Thursday, January 16, 2014

Typewriters on TV: Roseanne Finale

First, honesty: I despise Roseanne, and I never watched a second of it. Not my kind of TV. However, I was interested enough to look at a YouTube clip of the final scene where she's writing her memoirs on an old portable typewriter. Looks like a Royal to me, and elsewhere in the scene there's a tan case sitting on a metal folding chair that looks like it holds a Royal. This is the best shot of the typewriter in the scene. This was 1997 or so, and I thought it odd that she didn't use a computer like Doogie Howser. But then I remembered her character was poor, and they probably had that prop typewriter sitting around in her fictional garage since 1989.

I've noticed, perhaps not as much now, that the media perception of "serious" writers has been that they use real typewriters, even thirty years into the home computer age. Tim McGee on NCIS, for example, has long been writing his novel on an old manual typewriter. Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote used a giant machine on her kitchen table to pound out novels, even though she was obviously a millionaire and could have afforded a proper office and state-of-the-art (for 1984, anyway) word processing equipment.

My dad bought a Brother electric typewriter in the late-'70s and that was the first machine I wrote on, though my sister had a pretty blue Smith-Corona portable I remember seeing her use when I was a child. I bought a used Montgomery-Ward Signature 510 in 1988 and refused to use a computer for years (though, obviously, I buckled and bought my first PC in 1995). I like to think I would have been a better writer had I held out, and that the time spent on the internet dulled my abilities. Hard to say, because what happened happened.

To be honest, I find it very difficult to write on a typewriter now. I'd like to. I love pounding the keys and hitting the return lever when the bell rings, but I find myself getting frustrated when I hit the wrong key or my thumb gets in the way. I've become too conditioned to the computer keyboard, which is sad to me. I can go back and delete things easily without wasting paper, and I don't have to re-type anything when I'm done, just copy and paste. But it doesn't seem right. I think we've lost something.

I have many typewriters (in fact, another one arriving today by UPS), but they seem like decoration furniture, which they are not. They serve a useful purpose and it's not fully realized sitting in a case for thirty years or on a shelf gathering dust. The computer is not the same, not at all. I'd like to train myself to use a typewriter again for serious long-form writing if it's not too late to do so.

If computers haven't spoiled me forever, that is.


  1. You can do it. Try typecasting, or even the NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigade. Typewriting skills can come back, especially if you don't worry too much about typos.

  2. I guess she's using a typewriter because you visually associate it with the act of writing (obviously) whereas with a computer you could be just idly browsing the Internet or whatever.

  3. I find that it is my coming to terms with the effects of a mis-hit key (ie typos) that is half the pleasure. I just leave it as it is or put a load of XXs through it and move on, because not everything needs to be spelt correctly. I think, as typewriters, we should confer on ourselves the luxury of the odd mistake.