Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Television Avoidance Strategy

Television Avoidance Strategy

After the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, I gave my TV away. I was right in the middle of a mass communication master's program at the time, and studying the sordid business of television made certain realities as crystal clear to me as an HD broadcast.

Faced with a medium that increasingly reveled in its own excesses, wallowed in its own history and congratulated itself for its own cultural relevance, I was convinced that I could be doing other things with my time. I put my viewing excesses aside, wallowed in my inflated, thirty-ish liberal sense of cultural superiority and congratulated myself for taking a stand against corporate hegemony.

As a result I wrote more music, read more books, got in a little exercise, took up meditation and admittedly spent way too much time online, some of it watching TV shows. But at least I had my self-respect.

We watched a lot of television in my house when I was a kid, probably because my parents remembered a time when there was no such thing as television and were determined to make up for years of boredom, longing and imaginative splendor of a childhood spent in front of the radio.

In 1982, I saw Mommie Dearest, the sensational flop about Joan Crawford's innovative parenting methods, over twenty times. Why? Certainly not because it was a classic but simply because it was on twice a day and it was summer, after all. I also know the entire scripts of Kramer vs. Kramer, Arthur, Red Dawn, Blue Thunder and On Golden Pond by heart for the same reason.

The advent of paying for television instilled in many a maniacal desire to get value for money, and if the quality of consumer goods and entertainment were somehow lacking, then by God, the sheer quantity of inferior stuff we could consume would make up for it. I see that some things haven't changed.

Kate and I were house sitting for friends over the holidays. In addition to staying in a nice place and playing with the dogs, we got to watch hundreds of cable channels on a television bigger than God. In one week, I made up for lost time. I was ready to plunge into mindless viewing, mostly because my computer was broken. But, I reasoned, i needed to stay current in media trends or they'd take my degree away.

It's sort of like having to re-up your CPR certification every once in awhile to keep from killing somebody when giving them mouth to mouth. My quest from the couch was a refill on media literacy to preserve my credentials and reaffirm all the horrible things I believe to be wrong with the world. And what did I see...?

After two years of abstaining mindlessly flipping channels to find something, I was amazed at how little had actually changed. Bravo! still runs several hours of The West Wing every day. many of the new shows seemed much like the old ones--middle-aged housewives in Orange County, has-been celebrities competing for one last close-up and gastronomic porn via the Food Network.

With the onset of dire economic times, I wondered what would become of all the dicers, slicers, exercise machines and other crappy, poorly designed ephemera that would probably end up in a landfill but were still heavily advertised. The best ad was for an aerobic exercise program that taught women how to dance like strippers and lose unsightly inches. Women in body suits gave chair dances to nobody, and there was even an optional stripper's pole available. OK, maybe TV had changed a little.

I saw an amazing documentary about the rain forest on National Geographic that had brilliant, vivid photography. On the same channel, I saw a horrible documentary on the twelve deadliest animals of India, which basically consisted of a lot of footage of brown people re-enacting snake bites and pretending to be mauled by elephants intercut with stock nature footage.

I thought of how I could produce and equally gratuitous and exciting show called Twelve Deadliest Appliances at Ken's House , in which I re-enact confrontations with household items. Half-blind people wrestling with simple domestic chores and battling with appliances would surely be funny to someone. or at least offensive.

Most of the same movies aired endlessly on HBO in 1982 were still on, apparently running continuously while I graduated high school and college, wrote and performed music, got married and divorced, made albums and wrote copy. I watched some old favorites again, like Paul Newman in The Verdict--a film I had always liked, but appreciated much, much more twenty-odd years later. The movies and indeed the whole medium of television hadn't changed much, but I realized that I had.

That's about all the wisdom I can wring out of that premise, folks. But what do you expect from me? I've been watching television for one week straight!

Happy New Year, everybody. I promise I'll get back to blogging regularly in 2009.

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