Why You Should Kill Your TV
The Beachside Resident - May 2010
A long, long, long time ago, before television came into the world, people were so exceedingly bored with their lives and had so much free time on their hands that they wasted their days with such banalities as leaves flapping about in the breeze, or gawking at the ripples made by ducks on the river, or staring for hours on end while ants scrabbled in procession up oak branches.
People picked flowers, walked aimlessly in circles, started wars, built pyramids, created feudal states, tamed horses, invented various irrigation techniques, scratched themselves endlessly, whittled away at pieces of wood, and pretty much did whatever else they could to combat the mind-numbing ennui of their existences. Often these pitiable ancestors of ours would become so weary and depressed with their lives that they would lie down in the grass and gaze up at the clouds, hallucinating them to be animals or clowns or boats or the misshapen profiles of certain elderly relatives. A depressing, monotonous life! We are fortunate they didn’t all kill themselves, for if they had, the television would never have been invented. On too many occasions these poor souls, while sprawled out miserably in the grass, would turn to one another and remark something to the effect of, “Don’t you just hate it that ‘Dancing with the Stars’ won’t come on for another five hundred years?”
Life groaned along, sad and repetitive, for many a long generation. (They don’t call it “the Dark Ages” for nothing.) To compensate for the lack of television, people were forced into abiding the most humiliating forms of entertainment. All that time spent watching flowers bloom and clouds laze overhead led many a talented person (who might otherwise have spent their time more productively, like penning episodes of “Glee” or “Lost”) to the practice of literature, or worse still, poetry. What else could be done? Nights were lonely occasions, with nothing but oil lamps to light up their drab, TV-less abodes. Thankfully, the written language is quite dead, now.
According to Neilsen’s “Three Screen Report,” the average American can now comfortably claim to watch five hours of TV per day. This number seems to me quite conservative. Consider, for example, the eight o'clock hour this past Wednesday. Running concurrently were “American Idol,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”, “Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood,” “America’s Best Dance Crew,” and “Nurse Jackie,” to name but a few standouts. Assuming you wanted to catch the NBA game (Charlotte Bobcats at Orlando Magic) and were obliged to TiVo® these other programs, by the time you made it through your prime-time lineup you would already have accounted for seven hours of viewing pleasure –– all of it must-see television! Remember, this is before the 11:00 News or the “Late Show.” It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that Neilsen’s estimates are somewhat remiss.
Recently, while waiting in line for my morning coffee at Juice N’ Java café, I ran into an eccentric fellow... I say eccentric because his hair was wild and unbrushed, his shirt unbuttoned to the navel, and because he corralled me into a conversation, though I was clearly engaged on my iPhone and not interested in chatting. When he noticed I was watching Fox News, he was particularly keen to inform me that he didn’t subscribe to cable TV. My first thought was to reach into my pocket and give the poor wretch a dollar, but he quickly smiled and waved off my charity. It was then that he revealed to me a most scandalous thing.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “I wouldn’t take cable if they gave it to me for free!”
After an incredulous pause, I thought I gathered his meaning. “Ah! So it’s satellite, then.”
The stranger shook his head.
I wrung my mind for further explanations. “Sidereel? Catchtv.com? Itunes On Demand?”
No, no, and again no. Apparently, this madman didn’t partake in any television viewing whatever. As his bizarre claim sunk into my caffeine-depleted brain, I brought my coffee over to the table, hopeful to take leave of the situation. But this curiosity had the gall to follow me, sit down beside me, and recount this story:
“It started as an experiment, you see. I used to watch TV as much as the next guy. I would come home from work, set myself down on the couch, grab the remote, and relax into it. One day — oh, it must have been ten years ago — a power outage blacked me out for the whole evening. I wandered outside… I remember it like yesterday… and I saw the most fantastic shooting star. Blue as a sapphire, just screaming across the sky! It was then that I had my revelation.”
At this time, the strange gentleman placed upon the table a small, black pamphlet, which he slid over to me. On the cover, in bold, capital letters, were the words: “KILL YOUR TV.”
“Here. Take this home with you. Read it. Just imagine… if you devoted five hours a day, every day, to the practice of a skill you always wanted to learn, but never got around to…”
“Excuse me,” I said, pushing the pamphlet back his way. “It’s very interesting, but I’ve got to go to work.”
“Wait!” He grabbed my wrist then, and his blue eyes sparkled with such intensity that it was painfully clear to me that he was clinically insane. “I became a Shaolin master in only three years,” he said softly. “Five hours a day… that’s five thousand hours of training.”
I tried to wrench my arm free, but his grip was uncommonly strong.
“The subsequent year, I wrote two novels. Both were published, and sold to mild acclaim.”
Sensing my distress, he let go. But he stood up with me.
“I learned French and Spanish the following year,” he said, following me to the door. “And Mandarin Chinese the next. Five hours a day… it’s another lifetime! I’ve read over two hundred novels this past year alone, along with the I Ching, and the Bible three times!”
He was working himself into a frenzy now. I opened the door and hurried outside, but somehow he slipped in front of me, and continued to rant as I strode across the parking lot.
“I’m an expert in biomechanics. And I sell photographs to the local newspaper. I learned to surf! I’m in the process of mastering the art of tantric sex. Listen, just take the pamphlet. While everyone else is watching ‘The Bachelorette,’ or decomposing in front of Trident gum commercials, you have the chance become the man you’ve always wanted to be!”
I finally reached my car. As I opened the door, this oddity hovered beside me, holding out his black pamphlet. The words on the cover looked sinister in the light of the sun. I glanced around, made sure there were witnesses, and held up my hand to decline the offer.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but your arguments lack currency. TV, a waste of time? Why not just say that the frenetic editing and continually changing perspective trigger ADD? Or that while the programs promote violence, they are steadily interrupted by commercials sponsoring sterility and consumerism? Or that the news channels propogate fear, helplessness, and the two-party system? Or that excessive channel-changing can lead to feelings of isolation and depression? Did you know that just five minutes of TV viewing reduces your alpha brainwaves to a state of near hypnosis?”
By the muted expression on his face, and the limp way he let the pamphlet fall to his side, I could see I had trumped him.
“If you had seen Craig Ferguson last night, you would know this,” I said, triumphantly buckling myself in. “You should check it out sometime — it’s a fantastic show.”