began a love of theater, dance, comedy, and story that has lasted a lifetime for me.  I've been teaching for almost 20 years.  The children in the urban/high poverty school district I teach in go to their first play in kindergarten because most educators recognize the importance of experience and culture.  I didn't see a live play until I was in high school (and that was, you guessed it, a high school play) unless you count what I saw on HBO as a child.  And I do count it because it shaped who I became.  It's why later in life, I was willing to sit outside the ticket office the night of a performance of a play or ballet in order to take advantage of a last minute ticket price reduction.

The arts are important.  If you don't think so, boo to you.


 I've seen this quote by Churchill before and if he didn't really say this, I don't want to know.  It's too good.

Alas, when we moved into our new home three years later, the free HBO did not travel with us.  There were times when we had it because my dad later purchased a gargantuan satellite dish which at times offered free HBO.  I loved those free weeks.  They were the best.

Fast forward to me at age 25, very financially limited, moving into a dormer apartment my first year teaching.  My landlord, who lived on the first floor, informed me that cable was included in my rent.  He opted for the package with HBO because he liked to watch the boxing.  I remembered what it was to have this cultural wonderland for my viewing pleasure again.  I discovered the beauty of the HBO series: The Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Sex and The City, Tracy Takes On, Dennis Miller Live, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Oz. The HBO series was something new for me.  I don't think they made many series when I was a kid or maybe they were just on too late for me.   There were also new comedians to appreciate, new documentaries to be intrigued by, new live performances to enjoy.  I've managed to financially keep HBO in my life since then. 

So a toast to HBO!  Thanks for the memories and thanks for taking books like Game of Thrones and keeping (most) of the important details in them. Life is so much richer with details. (In my opinion, The Hunger Games trilogy would  have been much more loyally served with the likes of an HBO series than four rushed, two hour movies.)  Let me leave you with a Game of Thrones clip because I cannot help myself.  Trust me, your life will be culturally enriched for at least one minute and 43 seconds.  You're welcome.