How Can TV Be the Ultimate Excitement?

Lest anyone feels that they can’t handle a barrage of rants against television, please go read someone else’s blog this week. I’d love to see you return to mine next week, though I can’t promise that I’ll confine my harangues to this seven-day period.

I’ve had several experiences over the Thanksgiving holiday that led me to reflect on how odd I am to not have a working television and how inexplicable that is to others who can’t imagine what it is that I DO with myself in the absence of being able to watch shows and sports on television.  It didn’t seem to make much sense to my friends when I explained that I love to read, that I love to explore, that I go on road trips, that I like to go to museums and galleries and hang out with friends and do puzzles and cook and — well, frankly — sit in silence.

The American way is to go into one’s home in the evening and watch things, often with alcohol in hand and often alone.  A version of this is various family members in separate rooms watching separate programming.  There are wide swaths of the country in which homes are built around golf courses so that people can come in after a round of golf and… drumroll please… watch golf on television.  Not much else happens in those enclaves, it seems.  Maybe I’m wrong because I tend to move through them fast, if I go at all.

I know that shared television can be a bonding experience and that people are watching television shows with far-flung friends, sharing the experience via SKYPE or Twitter or other new technologies.  I guess tuning in with friends elsewhere is better than being alone. Yet it’s sad that people aren’t just together doing something, if even simply watching a show together in person (as a first step towards turning off the damn thing and doing something).

The “third place” concept is an important one, I think.  Books such as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone and Ray Oldenburg’sThe Great Good Place talk about this need for community-based places beyond home and work (the first and second places we live in) where people can gather inexpensively around food and drink in a place that is accessible and familiar.  It seems that people are more intentionally seeking out such places that have become critical in an age of greater and greater isolation and loneliness.  And I’m thankful for them, even if in my favorite one the television is usually on.

One of my children wisely said last weekend that she had gotten off of Facebook because every minute spent there describing (or “mediating”) her life was a minute lost leading her life — posting photos vs. taking photos, writing updates vs. writing poetry, tagging someone vs. having coffee with them.  And Facebook is similar to television in that it’s a substitute for real life instead of an expositor of real life.

I like Facebook, and I do enjoy the access it gives me to quick updates on what people I care about are doing.  Just this morning I found out a friend had just delivered a baby.  I’ll hear it from her directly before too long but I loved knowing it today, when she’s particularly on my mind and I’ve been praying.  Yet in general, Facebook doesn’t replace talking to or seeing those people I love.

Nor does watching anything on television substitute well for experiencing life oneself.

I glanced at the cover of the latest Outside magazine this week.  I’d recommend that in the absence of our own real-life adventures, we at least read about the ones that real people have had (perhaps this is another baby step towards having our own).  Here are a few of the cover stories for November 2010: “Lost at Sea,” “Raced to the Death,” “Attacked by the Taliban,” “Maced in the Pants!,” “Born without Legs,” “Coated in Oil,” and “Kidnapped.”  Surely there’s something there for everybody and somehow reading about them excites me more than watching for them on television, mixed in with the scripted reality shows.

Why is “made for TV” the ultimate compliment?  If something is really noteworthy, then yes, it should be televised, and we should be glad for the chance to have learned about it.  But there’s something jarring about that phrase to me… as if putting it on television made something interesting, or as if the most exciting things are inherently those that are on television, or as if it’s not depressing that we look to television when we want something interesting to happen.

What are we afraid of in the real world?  What keeps us enslaved in our hermetically sealed homes on our perfectly engineered La-Z-Boys, reclining while we hope for the next big thing to happen?  Why is there nothing happening in our real lives that feels so compelling that we forget to turn on the television?  Why aren’t there more people who find it normal not to have television and who can think of a zillion things more interesting than whatever is on what we used to (aptly) call “the boob tube?”

No answers today; just the questions.  Maybe the answer will be on the news tonight.


What's it really good for?





~ by Cary on December 1, 2010.

One Response to “How Can TV Be the Ultimate Excitement?”

  1. […] hearkens back to my post last week, “How Can TV Be the Ultimate Excitement?”, and I’m still asking the questions about what would get us into actual interactions with […]

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