Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kill Your Television!

 Kill Your Television!

I gave away my TeeVee about four years ago. It was a pretty nice one, too - huge. My neighbor was surprised and happy to have it. After all, she got every cable channel there was, and another TeeVee in the rec room was a welcome addition.

Why did I kill the TeeVee? For a number of reasons:

1. Decorating nightmare: Most American homes comprise a huge wall of black electrical gadgets centered around the largest TeeVee affordable. The rest of the furniture is arrayed around this "altar" in a semicircle. And an altar it is, too. Archaeologists centuries from now will unearth the average American living room and conclude that the TeeVee had some sort of religious significance - given its prominence in the home. Perhaps it does.

2. The Talking Lamp: Americans watch an average of 4.6 HOURS OF TEEVEE a day. I know, you're going to say, "well, I just watch a couple of shows." Unfortunately, since I've been to your house and know that you leave the TeeVee on all the time, I know you are lying. People leave the TeeVee on when company comes, during dinner, and even when waking up. I know this because I used to do it and my friends all do it. It is annoying as all f*ck.

3. Selling Eyeballs: TeeVee used to be better. I'm not imagining that. Rent some old TeeVee shows from the 1960's on video and note the runtime and the number of "breaks" for commercials. Most had maybe 2 breaks in a half hour or 4 for a full hour. Back then, the television was for entertainment, and sponsors paid for the cost of the programming. Today, TeeVee exists to "sell eyeballs" to advertisers. The only thing the TeeVee programmers are interested in is getting you to keep watching for as long as possible. The entice, they tease, they do despicable things to get to you stay watching "just a little more" in hope that something really, really cool will come on. It never does. But you do get to see the ads. And the VOLUME of the ads is nearly double that of the programming. TeeVee stopped being enjoyable to watch the day they started advertising television ON television. It didn't used to be that way.

4. Cost: In addition to the thousands you can spend on a home theater system, Cable TeeVee can cost upwards of $100 a month - usually much more. Throw in a few "premium" channels and it is an expensive proposition. Most of the programming on the "premium" channels ends up being things I've watched before, anyway. I personally found no VALUE in watching network news or even news channels, programs, or whatever. In terms of a cost/value equation, I found it lacking. A very poor friend of mine defended the high cost of Cable TeeVee by saying "this is our only luxury, and taking the kids to the movies costs much more than that!" That is like saying that it is OK to buy a gaz-guzzling SUV because it is cheaper to own than a Ferrari. Moreover, parking your kids 24/7 in front of the tube is not "cost effective" in the long run, because of what it will eventually do to your children. Get them to read a book and maybe Juniorwill go to Medical School instead of State Prison.

5. Stress: They're BAITING you! Rupert Murdoch really doesn't give a rat's arse about politics or conservative politics or whatever. But he knows that if he can get people (of all political stripes) all riled up by the TeeVee, he can make a lot of money. TeeVee is stressful to watch. Your heart rate goes up, but you sit motionless. Only driving a car is worse for you, physically. And mentally, the TeeVee leaves you emotionally drained and exhausted.

6. Addiction: The way TeeVee is structured today, it appeals to people with addictive personalities - including me. They want you in front of that tube as long as possible, which is why HALF THE ADS ON TELEVISION ARE FOR MORE TELEVISION. "Coming up next...." is probably the most commonly uttered phrase on TeeVee. You can control TeeVee viewing habits about as effectively as you can control a crack habit. There is no such thing as "moderation".

7. Crappy Programming: Most successful US shows are merely poor copies of British TV. Sanford and Son? Check. Who wants to be a Millionaire? Check. Dancing with the Stars? Check? Weakest Link? Check. The whole "reality TV" genre? Check, check, check. Possibly one of the most interesting things about being Tee-Vee-Free is when some idiot comes up to you and starts blathering about their "favorite TeeVee program." Here's a clue, guys, you sound like idiots. Saying that this or that "reality show" is your favorite program is really freaking embarrassing. And by the way, they aren't real, you know. They are as scripted as professional wrestling

So I gave the TeeVee to my neighbor. Have I gone "cold turkey" completely? Well, no, and there is no reason you have to, either. I have a small set and a laptop which I watch movies from Netflix on ($18 a month, versus $100 for cable). The local library rents out videos for FREE and has quite a selection. Mostly I've been watching movies and such. And once in a while I may download a video from the Internet.

If some TeeVee program really seems interesting, I can get it on netflix or download it for free. Most are not that interesting. Watching on DVD is a different head that watching serially. The "Sopranos" for example, cited as the "best" programming of the last decade, seems a lot more like a trite soap opera when you don't have to wait a week between episodes. While I enjoyed that show (the first season, anyway) my overall feeling was that if this was the "best" of television, I wasn't missing much. The "fade to black" ending was appropriate, as after all, it was just a soap opera, and how it progresses depends on which actor asks for a raise that week (they get whacked) or what the writer had for lunch that day. Soap operas don't have to make sense - or have a story arc. It's just... TeeVee.

Gone for good are the days of waking up with the "Today Show" and flopping down on the couch after work to watch the "Evening News" followed by a succession of sitcoms or other programs, capped off with more news, the "Tonight Show" and maybe even Letterman. It was killing me, plain and simple. It is not hard to watch 6-8 hours a day, believe me. Most folks do it, although they are loathe to admit it.

Now some folks will say, "Well, I'm a sports fan, I have to have my TeeVee!" Really? A sports fan you say? You like to play sports? Well, no, actually, they don't. They just like to WATCH other, more athletic people play sports, while in the meantime they drink beer, eat snacks, and slowly look more and more like the overstuffed chair they are sitting in. If this is being a "sports fan" you can have it. I find nothing more boring that watching some highly paid professional work. But if that gets you off, well, go for it. But forgive me if I don't find your obsession fascinating or interesting in the least bit.

After I went cold-turkey on TeeVee, my blood pressure dropped. Suddenly, I found time during the day to finish a lot of home improvement projects. I read more books (again, FREE from the library) and had a heck of a lot more fun. 6-8 hours a day of TeeVee was destroying my life.

* * *


Take this simple little test:

1. Is your living room set up as an altar to a wall of electronics?

2. Do you have more Tee-Vees in your house than people?

3. Does your cable or satellite bill exceed $100 a month?

4. Do you have a "favorite show"?

5. Do you know the names of all the characters on all the shows you watch?

6. Do you know the names of all the reporters on the News programs and their personal backgrounds?

7. Do you wake up to the TeeVee? or Do you watch TeeVee in bed? Is the TeeVee the last thing you see at night?

8. Do you EAT in front of the TeeVee more than one night a week?

9. Do you KEEP WATCHING TeeVee even though "nothing is on" in the hope that something good will come on later?

10. Do you "channel surf" during commercials, hoping to find something better to watch, only to see all the other channels are on commercials, and then find something to watch, only to forget what you were watching in the first place before you channel surfed?

Your Score:

0-3: There is hope for you. Television is not running your life. But stop watching Fox News.

4-7: You are in danger of being a TeeVee addict. Get out of the house more.

8-10: You are an Average American, I'm afraid. Let's change that.