Only in America, and only since the 1950s, has the watching of television become the communal ground, often the battleground, of fathers and sons, as well as the place through which the rest of family experience is played out, fought out, remembered, misremembered, and made into myth and trauma—the shows watched and loved, the shows that became the trigger for resentments, the box of shadowy caves that washed over mute bodies in the TV room (formerly known as the living room). In the background, as children fit or did not fit into the family mythology of good and bad TV, their budding imaginations recorded every hurt, near hurt, or imagined hurt which silent, depressed, nearly catatonic fathers could inflict upon them.
Memories of My Father Watching TV has as its protagonists television shows, around which the personalities of family members are shaped. The shows have a life of their own and become the arena of shared experience. And in Curtis White’s hands, they become a son’s projections of what he wants for himself and his father through characters in “Combat,” “Highway Patrol,” “Bonanza,” and other televisions shows (and one movie) from the 1950s and ’60s.
Comic in many ways, Memories is finally a sad lament of a father-son relationship that is painful and tortured, displayed against a background of what they most shared, the watching of television, the universal American experience.