Monday, February 18, 2013

Television Curmudgeon

Call me a television curmudgeon.

I stopped regularly watching television when I left home for college in the fall of 1969.

Since 1969 I've not seen countless TV series and sporting events. Like everyone else, I see television in stores and pizza restaurants, in hotel rooms occasionally. But most weeks I see zero minutes of television.

When I am present at conversations about TV I have nearly nothing to say. If I do open my mouth, I can feel my welcome immediately wear thin and fray to tatters. Almost no one wants to hear me out on this subject.

I am willing to acknowledge that I could be wrong about television. A number of people whose opinions I value have recommended that I be willing to try modern television programming and see whether I might change my mind.

So, based on a number of recommendations about the same shows, I decided to watch a couple of seasons of well-reviewed and highly-regarded television dramas. With the wonders of the Internet & Netflix's streaming service, I can watch TV on my computer without having to buy a television set—a tossed blessing if ever there was one.

I saw Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy. As my trusted friends and family predicted, I found both to be very entertaining indeed—almost addictive. It probably helped that the main character in Breaking Bad, Walter White, is a teacher, and a supporting character in Sons of Anarchy is a young female physician, like my daughter. These characters helped me enter the story narratives.

But—please hear me out—my opinion with regard to including television in my life is largely unchanged.

I've seen enough.

One important reason for reverting to a no-television existence is that television altered and disturbed my dream life. For most of my adult life I have been able to remember at least one of my dream cycles.  My dreams are ordinarily interesting and often very helpful in figuring out what's happening at the edges of my conscious mind. Dreams enrich my waking life.

During my television bender—it took me almost three months to see the television series—my dream life was occupied, yes, occupied is the word, because it connotes an unfriendly military occupation. My dreams were occupied with working through the upsetting material portrayed in the shows. Both shows contain a lot of violence.

Another important reason is that television is simply time consuming. Watching these dramas preempted other activities that I enjoy and value, like playing my ukulele, learning piano, walking, paddling, and cooking. At least until I retire, opportunity for these activities is limited to a few hours a day. Precious, in other words.

Now, to anticipate a common objection: not everything that appears on a screen is a waste of time.

I probably misunderstood Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase,  "the medium is the message" to condemn everything that appears on a screen, but if that is what he meant, I would respectfully disagree.

I do benefit from Youtube videos like those that show me how to strum a ukulele like Israel Kamakawiwo'ole playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  I do benefit from watching documentaries like Searching for Sugarman.

Television is not always a waste of time, a pointless pastime, or a dream-disturber. But it can be any of those things while being lusciously and seductively addictive.

That's why, when it comes to television, I'm still a curmudgeon.


The Solitary Walker said...

I'm a bit of a curmudgeon about TV too these days, Dan. Although I admit there are some really good shows, wildlife programmes, documentaries, films etc. — certainly on British TV anyway. But the quality is the problem. It's all too easy to find oneself spending much longer than one intended as a couch potato. And I hate that. I don't like the one-sidedness of it, and much prefer activities in which I can 'work' a little harder myself, eg reading a book, climbing a mountain. Even ironing (as long as I'm listening to some music at the same time!)

steven said...

dan! i bought a television when i bought my own home last autumn - my teenaged children are used to seeing sports, and the sorry stories of celebrity families. i love books. i love music. i love looking out the indows and of course walking and biking. television can't replace those simplciities. steven

Dan Gurney said...

Robert, I agree with you and feel that television is passive & non-interactive. If the popularity of the Internet is any indication, many share our feeling.

steven, we managed, even with teenagers to keep the television out of our home. I know you are able to find time for much else beyond television.

Sabio Lantz said...

I am the same. No TV in my house. (my kids sniffle)
The best part of no TV but instead, using NetFlicks is that we avoid commercials. Those are the real criminals to avoid.

Dan Gurney said...

Good point, Sabio. Ads are incredibly powerful. I don't think you can appreciate their power unless you see so few of them that when you do, you start wanting something you never wanted before.

Once in a while I see ads on YouTube. There's a Fiat ad concerning a scorpion on a beach. Damn, if I didn't start taking long second looks at Fiats. I've got a better and faster Subaru WRX so, thankfully I'm immunized.