As many of y’all may have gathered, my father recently passed away. He was 85 years old, and lived a full life.
He dabbled in many occupations, stayed married to my mother for over 60 years, and was able to travel extensively throughout the United States and abroad. He was a worldly man. He was also an avid reader, always reading books, albeit mostly fiction.
We didn’t agree on many things. For example, he had spent time in the South in the days of Jim Crow. He, and my mother, saw it first hand. But he never experienced the dark side of black behavior – which was the reasoning behind Jim Crow in the first place. That experience was left to me*. We did have our debates, but they never stood in the way of our love for each other.
Toward the end, as Parkinson’s pealed away the layers of his mind, he was subject to hallucinations and delusions, which required medication and constant supervision. I spent many sleepless nights by his side.
During those nights, and often during the day, I would gain insights into how Parkinson’s was affecting his mind. His speech patterns sometimes reverted to those of the 1950s. He increasingly craved traditional Jewish foods, which he hadn’t tasted for decades, and rarely before showed a fondness for.
But what especially struck me was the manner in which he reacted to certain delusions. You see, he watched a lot of television in his later years.
One night, he sat up from his bed with an urgency. I asked him what he needed to do. He responded very much as if he was a hero character from a television show. He said, “I’m going to save the world.”
In the world of television, there’s always a crisis going on, and there’s always a quick solution, furnished by anointed heroes. It’s nothing like real life. My father confronted his delusions as if he were a television character.
I’ve long held that even if one watched only “good” television programs, it still alters the mind. It realigns our way of thinking to conform with the television version of reality.
I’m not saying that this phenomenon is necessarily crippling, or even that it’s always bad. I’m saying that it’s not natural, and that we should be aware of it.
*I’ll point out that I’ve met many fine black people here in Portland; I stand by my conviction to judge each individual as an individual, if possible.