I have fond memories of Saturdays when I was growing up. Getting up before my parents did so that I could watch Nicktoons and play with Lego on the living room floor was always a treat, but the real magic came later, when my parents were up and took control of the TV. They’d switch over to PBS to watch shows like This Old House, The Victory Garden, and cooking shows like The Frugal Gourmet. While I would have preferred to stay on cartoons, those shows never failed to fascinate me and, more importantly, calm me.
Calm pervaded these shows. There was never any rush. The houses on This Old House would take several episodes to complete, representing months of labor. Seasons would change in New England as the houses slowly came together, preserving and updating historic architecture for another generation. The cooking shows had no pressure to compete or complete; they only wanted to share recipes and techniques with you. The Victory Garden was full of lush backyards and greenhouses, showcasing a hobby that might, perhaps, take the most patience of all.
This was the era before reality TV, before everything became more extreme and intense. This was before the American psyche was amped up on productivity and Redbull. The early-to-mid 1990s was meant for settling down from the cocaine-addled insanity of the 80s, for being as relaxed as a pair of khakis from The Gap. Written up in GQ magazine as the Bistro Vibes aesthetic, it was simply cool to be an adult who enjoyed the finer things in life and have an actual, non-working weekend.
As an adult Millenial, those days of bliss seem so far away. We can bring back the aesthetics, but we’re still stuck with our noses to the grindstone while we experience late-stage capitalism and the demise of American democracy. Everything is important RIGHT NOW, and this gets exemplified in the darkness of Golden Age TV shows and the heart-pounding insanity of extreme home makeovers.
And then there was The Great British Bake-Off.
How bizarre to suddenly have a cooking competition where the competitors actually helped each other finish their projects, where there was no heart-pounding music or ridiculous briefs that needed to be met. Just 12 amateur bakers, two judges whose criticism was never harsher than the infamous phrase “It’s overworked,” and two hosts who genuinely cared for the contestants. It was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise claustrophobic atmosphere.
Even then, though, it was still a competition. What I needed was something softer, kinder, more on the even keel of those old PBS shows. That’s where YouTube came in. The PBS calm can be found in the likes of artisan demonstrations and recreations of 18th century life, in Norwegian “slow television”, and museums preserving priceless artifacts. For 5 to 10 minutes at a time (or, in the case of slow TV, much much longer), you can simply exist alongside others and discover the magic of the softer things in life.
I like to think of “soft” TV as hygge for the media-savvy. When you truly can’t get away from screens, soft TV is here to entertain you without raising your blood pressure. You can delight in beautiful things and experiences without worry and maybe, just maybe, enjoy your Saturday mornings once again.
I’ve prepared a YouTube playlist of some of my favorite soft TV. I hope you’ll take a look at it and give yourself some space to breathe.
Noise du Jour
In sharp contrast to soft TV, today I’m featuring one of my favorite Rammstein videos, “Rosenrot.” A band known for courting controversy, Rammstein portrays a band of priests heading to a small town in the Romanian countryside to lead services for the villagers. Things get sticky when lead singer Till Lindemann becomes fascinated with a young woman of the village and, well, watch the video to find out what happens (TW: violence). While the song is not one of their best, the video is of the same high quality spectacle the band are known for, telling a great story while reflecting the tragic lyrical story of Rose Red and her lover.
- Barbie Career of The Year As A Window On Centrist Feminism was a cool read, both in terms of Barbie history and what that history can tell us about Barbie’s politics.
- Three cryptocurrency enthusiasts bought a cruise ship to use as a libertarian utopia. Read about how things went so, so wrong.
- If you liked last week’s essay about hobby burnout, check out this article by Jackie Brown and Phillipe Mesly about philosopher Ivan Illich and his theories about alienation through professionalism.
- If you grew up playing video games, you’ll enjoy this nostalgic look at the life and death of the video game retail store.
- Over at Aeon, Amos Zeeberg wonders if we’ll ever really know what food we should be eating.