Television and Meaning

I haven’t watched a lot of television in the past six years, ever since we moved our TV into a room that didn’t have a cable hookup. In doing so we created a comfy little hideaway that was perfect for movie viewing. But, that meant if we wanted to tune in to real TV we had to record it off an antiquated VCR and then find time to watch it. The result: the TV absolutely became less of a presence in our lives, so much so that we decided to give up all but the most basic of cable service.

I loved the freedom of being unplugged from television, but sometimes felt clueless during parties and gatherings, when the conversation inevitably veered toward the latest goings on in TV land.

Well, all that changed early last summer. My husband proclaimed there was a way to bring the cable into the small interior room where the TV resided. I was skeptical at first, but as he wore me down I joined the problem solving adventure, and just as the weather was heating up we did indeed devise a way to snake that cable up the side of the house, into an attic vent, across the living room ceiling, down into a small coat closet, until – Voila! – it spit itself out nicely through the wall right behind the TV.

At first I hardly noticed it, because I was so unused to it. Little did I realize, however, that a powerful force was brewing that would bring me eye-to-eye with it on a daily basis: Election Year.

I forgot that something happens to me during presidential campaigns. My closet political junky shows up and wants to be fed! She demands a daily diet of all the news and then some. And I discovered that there’s plenty out there, even if you’re limited to basic cable and have a proclivity towards PBS. I mean, you can spend a lot of time watching the News Hour, Washington Week, Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers, et al. I sure did. Add the constant presence of wireless internet, and by the end of it I was drained and ready for rehab. Time to turn it off.

If only it were that simple. As the new year dawned, the TV stayed on.

And something else happened. New “shows” started. Shows I’d been hearing about for years but had never watched. Okay, I’m a curious person. Why not watch a few, I reasoned. See what all the fuss is about. So I did. But a few episodes turned into every episode, an entire season, and before I knew it, I was hooked.

I went from being a person who watches one hour of TV a week to at least six hours a week.

Sometimes it was fun, but it wasn’t particularly meaningful. And I know better. I know that almost every study says that TV sucks meaning from our lives because it doesn’t truly engage us. It’s just a placeholder for real life.

Consider this quote from Soulcraft, by Bill Plotkin: “Television ranks high among common addictions in our society. To people who watch more than a few hours a week, I recommend they literally remove the TV from their home. While most people seem a bit embarrassed but agree with me, others declare I must be absolutely out of my mind. They launch into a  defense of the ‘quality programming’ found amidst all the trash. These are the addicts.” 

Plotkin goes on to explain that if you routinely claim you don’t have enough hours in the day to do those things that are meaningful to you, you’d be wise to look at your TV viewing habits as a possible obstacle.

Personally, I cringe when I think about how I made an actual commitment to it: gotta get home by 8:00 or I’ll miss that show. There are so many other things I could have done that would have been more satisfying: take a walk, meditate, write, play with the cats, hang out with friends, snuggle with my husband, sit in the garden, watch the sunset or moonrise, read a book.

So I’m ecstatic that the end of the TV season is here. I’m going cold turkey. I want my life back.

If any of this resonates with you, why not start now and consider how much meaning TV really gives you? It’s not that I’m an anti-TV zealot or anything, but I think the question is worth asking.

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