Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: Is that A Televsion Set?

Watching TV or Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Time travel

I spent several years without a TV in my home. I spent half of those years sleeping on a plastic matress on the floor of my apartment because I was a poor college student. After I um um got a job, I still could not come around to buying a television. If I had lived three years without one, I could go on for many more.

Let it stand that I am frugal. You may say cheap. Potatoes, potahtoes. The money I would have to spring every month for the cable bill was an effective deterrant to watching TV.

But late into the 2008 election season, I caved. People became socially awkward if they did not watch Obama run rhetorical laps around McCain during the last debate. Moreover, I work at the news, I sometimes had to edit these speeches; I simply had to keep up. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? I could not read the prints about them and get a sufficient idea of how well they had argued their points. I could not see the smirks or the blind stares during which Mr. McCain would begin to recite a litany of slogans he had programmed to fill up space when he ran out of fuel.

So, I broke down and bought a television set.

It sat on the floor for weeks on a polyester burgandy table cloth my mother made me. (My mother sews things-- boho dresses, heart-shaped pillows, couch covers, anything into any shape you like. When I was in kindergarten, the school principal would reprimand her for the outré outfits she sewed for me.) Finally the election was over, I outfitted my new tv with a stand and thought I might start using it for leisure.

I decided to learn where the WB was and what was on it. Turns out it's now the CW.

Something weird started to happen and it made me suspicious. It was like time travel: I was losing half hours, sets of hours, trios yet I only had a faint glimmer of what I had screened.

Then I shut the tv off and read this. I lost five hours but it was a good read.

Whatever happened to good TV?

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman is a fast rant about the effects of television on popular culture.

Now, back in the day, I loved Frasier, I watched Friends until Jennifer Aniston begin to look like Mona from There's Something about Mary. Even further back, you had to do the Babysitters' Club on Disney and the Wonder Years will always be endearing.

But I had to agree with Postman that TV has become kinda trashy. (Why? it used to be so great, My So Called Life anyone?) Lately I just cannot find anything that I can watch without my mind going numb or getting seriously appalled. The Fat shows are just cruel, the bitch-fights are embarrasing to me as a woman and I do not have HBO or Showtime.

People do not question how TV affects them because it has become mythic, ubiquitous. Everything is offered through TV. Every other medium is filtered through it: magazine offers, radio announcements, the newspaper, film ads, etc.

As we have become accustomed to fast-moving images, our attention span has shortened. One of my greatest pet-peeves are people who cannot go through a dinner without checking their phones, blackberries or whatever.

Television is the pinnacle of that context-free information ladder. It presents every new item disconnected from the previous one in rapid fashion that obliterates the need to search for content. You are constantly and consistently titillated so that you do not need to think. You just watch.

Can be this be good for your brain?

People have tried to use TV as a means for serious discourse but it backfires because it does not lend itself to this kind of content. TV5, the international French channel's "literary" shows where people sit around and talk of books for about 2 1/2 hours are just queer and risible.

How do you use your tv? Are you watching any good shows? Do share because mine is gathering dust.

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