Saturday, October 25, 2008


(News-Herald, October 23) I’ve decided to take the plunge, to cut the cord, to make a bold new life change.

Okay, not quite that drastic. But I’m getting rid of my cable television.

And no, I didn’t simply replace it with satellite dish. I do still have dvds and netflix. But I have detached myself from the stream of popular culture.

It’s not that I’m a television snob who sniffs at the common herd for lowering themselves to watch the “idiot box.” I have watched a lot of television in my life, filling my brain with a mass of cathode-ray mulch. I do appreciate the great things that tv has accomplished. I have fond memories of staying up to watch Neal Armstrong on the moon. Many of us know much of what we know about the rest of the world because we’ve seen it on tv.

Television comes with negatives as well. I think perhaps the worst is the dual curse of bad acting and bad writing. I don’t object to these twin scourges on artistic grounds, but because I suspect they’ve had a bad effect on our society. Generations of young Americans have tried to learn about life and human nature by watching characters who neither speak nor act like real human beings. It’s the equivalent of athletes trying to learn how to play football by watching a night of Bingo at the VFW.

There are plenty of reasons I’ve become disenchanted with tv. I never minded that it was stupid; I am not ashamed to admit that I logged many hours of watching Gilligan’s Island, a show with proven ability to suck the IQ points right out of a room.

So no, I don’t mind the stupidity of television. What has bothered me in recent years is the sheer meanness of it. Television has become a 24-hour-a-day celebration of what is worst about us.

Entire shows celebrate greed, selfishness and unkindness. Dramas compete to see who can present the most graphic portrayal of ugly violence. Comedy is about watching some character’s painful humiliation. In “reality” programming, cast members work to make a name for themselves. Behavior that people would once have been ashamed to reveal in front of even their closest family they now parade loudly for the entire world, in hopes that a shameless display of their ugliest selves will rocket them to some fame and fortune.

That bothers me, just as it bothers me that broadcast journalism is such a sad shadow of its former self. Once the images and words on the news would challenge us to expand our understanding of the world. Now we select the news by our preferred bias, choosing the network that comfortably confirms what we already believe. Election coverage is a bad joke. Once, news organizations were ashamed to be caught showing bias; now their skewed viewpoint is a proud part of their marketing plan. If I want real information, I’ll read it in print.

I have to admit that the party most responsible for ending my relationship with tv is—well, I’m in the clichéd position of having to look tv in the eye and say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

I allow tv to suck hours out of my life. I’m about to head out the door to the bike trail or the river or just around the block, but first I’ll just catch the end of this show (which I only turned on to provide some random background noise in the house) and there I am, rotund posterior perched on the couch an hour later (an hour including at least 16 minutes of ads). I have every intention of sitting on the porch and reading a book, but then…

Television has become the other voice in my house, a cheap way to eat up extra time. And that’s the rest of it—a recent hike in cable costs reminded me that it’s not even particularly cheap any more. Since the nest has emptied out, I could be filling up some of the empty spots with things I love, but instead I’ve been filling up with really expensive packing peanuts. For what it costs to feed the box, I could feed myself at Leonardo’s many times over.

We’ll see if I can hold out. I’ll still watch, but only as a deliberate choice and only the things I really want to watch (House dvds, here I come), when I want to watch them (and without the 25% advertising).


Dittman said...

You'll never miss it - I will admit to a hulu and netflix addiction, but you'll find a whole lot of more time to write....(or at least fewer excuses not to)

condatis said...

Yay! Welcome to the club.

I didn't even know there was a club til this past week. I always felt weird saying to someone who asked "Did you catch....", "Gee, um, no we don't do t.v.". Now I've met at least 5 people in the last week with NO t.v. service in their home (except hulu and Film Fest).

I'm not above wasting time on t.v. things. We are just picky about what we use that time kid loves dvd's and vhs from the library more than he likes watching anything at my sis's house on the weekends. Myself, I would rather have a book. When you break it down its way cheaper to rent Lost at Film Fest than pay for cable just to get free t.v.

Joe said...

Aww, you needn't have gotten all high and mighty about lame content - it makes you sound like a fogey. One can always find something redeeming coming over the coax on some channel - and there are hundreds to choose from, not the half dozen you had growing up. And have you looked recently at any of the cartoons and TV shows from back in the day? The background levels of violence, smoking, and race, gender and cultural biases might surprise you. Why not simply admit to making a present value judgment about how you now prefer to spend your time and money?

Peter A. Greene said...

Awww, Joe. You've been hitting "comment" before you finish reading again, haven't you.

Condatis, I, too, have found unplugged people coming out of the woodwork. And I agree-- still plenty of fun things to watch, just on my own schedule and my own terms. Film Fest I have not tried-- I am a netflix man. And I'm learning the appropriate websites.

And yes-- rekindling the love affair with the written word, both my own and others'

Yashodhara said...

HI, hit upon your blog via Utne. TV is not that bad when you don't call it TV. Call it "Moving Images" and it becomes just that. We are animals with a visual sense, we need archetypes, symbols, images to order life. The practical bit is how we shape the TV - subscribe to channels that are meaningful. I am not sure, frankly, what TV in USA is really like but I have world cinema channels, several news channels from CNN to Al Jazeera to Sky News and I truly enjoy self controlled viewing.
Yashodhara from Shanghai

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