The Television: Friend and Foe
April 17, 2009

I have for some time had a love/hate relationship with the television. Growing up, it was a welcomed friend, delivering the warm and fuzzy classics such as "The Cosby Show," "Family Ties," and the great "ode" to early American values known as "All in the Family." I was probably the only three-year-old who actually regularly tuned in to Archie Bunker's tirades with great anticipation and interest. Growing up, I don't remember being babysat by the television. I don't remember television being a central focus of my life. My parents were fairly strict about the television being off on school nights or until homework was finished. If I rushed through my times tables I likely would be granted permission to catch an hour or so of prime time sitcom television and that was that.

When I was a child, cable television didn't bleep out swear words because they weren't even allowed on the air. Most networks didn't even air shows with four letter words so no bleeping was necessary (save maybe Jerry Springer, which actually used to be a legitimate talk show believe it or not). Back then, even tertiary swear words--the stuff we hear today in most rated-PG movies--were bleeped out. I never, not for one second thought of television as an enemy. Television was the bearer of all things good--a friend in our home, bringing delightful goodness, humor, education, and even a bit of insight here and there. Perfect it was not, but I was none the wiser. As long as the television brought me closer to Bill Cosby, it was the best thing since sliced bread.

Summers were an entirely different story. During the summers of my childhood I could take in as much television as I wanted and it was a glorious season to behold. Daytime television was like a treasure trove of new shows I'd never seen before. I remember the summer I was first introduced to soap operas. I was eleven-years-old and spent that particular summer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with my grandparents. When it came to television there are three shows that my grandfather never missed: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (airing on Christmas Eve only), any football games involving the Pittsburgh Steelers, and of course, Days of Our Lives. Never has a show had a more fitting title because indeed that is what you give when you indulge yourself in soap operas - DAYS of your life. I tuned in avidly every day, hoping to find some sort of redemption in the storyline. The writers had me on the edge of my seat for each and every show...waiting intently on a resolution that would never come. I quickly observed that any inconsistencies in the plot or sense of reality could all be covered up by one of the characters having amnesia--lots and lots of amnesia. Soap operas are insufferable.

It took me an entire summer to come to the revelation that the chief end of daytime television (soap operas in particular) is to ensure that you the viewer will tune in again tomorrow. Beyond that, there is no other goal. I wanted my money back. "Days of Our Lives" had ripped off my entire summer and I felt utterly betrayed. Three months' worth of watching still left me with the same questions I had on day one of my soap opera experience. There is a lesson there I wish I'd realized much sooner in life.

One warm summer day in Seattle, I stood before 400 people and said, "I do" to a man who despises television. To all you single people, let me just say this: among the many things I think engaged couples should discuss in their pre-marital counseling type days is a little topic I like to call "Television Philosophy." Seriously people, this subject comes before who is going to do most of the cooking and perhaps even when you're going to have children. The thing most people will not come to realize until they've entered marriage is that one of the greatest challenges of sharing your life with someone is just that: how you live your life. There are certain realities about our every day lives we accept as normal and "proper" until someone else comes along and does things entirely differently. It's never the big issues that cause conflict; it's the little bitty ones like who unloads the dishwasher or whether towels should or shouldn't be left in certain places or how Saturdays are spent.

When I agreed to marry my husband I did so under the condition that when it was time for me to move into his house, I got to bring my television. He knew what he was getting into though it wasn't the easiest transition for either of us to make. He had to accept that there would be a television in the house. I had to accept that I couldn't turn it on anytime I wanted to. I wasn't a hardcore television watcher, but I did enjoy a show or two, but most importantly, television was my white noise. It was the way I chose to unwind after a long day in the life of an extrovert. It required nothing of me, it asked me no questions, and allowed me to be vegetable-like at my own discretion. But that pleasure? That same pleasure I felt when I watched Bill Cosby tell Theo that his logic about being a "regular person" was the "Dumbest thing" he'd ever heard anyone say (pilot episode). That was gone. Television wasn't stimulating anything in me. It was my opiate.

It's difficult to pinpoint the beginning of the demise of television in general. If you ask my father, it's always been on a downward spiral. All I know is one day I blinked and next thing I knew, you could record and watch your favorite television shows on demand and reality television had taken over as the new cheap route to high ratings. Through the course of time whatever standards of propriety we once had seemed to be completely muddied and the "pushing of the envelope" gained people accolades instead of the lambasting they deserved.

One frigid January in 2008 I had an epiphany of sorts. My husband and I were in Atlanta on business, and were surrounded by all sorts of successful people from various walks of life. I've made it a point to study successful people. That is, people with the type of success after which I'd like to pattern myself. I clarify lest someone thinks Paris Hilton is included in that lot. One of the major commonalities among many of the people I was meeting is that they were not television watchers. It wasn't anything personal against the television nor was it any type of judgment on the range of programming available. Simply put, they didn't have the time. They were so wrapped up in moving forward with their different visions that television was simply a distraction to their end goal.

I turned to my husband and said, "We need to get rid of our television." I had so many projects on the backburner I was running out of space on the stove. Nothing in my life was moving quickly enough for me and it was clear to me in that moment that the presence of the television was a distraction from the real work I had in front of me. I made it clear to my husband that this was a temporary existence. I didn't want the television banished forever, but I wanted it out of my life until some of my major life goals were met.

In January of 2009, I celebrated my one-year television-less-versary. When we first sold our only television I literally thought the world was going to come crashing down on the fact that I was going to miss the "Project Runway" season finale. Oddly enough, I got over it. I now find myself not missing the television at all. I've heard most shows can be found on the Internet now, but I have no desire whatsoever to indulge. I find myself reading more, accomplishing more, imagining more, and creating more. The hum of the television has been replaced by a silence I coveted for so many years and I love it.

Every night I walk my dog around our neighborhood when most folks have finished dinner and are in for the night. The darkness of the night provides little to look at except the bright lights emanating from the households along the street. It's interesting to me to peer into the windows of the homes of the average American. Without fail, more times than not you will find the family gathered around the tantalizing glow of the almighty television. To a certain degree I can relate because I too have been there on so many occasion. But my overwhelming reaction is sadness because in so many ways, I believe our love for television in this country has robbed so much time from our lives and innovation from our minds. I sometimes think we all could benefit from just turning that thing off just to see what original thoughts are swimming around in our brains.

I'll own a television again, but it surely won't own me.

Posted by Ambra at April 17, 2009 10:44 AM in Life ,Media ,Television
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Welcome back to blogging! Now I understand why you go to the movies so often.

Hey Karen! Good to see you. I actually don't go to the movies that often. There isn't much out that interests me these days. I just tweet about it every time I do! Sure I happened to see "Taken" 3 times, but that was because friends kept dragging me to see it again. :-)

I remember you hearing you on Politickin Radio talk about not watching TV. And I actually tried it myself; so from Jan 08 until July 08, I didn't watch TV. Then, I had a longing to watch it. Yet, I don't watch it very much at all. I really don't. I now know that I really can do without the luxury of a television. I guess that makes sense.

Anywho, welcome back to blogging. And, I look forward to this weeks'(and those forthcoming) Politickin Radio.

Besides being more productive, I read an article that said that folks who watch little television are more happy. I stopped watching for a while, I'm not 100% sure it made me happier, but I was way more focused on my tasks at hand.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/health/research/20happy.html

I need to try this. My husband is into TV more than I am and I do agree that it takes away so much. I laughed when you said that couples should talk about their "television philosophy" in premarital counseling. My husband and I are still discussing our "cleaning philosophies". lol Maybe I will try to wean myself...

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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