How Television Is Ruining Us

Friday, February 25, 2011

I recently spent a week in Pocatello Idaho with my son. I accept your condolences. Living in graduate housing, he has built in cable and internet, which really means he has internet that never connects and six channels on the telly. I had my choice of the ‘major three’, Fox, QVC and MTV. There was also a couple of ‘infomercial’ channels, an “Art” channel that from what I could see, never played anything artistic, BYU cable access channel and a local channel that, and I am not kidding here, advertised for you to ‘add your own show here’. We saw it twice while flipping through. Once it was 4 very dorky looking teens sitting around a table laughing at each other’s inane comments while they waited for someone to call in. No one ever did. Jason discovered they had a FB page with about a dozen fans. Probably parents. The other time we came across what Jason said looked exactly like Santa Claus talking about Jesus. It was an interesting week with no internet.
I am a child of the 70’s. I was weaned on t.v. It was my babysitter and my entertainment. Being an only child, it was the sibling I could visit with at night with the lights off when my parents thought I was asleep. When I was raising my own kids in the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of backlash directed at television and I defended it. I had grown up on a steady diet of the stuff and it did not render me illiterate or uneducated. And I didn’t even watch PBS as a kid!
I still love television. I like watching some reality shows (mostly the cooking ones like Top Chef) and I love Discovery and yes, PBS shows. I enjoy some sitcoms, think Syfy is great and am addicted to House Hunters. And I still read something every night.
But being stuck in Pocatello Idaho…well….things started changing. I began to notice after my second day that for those who are stuck home all day long, or choose to be, there isn’t much to watch. After a morning diet of newsy shows (that are not news, no matter that they have someone sitting at the ‘news desk’ for a few minutes every hour) you are given a choice to watch court television shows, tired soap operas or MTV’s steady diet of ‘reality’ tv. And this is how I came to believe that television has ruined us.
The housewives of anywhere in America and those Jersey kids shows:
I am not sure who you are, sitting at home during the day in Iowa or Nebraska or Ohio..but let me assure you of something here: these are not real people. Oh I know they’re ‘sort of’ real…but they are not real on the show. Not in any way. People do not dress like that or act like 24/7 without ending up incarcerated or being kept for observation. Watching these shows you begin to compare your life to theirs, your friends to theirs, and the lack of drama in your life to theirs. Your life, in comparison, seems pretty dull and needs a little shaking up, doesn’t it? Should you begin a fling with the mail person? Leave your family for a guy 20 years younger you met online playing WOW? Even Sookie, the saucy little thing on Jersey Shore told David Letterman the other night “I’m nothing like that in real life.” While I’m sure she probably IS a little something like that in real life, she made a point. Most of the time she is most likely sitting around alone, eating uncooked cookie dough and trying to think of something shocking to do to lift herself out of boredom. Or, as she told Letterman, ‘trying to brand myself.’ There you go.
Judge Judy and all those other Judges
While I’m sure she’s a real fun person to talk with over dinner, Judy Judy has ruined television. There is not a bored person alive who, after sitting day after day in their darkened living rooms watching her, doesn’t start to make a mental list of all the times they’ve been wronged or the people they should have sued for ‘damages’. Whether your ex boyfriend dumped you after you purchased him a new cd (that was never intended to be a gift) or your sisters ex husbands brothers best friends sister talked trash to you and pulled your hair out one day during dinner….these shows have you thinking about every wrong ever thrown your direction, and bring about a sense of what I call ‘victim’ mentality. Shame on you, Judge Judy!
Newsy/Talky shows
You’ve watched these, I’m sure. I like Oprah though she can go here sometimes. The thing I always thought I liked about some of the others (Dr. Phil, anyone) is that they at least attempt to ‘help’ people who have just disclosed that their baby daddy isn’t really the baby daddy at all and it was his best friend or brother or next door neighbor or sworn enemy. Most of these shows make a pretense of holding hands and patting shoulders and offering ‘help’ when the camera stops rolling. I like to think this is true. But Oprah? Well, this season all I have seen so far of her is someone who has already left the show. Her smiles never reach her eyes any more, her empathy seems to be ebbing a little low and she looks all the time like she has mentally moved on to dinner or her phone call to Gayle that evening. One season too many?
But does anyone ever get helped on these shows? You begin to feel, after awhile, that their pain and suffering is just trotted out for entertainment and, maybe, a way to make us all feel a little better about our lives and our choices. Either that or we all start looking suspiciously at everyone in our life after awhile
The New Dating game shows
You know which ones these are, the bachelor/bachelorette/rich guy looking for love shows. I’m fortunately not even sure how many of them are out there but they are a sad commentary on where relationships are headed in our world. In what strange universe would anyone think it was acceptable for someone to line people up, test drive them, and then bring them back in a line up to point out which ones were the fastest and think this was applicable to dating? Who has the best features? Whose engine runs smoothly? Should we eliminate this one because they’re last year’s model and have too much wear on the tires? Thanks, but no thanks.
And this is why I think these kind of shows are ruining television. They leave people compartmentalizing their lives; dicing everything they feel or have done into little sound bites that can be given as ‘teasers’ in between commercials. They create a sense that we all have a story to tell that would shock or amaze or cause people to jump to their feet with a standing ovation over how we’ve manage to survive. It leaves us all thinking that maybe we’re all a little more interesting than we really are. It even encourages us to a sense of self-importance that, for most of us, is quite frankly not warranted.

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