#1 Single weirdly watchable
A scant hour or two after yesterday’s Metro hit the streets, I had an e-mail from Katherine Barber of the Oxford University Press asking if I’d like to know the origin of this column’s new name.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? A scant hour or two after yesterday’s Metro hit the streets, I had an e-mail from Katherine Barber of the Oxford University Press asking if I’d like to know the origin of this column’s new name. I have to commend Ms. Barber, the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, for her speed — for a moment, I could almost imagine the Oxford University Press as a public service, servicing our etymological needs with the efficiency of Hydro workers repairing a downed power line. If only the OUP could dispatch roving teams to intervene when some misguided soul uses some atrocious latter-day coinage like “impactful” in conversation.
It seems the earliest instance of the phrase “idiot box” the OUP has on record is in I Know The Face, But..., a 1959 memoir by the British actor Peter Bull — he played the jowly, imperious Russian ambassador in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. In the book, Bull refers to a particularly fallow period in his career, the “rationing period, when my very existence depended on the magic idiot-box.” Judging from the familiar tone of Bull’s reference, it sounds like the term was already in regular use at the time.
According to the definitive, 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, the next printed use of the phrase occurs six years later, in an article in the British medical journal The Lancet, which refers to some group of unfortunates who “may be found, in semi-hypnotic state, watching the ‘idiot box’ with its endless stream of images and fullness of sound, all signifying nothing.” Which basically describes student housing on any given weeknight. Obviously someone wasn’t a big fan of Coronation Street, Steptoe And Son or Ready, Steady, Go. Thank you, Katherine — I hope you have my back the next time someone insists that “orientated” is a real word.
ALL THE WRONG PLACES: The Life Network is debuting #1 Single tonight at 10 p.m., a new reality series starring the It Girl of 1994, singer Lisa Loeb, on a quest for marriageable material in Manhattan’s urban jungle. Even if you wither into a mental cringe at the first bars of Stay (I Missed You) or I Do, it’s actually a weirdly watchable iteration of the dating show.
The show debuted earlier this year on the E! Channel in the U.S., but it’s not Loeb’s TV debut. Besides a guest appearance on The Nanny, Loeb had a short-lived Food Network show in 2004 with her then-boyfriend Dweezil Zappa. The dissolution of their relationship soon after was apparently the inspiration for this TV chronicle of Loeb’s search, at 37, for a mate, marriage, and motherhood.
While setting a dating show in the slightly more rarified world of B-list celebrities is a bit of a departure, #1 Single still confirms what any sane person already knows about men (clueless oafs), women (space aliens) and dating (a harrowing nightmare). For those liberated by matrimony from this demoralizing ritual, it’s a comedy; for those still single, I can only offer my pity.