upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ramblings on TV and Leaving It Behind

A number of years ago when I moved into a new house, I decided not to have cable installed for my television. I even decided not to get an antenna. No broadcast TV for me. This was a big deal for me. I'm part of the "TV Generation." I grew up watching TV. As a child, it was Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo, and Mister Rogers. As I aged, it became other shows - The Love Boat, Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island, The Carol Burnett Show, and others. My parents never put too much stock on limiting what I watched; at least, I don't think they did. This, of course, was before there was 24-hour cable so there was still plenty of time to play outside - in the sand box, in the tree house, with our pets, and with toys in the side and back yards. We roller skated, played pretend, and raced our Big Wheels around the neighborhood. As long as I finished my homework (I always did), spent time reading books (which I loved), and played outside (of course!), then TV wasn't such a big deal. So, when I decided to leave television behind, I actually had to mourn it for a while.

The thing is, I wasn't the first of my circle of friends to leave behind television. For years, my friends had been setting aside things that had been almost second nature for us. No TV. No car. No prepared foods. Certainly no video games. I was always the one with the new car, the reliable television set, and most definitely a VCR, DVD player, or cable movie subscription. When my friends wanted to watch a sports game or catch a movie on demand or see some live TV, I was the one to go to. In many ways, I was the last of most of my friends to toss over these old mainstays of life.

I haven't stopped watching television shows, I've abandoned broadcast TV. I use Hulu or Amazon (and occasionally iTunes) for watching TV. It streams right to my television. (Nice one, techno-geeks. Thanks!) I still watch the programs that I want to watch. With only a few exceptions, everything can be found online in a timely manner (Damn you, Bill Maher! Your show isn't!). Not having broadcast TV, though, forces me to make choices - to commit to a program. No channel surfing for me. No flip, flip, flip..."This seems oddly mesmerizing, let's watch it for a while" for me. If anything, I've become a more committed viewer because I have to look for and sometimes pay for each program.

Every now and then, I find that I am in the house of someone who has and is watching broadcast TV. How can people bear those commercials? What is that drivel coming from the mouths of people who are supposed to be broadcasting news? Since when did random people's tweets and ill-informed opinions rise to such a position of prominence that they are read on air? "Britney4205 says, 'I definately think Obamma is a moran." Really? Who screens this stuff? How is it news that "pajamamamaxxx" thinks Iraq had something to do with 9-11? That used to be called ignorance, and we used to ignore it because it portrayed the rest of us in a bad light. I can watch dumb TV; I've been known to watch a little "Gene Simmons Family Jewels." Somewhere, though, silly entertainment gave way to something more sinister. When did people's real tragedies become fodder for public consumption? Anything that begins "The Real..." should be banned. It is pornography. Plain and simple. So, when I'm visiting someone and the TV is on, I fully understand the depths of the word "grotesque." That is what a great deal of television programming is. It is grotesque. It is a distortion of what life really is.

Of course, there are really good programs. Whether one likes documentaries, serial thrillers, situation comedies, or satires, somehow quality programming does get made. I want to thank those in the industry who continue to dream of new stories to tell and who find new ways to tell old, well-worn stories - stories that pull at us again and again because they speak to the human condition. Sometimes these shows don't last very long; they don't all pull larger viewerships. Some shows find a surprising footing. Kudos to Lost, Mad Men, Modern Family, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Hour, 30 Rock, The Office, Breaking Bad, The Killing (well, it started off well...), whatever Ken Burns does, NOVA, Frontline, the PBS News Hour, and others who find and tell stories that make us laugh, make us think, and make us care. I can't imagine how much crap you must wade through to get your shows made.

I thought I was going to lose something when I gave up television. Interestingly, I gave up commercials, crawling banners across the bottom of my screen, and shouting pundits. I gained the ability to focus for longer periods of time. I gained time to spend doing other things. I gained control over the images that are placed in front of me; I receive more news now than I did when I watched broadcast TV, but I see fewer graphic images and hear much less opinion driven partisanship.

My experience in giving up TV has taught me that things I thought were going to be a certain way can be changed. I have given up eating meat (well, still fish...). Conversely, I have taken on praying the hours of the office. Just because certain habits and ways of being in the world have become "natural" for us doesn't mean that we can't unlearn them and grow into a new "natural." Leaving TV has allowed me a new freedom in all kinds of areas of my life.

I am by no means a hermit. I am as plugged in as the next person. I have my smart phone, touch pad, laptop, and desktop computer. But, something was freed in me when I left television behind. I don't know what it was exactly. A sense of being tethered? A feeling of being enslaved to a little box? I don't know. This year marks my fourth one without broadcast TV, and I know that I never want to go back. This is the kind of "Left Behind" that I can support. Whenever I pass a mini-van or crossover on the road and see a movie playing for the kids, two things happen in me. First, I think, "Turn that thing off and have a conversation, for God's sake." Second, I think, "My parents would have had that and I didn't turn out so badly. Perhaps those baby-borgs will unplug when they have a chance."

This blog is supposed to be about God, faith, the church, and other relevant issues. I can't seem to make a direct connection between changing television viewing habits and the reason for this forum, but I know that there is one. Perhaps my soul is less infected by the vitriol that so can so easily be stumbled upon when watching TV. Perhaps I am simply glad that I don't feel a need to watch the nightly news and hear about a tragic car accident that has no reason to be told except to exploit a private tragedy. Perhaps I am grateful that the programs that I watch thoroughly entertain and inform me. Perhaps, and I think that this might actually be it, I learned by giving up broadcast television that I can change parts of me that I once thought were unchangeable. Two decades ago I stopped drinking. Six years ago I stopped eating meat. Four years ago I stopped watching broadcast television and started keeping a weekly Sabbath. I know that the way things are is not necessarily the way they need to be or have to be. Change can happen. I can take control over my own choices and live better in the world. I take this as very good news. When I fall short of my goal and begin to act in ways that I thought I had left behind, I can repent and start again. And, for this, more than anything else, I am truly grateful.


Andrea said...

Good for you!!

I gave up broadcast tv years ago too, but somehow it just happened. It wasn't a conscious choice.

I think it had to do with Internet bandwidth expanding. Once the Internet became fast enough to download video without interruption, I shifted away from television (a passive experience) and toward Internet-based programming (an active experience.)

Internet based information is more efficient - you can scan, you can skip the dull stuff. And, I prefer reading over listening anyway.

But, we watch shows on Hulu. Some shows are worth it for the entertainment.

Broadcast television is such a limited medium. It's a dumb technology, and the programming increasingly reflects the technological limitations of television. It's one way interaction, rather than two or three.

Rev Katie M Ladd said...


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