Hello Mister TeeVee!
OK, let's be honest kids. I don't know how long I can keep this weblog thing up. For starters, work is about to get insane, and the whole moving process is about to descend upon me. And then in August I descend into a big black Pitt. Literally.
And futhermore, I might start annoying even myself with these ridiculous things I'm writing.
But hey, let's keep writing those egocentric, thoughtless pieces while we can, eh? So let's start with a quote from the band Harvey Danger & the song Flagpole Sitta:
"been around the world and found
that only stupid people are breeding
the cretins cloning and feeding
and i don't even own a tv"
Drawing inspiration from that quote, I could talk about either eugenics or television. Let's talk about the latter.
Here's the deal: I don't even own a TV. And honestly, I'm happy that way. You know what else I don't have? A cable bill. And a heavy box to carry around every time I move from one apartment to the next. And yet another distraction, another temptation to procrastinate my evenings away.
And as with many habits that we abandon, this one has lost most of its attractiveness for me. It's not like I'm not a real American; I theoretically could sit in front of televised inanity for hours as well. As a kid I was proof that hours of TV watching do correlate with obesity. And as a teenager I was, no lie, an avid fan of Beavis and Butthead. But now, I feel no draw to TV. It's like if you stop eating some kind of food--let's say you give up pizza, or red meat, or candy bars--and then after a while, you just don't seek it out any more. It's not like you wouldn't eat it if someone offered it to you, and you'd still get the happy dopamine rush from your brain. But you just don't feel impelled to pursue that food yourself. Same with me and TV. Alone, I can hardly watch it, I just don't see the point, I can't find it any more entertaining than the other options for amusing myself. But if I'm in a social context, and that's what the group is doing--we're watching some braindraining reality thing, or old episodes of Friends, or whatever--then I will join in with the crowd and I will eventually get into the whole experience. So, that's the key, the social context. Funny, a similar phenomenon causes drug abusers to relapse.
But before I get all high-and-mighty about TV abstinence--as some do--I've been thinking...What am I missing by not watching TV? See the next verse from the Harvey Danger song:
put me in the hospital for nerves
and then they had to commit me
you told them all i was crazy....
Is there a correlation between no TV and psychopathology? (if so, it looks like we're doomed to either obesity or craziness, hmm) Well...not really. Lack-of-TV is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for inducing craziness. Though I could see it as tipping a person over the edge, especially if s/he had been depending on television for all contact with humanity. So in that case, TV is only integral because it is the stand-in for human needs that are normally fulfilled otherwise.
So, I sit in a lab all day, I don't have much contact with the world, just these goofy kitties I'm cat-sitting for--Will my TV-less life make me crazy? I dunno, mebbe. But since when was mental stability such a high virtue? I'm interested in more meaty questions. Such as: Does TV watching reduce my effectiveness as a contributing member of society?
Awareness of society--of its current events, of cultural trends, of its peoples' hopes and dreams and fears and so on--is a powerful precursor to the most effective altruism that you can find out there. Of course, there are charitable acts that you know, a priori, will be appreciated. You can donate food to Africa, visit a lonely person in a nursing home, whatever. But often, before you can attack a problem, you need to find the specifics of it, and that requires awareness.
This need for awareness is relevant to more mundane deeds as well. Our contributions to the world don't just come from intentional (and generally isolated) charitable acts. Our day-to-day lifestyle is probably way more important than any of those things. How do we interact with people in one-on-one situations? What kind of decisions do we make in situations of group conflict? How do we vote, and what kind of opinions do we voice on policy? And so on.
What kind of awareness does one need to be a good citizen in day-to-day life? Is it an awareness that only TV can provide? One can keep up with the news pretty well without ever turning on a television: With internet, radio, magazines, and newspapers, I'm always 'aware' of the world, at least in terms of current events that these media define as important. But what I'm lacking is a full awareness of pop culture.
Therein lies the problem. I don't have no pop culture. And while watching the major networks or VH1 or HBO won't tell me much about the significant events in the news, it will tell me what people find entertaining these days, what they like to think about, what kind of characters and dilemmas they identify with, etc. And to the extent that you can get into that part of Americans' psyche, you're doing pretty good. And in a country where TV is so important, it may be the only way you can get into Americans' psyche.
So, maybe it is my civic duty to watch TV. Does that mean I'm going to go out and buy one? No way.