08 April, 2016

I hate television

I'm not sure I've ever conveyed just how much I hate television.

I watched my fair share of cartoons and Sesame Street as a small child, but after that 'family time' often meant sitting on the couch watching TV. I'm sure you can relate.

I couldn't. Not when actually, I don't know, talking to my family during the show would get me shushed until the next commercial.

That's at least one improvement: no commercials any more. Amazing that it took so long for people to realize they were paying for their television twice. Three times, actually: once to buy the device, a monthly fee to make it something other than a large brick and then the wasted time sitting through pitches for products you have less than zero interest in.

My attitude has only hardened over time. I remember working Christmas Eve at Green Gables, the variety store my mom ran for a while, two doors from my house in Ingersoll. EVERY movie was rented, the only time that ever even came close to happening. Everything from the kiddie stuff through to the limited selection of hummina-hummina-bow-chicka-bow-bow. That just flabbergasted me, especially the porn. Merry Christmas, sir, enjoy your copy of "Santa Comes Twice" (1984) (yes, it's real and it even stars Ron Jeremy in the title role).

Television as babysitter I get. But, you know, at some point we grow up. Or we're supposed to.

When I say I hate TV, people immediately correct me and tell me that no, I hate what's on TV. They're only barely right, because there have been shows I've liked, even loved. I can think of exactly four series that I had to drop whatever I was doing to watch. In reverse chronological order:
  • Game of Thrones
  • Mrs. Brown's Boys
  • Joan of Arcadia
  • Star Trek: TNG
Four shows. In my entire adult life.

Beyond that there have been a bevy of programs I would pay varying amounts of attention to, from listening just enough to know what's going on (Friends) to actually watching most of a majority of the episodes (Family Guy -- Seth MacFarlane has a direct pipeline into my sense of humour). I liked many episodes of Frasier, but by no means all. And if you told me I could never watch any of this second tier of shows ever again, I'd shrug and say "no problem".

And then there are seemingly hundreds of shows which I actively try to avoid, usually by putting my headphones on or otherwise zoning out.  That happens a lot in this house, because Eva has the TV on  before her eyes open in the morning and it goes off (sometimes) after she shuts them at night. I used to think it was just because she had an abiding hatred for silence. That's true, but it goes beyond that. She's been conditioned since earliest childhood -- like, fetalhood -- to have that TV on at all times.

The things that reliably cause me to zone out are legion. Here are a few:

  • REALLY ANNOYING VOICES. Any sour, nasal whine will do it.  Fran Drescher's in The Nanny is the absolute worst: it cuts right through whatever music I hastily crank up to mask it, and  it makes me want to put icepicks in my ears and run out of the house. Dishonourable mention: the actor who plays Robert in Everybody Loves Raymond (blow your nose already, buddy!)
  • PAIN MASQUERADING AS COMEDY. That rules out most sitcoms right there. The few comedies I can at least tolerate, from The Simpsons to That '70s Show  to The Big Bang Theory, all have an unmistakeable undercurrent of love running through them.  That's missing elsewhere, and watching people hurt each other never seemed funny to me.
  • SELF-EMBARRASSMENT. Frasier is an interesting case study here. It has some of the funniest half hours I've ever sat through...but it also has many episodes I can't stand. Whenever Frasier Crane acts like a complete douchecanoe, which is fairly often, I tune out. 
  • I really hesitate to write this...how shall we put this... okay, fine. SHOWS STARRING CARICATURES OF BLACK PEOPLE. Eva has a real fascination for these things, for some reason. I hate to admit to outright racism, even if everyone's a little bit racist...it's just that the scripts for so many of these shows are replete with Ebonics, which drives me up a wall (let me ax you a question: is it so hard to say "ask"?) Makes me seem petty, I know...so don't get me started on African-American standup comedians. From Eddie Murphy right on down, most of them can't seem to go half a sentence without saying either nigger or motherfucker. I'm not a prude by any means, but swearing for the sake of swearing doesn't impress me at all.
  • Finally, the big one: "REALITY" TV. Thankfully, that virus hasn't invaded this house, not even a little: my wife shares my disdain for shows like Survivor (wanna make that show worth watching? Drop a few grizzlies in there, give me something to cheer for!) or Slut Island or whatever the latest "reality" craze is. The fact that these shows have crowded out actual worthwhile television (can anyone tell me what TLC *used* to stand for?) is just foamy bile in the vomit. 
I'm not a real fan of TV news, either. It's sensationalist, thoroughly contaminated with the 'if it bleeds, it leads' mode of thought so common in trashy tabloid newspapers, and it tends to present only one or at best two sides of a story. 

Fred Kovacs said TV was "called a medium because it's neither rare nor well done." Bill Hicks said "watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye".  I've written more than one essay on the evils of the boob tube over my scholastic career: not to brag, but each one has netted me very high marks, probably because the teacher/professor can sense the passion I have for my topic. 
In one of my essays, I looked at the effects of television on Inuit youth.  TV came late to the Inuit (not until the fall of 1980) and so sociologists were granted the rare opportunity to watch the fallout of a technology they themselves may have taken for granted.
That fallout wasn't pretty. In a very short time, Inuit youth -- previously co-operative, community-minded, comparatively peaceable and without any real concept, let alone experience, of materialism --  became individualistic and hostile towards their elders and each other to the point of violence. Television rapidly subverted out their values, even their language (it wasn't until much later that all the programming wasn't in English!) and made the Inuit aware of the vast difference in standards of living between Northern and Southern Canada. Researchers have called TV "an agent of cultural genocide". 

Now, you can turn around and accuse me of the rankest sort of hypocrisy because I spend hours upon hours online, in front of a screen that's not much different from that of a television (in fact, my monitor was originally the kitchen TV). 

Point taken, except...it's not called "intervision". TV is passive: you sit, you absorb. The most you can do is change the channel. If I see something online that catches my attention, I can go into as much or as little depth as I want researching it. I can also (big plus, this) interact with friends, family, and total strangers online, hopefully getting access to all sorts of points of view. And virtual hugs, can't forget those. They're not real hugs but they're a damn sight better than anything on television.

This is Ken Breadner, signing off (remember when THAT happened on television?)

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