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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

 
The Great TV Debate
I have now been well and truly without TV for nearly 5 months now, since I went to China. Almost immediately after I returned from my 5-week sojourn abroad, I moved into an apartment that is more or less underground, and thus gets neither cell phone nor regular TV reception. If I want to watch actual television programming, I will have to get cable. Of course, if I was going to watch anything on TV, it'd probably be on cable anyway, but in spite of that extra incentive, I find myself consistently not doing anything about actually getting a cable connection.

After my post-election futility post, my uncle Bruce emailed me his own rant about the current erosion of our civilization into a mass of mindless, thoughtless, consumer sheep. He blames a large part of this on the ubiquity of TV in our lives now. Allow me to selectively quote his email:
To use this [passivity] properly, we need to work people as much as possible. Sixty hour weeks minimum. Wear them out. Exhaust them. Send them home. By the time they eat (processed food of course, or better yet, fast food, because they're too tired to cook) it's too late and they are too tired to do much besides flop down in front of the tube for a couple of hours before bed. Then we show them shows about people who are really stupid so they can feel better about their own stupidity. At least they are smarter than those sitcom dads, or those idiots on reality TV shows. And lots of commercials that tell them that if they'll only buy our product, they'll feel better and be one up on the Joneses next door.

What do you end up with here? People that only work, eat, and consume. They don't have time to read - how many people read books anymore? They don't have time to visit with their neighbors - how many even know who their neighbors are?

[...]

So don't get mad. Don't get despondent. Get organized, and quit dealing with regressives. Quit buying their goods and services... Support your independent merchant - never shop at a chain. Hang out with progressives and people who can think. Put down regressives - always challenge their statements. But most of all - kill your TV, and don't allow anyone to sucker you into watching theirs. Instead read a book, or talk to them. Give books to people that have TVs and badger them into reading.
So now I sit in my apartment and look at my bookshelves full of books, books, and more books, some of which I haven't had time to read yet, and I don't really feel like I need a TV. I haven't really missed it. Honestly, I found that once I left the country for an extended period and was forcefully separated from any regular show-watching, when I came back, they all seemed pretty stupid. There's so little challenge to it, unlike trying to watch in a foreign language, so what's the point? It's been years since I've actually just sat down and watched a show anyway. It was always just something else going on while I was cross-stitching, or blogging, or making lesson materials.

The thing is, though, that in some ways it made me feel more connected with people. It created some false sense of cultural community with people who watched the same shows. I mean, sure, they were mostly nerdy shows like Jeopardy or The West Wing, but it gave me something normal to talk about, which sometimes seems passing rare in my life.

Another point, which I consider more valid and debate-worthy, is that since I wasn't sitting passively in front of sitcoms and reality shows, I did find TV stimulating sometimes. One of my best lesson units last semester came from seeing a commercial for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial website. Because I honestly do think that my students can improve their English by watching TV, I feel kind of like a hypocrite having no possible way to watch it myself. If I'm teaching Speaking & Listening next semester, this may become a larger problem.

Teaching resources aside, though, I really don't see how I'd have time to watch TV. I barely have enough time as it is, and whatever free time I manage to find, I pretty much spend reading, because if I don't I truly fear I will go insane. No matter how much Lee would appreciate being able to watch football or basketball (in my opinion the 2 most boring mainstream sports known to US television) when he's here, I'm finding it very hard to justify the $30 or whatever it would be per month to watch the ocassional show.

Anyone else want to weigh in the debate?

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