::Literate Blather::
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Essay: TV Party No More

I don't have cable TV. Or own a satellite dish.

Why bother when I don't watch television? I've never seen an episode of Survivor or watched The Sopranos. I've never seen Sex in the City, 24, NYPD Blue, Grey's Anatomy, American Idol or any of the CSI programs. I have a vague recollection that there may have been a show about ice skating with celebrities.

After they discover my secret, co-workers eye me with suspicion as if I've just announced my intention to strangle the cleaning lady. (And it's a difficult secret to keep because a surprising number of conversations are about TV shows.) Once my co-workers pick their jaws off the carpet, they always want to know why. As in: "Why in Allah's name would you do such a thing?"

It's a simple explanation. TV sucks.

Commericial television is more addictive than crack. It's a corrosive visual stimulus that leaves its users clinging to a life of irrational dissatisfaction -- with everything. Watch too much TV and its only a matter of time before you begin to harbor a sinking feeling that you don't add up. You begin to doubt your life, your looks, your income, your car, your house, your friends and even your dog. That's why you end up doing dumb things like buying an SUV you can't afford or signing up for a Macy's gold card.

The average American watches more than four hours of television each day, according to the A.C. Nielsen Company. That adds up to more than 28 hours a week or a whopping two months of Charmed every year.

Harvard University Professor Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, provides us with the mind-numbing rejoinder to this question: What do the majority of Americans do between work and bedtime?

Well, 80 percent of us watch television.

Some other rather alarming statistics from the organization TV-Free America:
  • 99 percent of American homes own at least one television, but the average number of sets in each household is 2.4
  • The television is on for six hours and 47 minutes daily in the average American home
  • 54 percent of children between the ages of 4-6 would rather watch TV than spend time with their fathers
  • Parents spend an average of 3.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their children, but their children watch an average of 1,680 minutes of TV a week
  • Children spend an average of 900 hours a year in school and 1,500 hours a year watching TV
  • Americans as a whole spends 250 billion hours a year watching TV
Television (and video games) are increasingly being blamed as one of the prime factors in the expanding waistlines of American society, may be a factor in behavior problems of young kids and teenagers and certainly is responsible in part to our declining literacy (I always get a kick out of people who claim to only watch PBS and educational TV. Watching television is a passive activity and the jury is still out on if it has any practical educational value).

It's time to admit we have a problem.

I quit in the summer of 1999. It was late June and my wife and I were ensconced on the couch watching a rerun of Seinfeld while eating pork fried rice, spring rolls, and black bean chicken from the local Chinese restaurant. That night, zombified by an overdose of MSG, we gazed at the flickering images on the boob tube for more than five hours. When it was over, we were exhausted and surprisingly melancholy. Here we were -- a young married couple -- spending a beautiful spring evening watching sitcoms -- most of them reruns. The lost possibilities assaulted us: a rock concert, dinner with friends, drinks with co-workers, a jog along the bike path, actual conversation -- with each other, and even sex -- with each other.

How could any of those things not be better than watching Kramer barrel into Jerry's apartment for the 18,765th time?

So my wife presented a radical idea. Quit TV for a week. I had immediate reservations (The X-Files would be on in three days). There was also Red Sox baseball to consider. But I reluctantly agreed if only to please my wife. How bad could it be?

It turned out to be very difficult -- for the first 48 hours. It was like quitting coffee cold turkey. At first, you miss it desperately. You think about cheating. You plan to cheat. You get a headache. You complain a lot. Revert to whining. Then it's over. You're done as long as you don't go back. The week ended and we survived. So we decided to try another week. Then a month. Then the rest of the summer. Now it's been seven years.

We rarely cheat and, quite frankly, I can't believe I ever had the time to watch TV. How do people fit it in?

The benefits are amazing. Suddenly, you have time -- to read, to write, to talk, to cook dinner and eat it together as a family. You have time to finish chores, to visit friends, to go to movies on a weeknight, to paint or to play board games. You have time for a long jog by the river and no reason not to go to the gym. You start to lose those feelings of inadequacy that comes from being bombarded by TV advertising. You no longer get the urge to buy -- for no reason. Since you no longer watch TV news you begin to lose the sense that the world is vicious and dangerous and ugly.

Quit. You can do it. Start with a day or a weekend. Then try a week. It doesn't have to be a complete ban either. I still watch the occasional New England Patriots game and the SuperBowl. If you want to watch Lost or Deadwood -- keep those shows on your schedule. The important thing is to break the hours of daily viewing and reclaim your life.

Don't be one of those people who can quote every classic quip from Friends -- yet can't seem to remember their mother's birthday or their own weddng anniversery.

Revel in the silence.

Read our essay on why Americans are so damn tired all the time

Labels: ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar StumbleUpon | Digg! Digg | del.icio.us | Reddit | Technorati Technorati | E-mail a Link E-mail
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Blogger Steve said...
Rightous brother! Preach the good word! Kill your T.V.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Or at least put it on life support...

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
The Template is generated via PsycHo and is Licensed.