Monday, March 21, 2011

Boob Tube

This song doesn't exactly fit my topic, but it is the song I have been hearing in the back of my head as I think about what I am about to write. Television. I have had a mixed bag of feelings about television most of my life.

There was a time, I thought television was an instrument of the those who wanted to control us and turn us all into lemmings. In college, I was passionately opposed to marketers and their hype (read:lies) and I was absolutely certainly there was a plot on the part of some secret government society to control us through the use of television programs and commercials. I am not convinced that on some level that is actually not not true. One of my American Studies survey's was on television and its role in American Culture.

As I approach 40, I think it is more complicated than that. I think the motives are mixed, the masters many and that for the most part, television, like anything, food, drugs, alcohol and the like is best in moderation.

H and I limited L's television when she was very young. Same with E. I struggled with the use of television when they were each a little older. I am a lousy clock watcher. I would get involved in things like folding the clothes and washing dishes and lose track of time.

About 18 months ago, I had had enough. TV before school was making getting ready a total struggle. So I put a stop to it. The TV is off limits Monday through Friday at 4 pm. It is unlimited on the weekend. It goes off again Sunday at 6 or 7 pm. With the rare exception of holidays, snow days, and sick days. (The discovery of YouTube on the IPad has been a new wrinkle, same time frame applies.)

This works for us. This weekend E forfeited his television privileges and L in solitary watched no television most of Saturday and honestly very little on Sunday. I find the kiddos lose interest and go do something else very easily. Television for many kids is a habit and a bad one at that. That said, I think they need to learn to manage their television time, just as they need to learn to manage their study time and leisure time in general. Just like alcohol is neither bad nor good, it is the management of alcohol that is the issue. Drinking a glass of wine on a special occasional is not a big deal, drinking three bottle every night, is another matter entirely.

H and I watch very little television. There is only one in the house. For as long as we have lived together (15 years and counting) we have only had one television and never one in the bedroom. I have had periods of time in my life where I have watched more television, than I do now and I have had periods of time where I have watched less. I watch next to none now. Sometimes some HGTV while I am home during the day. Occasionally I surf a bit or I fold laundry in front of the television. Now that I can watch programs on my laptop or on the iPad, I find myself doing that more often.(I feel it is worth the nominal cost.) I like the commercial free option. Commercial are just not necessary. L has made up a little song about commercials. It is very cute and she says, "they make your head want to explode" and they do, don't they. The kids don't even like radio ads. Both L and E will say in the car, "Blah, Blah, Blah! BlahBLAH!"

My biggest problem with television and I think why this song, which is horribly dated and the slang, deplorable, is the disconnect. The reality television show. It is no more about reality that flying. The Real Housewives of Wherever might well be real people, but they aren't really. It is drama, like a play is drama, and it is not really reality. It is edited and they know they are on television, they are managing a persona the way any star or television personality manages a persona. All of those shows, the "reality" television shows are packaged garbage.

Even the cooking ones, which I will admit to being a Top Chef and Chopped junky,  (Project Runway too...) are engineered and edited for maximum dramatic impact. No one would watch hours of unedited footage of someone cooking or sewing or cleaning their house. (Well ok, someone might - but, that seems kinda creepy. One of those secret footage shows...)

The point is I think culturally we have a warped view of was is reality. Back to this perfectly awful song, there is a disconnect between US and THEM, whoever the US is and the THEM are. Television is not reality and reality is not television. Never has been and never will be, no matter how much we want it to be. Shows may well be about "real" people, but that snapshot, that few hours of footage is only that, a snapshot. Just as in the video to this song - while perhaps being in a band is better to being an appliance delivery guy, it is not all fun and games. Bands tour long hours. They live in a tour bus, which is hardly the Ritz. That album that is platinum, the profits feed at least 100 people when it is all said and done. Perhaps it is better than the appliance delivery gig and perhaps not.

I think Americans in general are lazy about their leisure pursuits but that said, historically theater, even exalted Shakespeare, were common pursuits.  Culturally speaking, our programs say something about us. What that something is, I am not sure. I remember going to Germany the first time and many Germans actually believed all Americans lived in either NYC of on the ranch of JR Ewing. Crazy but true. (They also seemed to think many of us dressed like the guys of Miami Vice.)

Television is a wrapped sense of who we are. One school of thought is that art imitates life (and wow I am loathed to actually call much of what is on television art.) and in some respects I think television is a reflection of our culture, but not exactly, more like a fun house mirror. Everything is warped and distorted. With the proliferation of channels, we have so many niche genres. I think in some respects this has made television better and in someways, certain networks, seem to have better programming and certainly it has opened up possibilities, in the area of SciFi, Home and Gardening and Cooking. Things that used to be relegated to public television on Tuesday nights.

So do I think there is a master plot to brainwash us emanating from every set? No.
Am I convinced that television is a good for us? No.
Do I think that television could do with some tweaking? Yes.

As with everything, it is moderation and the mature management of television, which I think is the answer. It is a matter of choice and understand, there is more choice than when I was a child. That I do like. Content is sketchy. The reality is as a culture as a society, I think the makers of television will provide what the masses are hungry for, the question is, why are lapping up what we are. And that ladies and gentleman is a question, I just don't have an answer for, at all.

(next week, I promise - a song I actually LIKE will be featured.)

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