WHEN I WAS ten years old, my friend Dougy and I used to talk in the cafeteria lunch line about the TV shows we watched each night. TV was the only reason we were friends. He would come over to my house on weekends, and we would watch a horror movie on the GE television my great-grandmother had given me when I was eight. Once, when the channel selector knob on my parents' TV broke off, I used a pair of pliers to turn the rod around, proudly telling my folks what network they were watching as I recognized each show. I was five at the time.
In short, I've been an average TV user all my life. The people who made Tunnelvision, which premiered last week at the Orson Welles, made their movie for people like me. Set in the year 1985, Tunnelvision is a fantasy about the fifth network, self-billed as "uncensored and free," that has been ruining the nation's morale and crushing its productive spirit. The film opens in a Senate hearing room, where stern politicians are grilling Tunnelvision's creator. The senators want to know why people spend all their time watching this menace, so they admit as evidence a condensed version of a typical day of Tunnelvision from sign-on to sign-off. Rolling the tape, they sit back with the rest of the audience and are drawn under by the new medium's influence.
What follows is one of the lamest lampoons ever to presume to call itself a parody. For Tunnelvision, the movie, and Tunnelvision, the product of someone's imagination, are nothing more than sickly runts in the litter of modern humor. Burdened with cheap imitations of every kind of TV stereotype, weighed down by bathroom jokes, locker-room laughs and sick dialogue, Tunnelvision never takes off from the swampy ground it starts on.
For example, in a game show called "Remember When?", the contestants are simply asked insulting, embarrassing questions:
Announcer: You were going to give birth to an illegitimate child, but lost it through a miscarriage. What would you have named it if it had been a boy?
The show ends with a contest to see who can fart first.
With its insistent use of racial slurs, its delight over words like "shit" and "fart," and an occasional gratuitous nude body, Tunnelvision is just like TV, only filthy. TV's story concepts are shallow copies of one another, and so are Tunnelvision's. TV news is flat, superficial and preoccupied with appearance. So is Tunnelvision's parody of it. With nothing more going for it than a high recognition factor for what it spoofs, Tunnelvision is an empty repetitious imitation of an empty, repetitious imitation. And, to paraphrase Santayana, one wasteland is enough.