I’m a little late on the advice topic, and part of the reason for this is that I was trying to think of who gave me good advice growing up. And much as I hate to say this, and as silly as it seems, I’m going to have to say I learned a lot from the boob tube. Yes, you heard right.

My father was extremely laid back, and my mom was not really suited for parenthood. That’s not to say she wasn’t a good mother–but she was high-strung and not particularly patient and very emotional. My discipline was not the most consistent. And we were a Chinese American family, with Chinese American customs and habits. I only knew what “normal” American families were like from watching TV. I lived in Kansas, not particularly a hotbed of diversity although having a university helped a lot.


I watched way too much TV. Cartoons from “Transformers” to “G.I. Joe.” TV shows like “Battlestar Galactica,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Knight Rider,” “Star Trek” and “Dukes of Hazzard.” Heck, I even went through a period where I was addicted to the soap opera “Santa Barbara.” You’d think that all this TV would warp my brain, wouldn’t you? It probably has. I think I watched at least three hours a night.

But to my surprise, I am a functioning human being. I actually discovered, through television, that women could be strong and brave and smart all at the same time. I discovered that my life was just one of many ways to live, and that was okay. I found out about different cultures, different mores, different places. I learned that not all kids had to play piano and be good at math. When I think of what advice I got as a child, I have to admit I have as examples TV sitcom parents from “Family Ties” and “Growing Pains” and “The Cosby Show” and, later, “Full House.” I think of quotes from some of my favorite characters: “The day is always darkest just before it goes totally black” (from Hannibal Smith on “The A-Team”). Or “The great thing about crayons is, they can take you more places than a starship” (from Guinan on “Star Trek: The Next Generation). “Things are always changing, but don’t be sad and blue–change can make you happy ’cause it brings you something new” (Ernie, I believe, from “Sesame Street”).

I certainly didn’t learn everything from TV. But when it comes to advice–to actual tips on living and parenting and loving given by people I trusted–I have to confess that TV was my oracle. Kind of pathetic, I know. But that’s what I remember from my childhood, and I do not for one minute doubt that those idealized, stereotyped, escapist images influenced my outlook as deeply as any other aspect of life.

Advertisements