Things I’ve Loved is a celebration of things from the near or distant past, either overlooked or forgotten by the unforgiving eye of popular culture. It is a venue to both reminisce and profess about this one thing that you’ve loved and think others may love too.
When I was a kid, from, let’s say, ages eight to 12, I was weird. And not in that quirky sort of way that you see in TV sitcoms and indie films, I mean weird weird.
I was damned from the start, given the name Malak, and it all went downhill from there. I was an overtly emotional box of insecurities. I cried on the last day of school, every year from kindergarten to Grade 2, because I didn’t want to leave. Most my friends were imaginary. My pets were always dying at random.
But, more importantly, and perhaps what separated me from that kid in The Omen, was my complete and utter obsession with media. Every kid watches television, but I really watched television. Every second that was not spent reading or playing on the “web,” as it was called back then, was spent with cartoons I revered and soap operas I didn’t understand. My family took its time getting a computer, and when finally we did, I was so desperate to use it I skipped school and climbed through my window to get to it every day for a week. Books were even more influential. I started reading pretty young, and I was driven to absorb everything I could get my hands on. Animorphs, Goosebumps, X-Men novelizations, I shoved them all into my little weirdo brain. Was it an escape? Most likely it was a refusal to grow up, to accept reality; I still don’t really know.
The real world bored me. What was the point of watching a show about some average people when you could watch a show about a guy who could shoot laser beams out of his face? It never made sense. But once I hit ten or so I started watching the grown-up cartoons: Beavis and Butthead re-runs, Daria and, of course, King of the Hill.
King of the Hill, if you don’t know, was an animated half-hour “adult” comedy that premiered in 1997 and chronicled the lives of a very average Methodist family in a very average southern town. There was Hank, the stern but vulnerable father; Peggy, one of the first mothers on television not to be a finger-wagging nag; and the kids, Luanne and Bobby. The show not only focused on their family but also on their neighbourhood as a whole; the lives of their friends and neighbours were explored thoroughly. And that’s it.
My original reaction was “this is so stupid.”
“So what, they drink beer, argue with their families and nothing happens? He works with propane. I get it. Not funny.” I put it on the list of bad shows and forgot about it — or tried to. In the weeks that followed, almost subconsciously, I started watching it again and again. Every time it ended, I would call it stupid and leave. I began to get annoyed with myself. I found myself theorizing more about Luanne Platter’s love life and Hank Hill’s possible promotion. The first time I laughed at Hank’s relationship with Ladybird, his dog, I didn’t get why. Then, when I found myself waiting for Bobby Hill’s effeminate one-liners, I was downright angry with myself. This wasn’t interesting. No one had superpowers. Nobody died, not heroically at least. There were no shocking twists! Why was I so fond of such an average family, so average they resembled my own?
And then I got it.
Maybe it was because I discovered the show just around the time adolescence was rearing its ugly, speckled head, but I was so fond of it because I saw all the similarities. I saw my dad, my mom and my siblings in them. Bobby was weird in a way that wasn’t really attractive to anyone, just like me. Maybe I needed to know that. And, maybe, I was losing my attachment to the spectacle cartoons of yesteryear because I was searching for something more. Maybe these other cartoons reminded me that I was not special, but here was Hank and his little life and it was on TV.
Everyday life is mundane, but it is also interesting. Everyday life is chaotic. Everyday life is even funny. Maybe King of the Hill gave me permission to grow up and continue on with my life as a human being.
Maybe, maybe not. It was just some dumb cartoon, after all.