I was sitting with Matthew.
We were watching TV. I said,
Hey Matthew, what do you see?
What indeed. In 1987, Karel Fialka had a fairly modest chart hit with Hey Matthew, which reached number 9 and stayed in the charts for 8 weeks. Most people who heard it at the time will have probably forgotten it by now, but if you happen to stumble on it again you might just find it does more than offer a nostalgia kick for the 80s. You might also find it a little bit haunting, because this was a song that had something to say.
Do you see the guns? Do you see the bombs?
See those people throwing all of those stones?
Do you see the cars going up in flames?
See their faces, do you know their names?
Hey Matthew, when you’re watching TV,
Hey, Hey Matthew, what do you see?
In the video we see a father and a son. This is Karel Fialka and his son Matthew whose obsession with watching television prompted his dad to write a song about it. As a child of the 80s myself, my age at the time was probably very close to Matthew’s. In fact, I used to wear a Spiderman costume just like his. I also watched a lot of TV.
Do you see the tension in a rich man’s house?
Do you see the cat? Do you see the mouse?
Do you see the beauty or the big bad beast?
Do you see the famine? Do you see the feast?
In this world of villains do you see the crime?
Is a superhero waiting at the edge of time?
Hey Matthew, when you’re watching TV,
I said Hey, Hey Matthew, what do you see?
The tension in a rich man’s house probably refers to popular American soaps such as Dallas, Dynasy and The Colbys. This might sound like an odd genre to mention, when asking a child what he watches, but it actually makes perfect sense. Those shows were probably as big here as they were in the States, and were family viewing in homes up and down the country. Despite being just a child of around Matthew’s age, I loved watching them, although they clearly weren’t made for my age group. The cat and the mouse is presumably a reference to Tom and Jerry, an obvious target of criticism whenever people want to mention a cartoon that shows violence. The rest of it? This song was brought to my attention, inspiring this piece article, when I happened to be listening to some old Chris Moyles Shows from Radio 1 and he was playing Hey Matthew and chatting about it. I tend to agree with his explanation of those lines: they just rhyme. So what does Matthew see? He’s about to answer.
I see Dallas, Dynasty, Terrahawks,
He-Man, Tom and Jerry, Dukes of Hazzard,
Airwolf, Blue Thunder, Rambo, Road Runner,
Daffy Duck, The A-Team, The A-Team, I see the A-Team.
Oh, you were expecting a philosophical answer to those poetic questions? Nah, it’s just a list of TV shows. But it’s an interesting list, nonetheless. I was a viewer of all of them, except Blue Thunder, which seems like the odd one out here. Before I listened to this song I had never heard of it. A quick bit of research shows that it was a failed American show about a helicopter, which only ran for 11 episodes in 1984. The Genome Project that catalogues old copies of Radio Times reveals that it was also shown in the UK in 1984, starting in February, although it is listed as a series of 7 episodes only. I can’t find any evidence of repeat showings, so it seems like an odd series for Matthew to be mentioning in 1987. Young children are not known for their long memories! A possible explanation for this might be the release of at least some of the episodes on individual VHS tapes in the UK (I’ve found evidence of some examples from 1984). A child of 1987 would probably have had access to a few VHS tapes and we used to watch them over and over again, so if one of these happened to be in Matthew’s collection (or his dad’s) it would keep an older series fresh in his mind.
The other oddity here is Rambo. By 1987 there were just two films in the series, both of which had been passed by the BBFC with a 15 certificate, so this doesn’t seem age appropriate for Matthew. Apart from the fact that kids don’t always just watch things that are age appropriate (I remember at Matthew’s age visiting a friend who was watching Robocop), a possible explanation for this is the way some films used to be shown as edited versions, pre-watershed, with some of the violence and language cut out of them. Perhaps this was happening with Rambo on UK television at the time?
I was sitting with Matthew, we were watching TV.
I said Hey Matthew, what’ll you be?
Will you walk like a lion in the danger zone?
Will you pass unnoticed in the great unknown?
When you see the press out on a witch hunt.
When you see a political publicity stunt.
Will you fight for the right? Will you be a man?
Will you step aside? Will you give a damn?
So the list of shows is clearly skewed towards violent imagery. What impact might that have on Matthew and his future choices? Ironically, The A Team (and I would have probably mentioned that three times as well!) is known for rarely showing the consequences of violence. None of the bad guys ever die, however spectacularly their cars or helicopters crash. No bullets ever hit their target.
Will you ride that tide with the starry eyed?
Will you give and take?
Will you laugh ’til you ache?
Will you learn to live?
Will you take? Will you give?
As the bridges burn, will you live and learn?
Will you be numbered with the brave and true?
Well, good luck kid, here’s lookin’ at you.
Well, Casablanca wasn’t on Matthew’s list. I doubt it would have been on mine either.
In the future, Matthew, so bright and free,
Hey Matthew, what’ll you be?
Hey Hey Matthew, what’ll you be?
We’re about to find out. Has television influenced his ambitions? Does he want to be BA Baracus? Does he want to drop grand pianos on mice? Does he want to get into cars through the windows instead of opening a door?
I want to be a soldier, street fighter, be a policeman,
A captain of a boat – big boat.
I want to be a medic man, a cowboy, a train driver,
High jump champion, a fireman, a pilot.
I want to be your friend.
OK, a bit creepy. But note how we start with violence (soldier, street fighter), and progress to the emergency services (policeman, medic, fireman), and also jobs that involve exciting forms of transport (captain, train driver, pilot). Also in there is an aspiration that is perhaps informed by a genuine talent or enthusiasm, rather than just influenced by television: a high jump champion. The most important aspiration at the end is basically about being happy. Getting an exciting job might be a big hope for a young child, but having friends is more important. This kid’s got the right idea about his life balance. Maybe television hasn’t done him any harm after all. I certainly don’t think Dallas, or The A Team, or He-Man damaged me.
It’s all a game – I hope.
Hey Hey Matthew.
What’s all a game, and what are Matthew’s and his dad’s hopes for the future? One where people give a damn? Where they fight for what’s right and aren’t fooled by the political publicity stunts? So how did that turn out? Oh. Never mind, let’s just go and watch The A Team.
The A Team
The A Team