Sunday, June 16, 2013

Television: A Diatribe

February 5, 2012
"I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book."
-Groucho Marx
Far from the truth?
Most people are shocked and/or dismayed when they discover that I don't have cable television, as if somehow my life is devoid of some essential substantive matter. A hole that can only be filled by weekly devotion spending hour after hour in front of the boob tube.
Or maybe they think that I must be SO strapped for cash that I can't even spare the necessary funds to gain access to this magical land of reality shows, paint-by-number dramas and dreadfully hackneyed sitcoms.
In reality, neither of the above is the case. In fact, I simply have no interest in television as a medium and decided that the extra expense was more wasteful than not.
No offense to those of you who live and die by your TV Guide, but compared to the melodic orchestrations and structured nuances provided by music and film, respectively, television is a meandering, often inconsistent and artistically unsatisfying form of entertainment.
More than that, it's one that requires a long-term commitment, an unspoken oath to keep up with the weekly developments in order to stay informed with the narrative. In doing so, it robs the common man of his productivity and discourages social contact.
Rather than finally wrapping up those long-overdue chores or spending some quality time with the kiddies, Mom and Dad just have to know what the CSI crew is up to. No more staying close through conversation and relating to one another. Nowadays, families spend their shared time (even during dinner) with their television.
People are more likely to stay in (yes, even with DVR at their disposal) and less likely to foster their own ambition. As a writer, I, for one, have fallen prey to the instant gratification that television provides. Sitting like a lump on the sofa and flipping channels takes so much less effort than actually accomplishing something. So I understand the appeal to the masses, most of whom are entirely content with never striving for more, whether this means starting your own business or finding a more stimulating hobby.
Also, despite the fact that a handful of series possess well-crafted, intelligent storytelling, most television programs strike me as fairly formulaic and simple, dumbed-down as it is to appeal to the broadest possible audience. They're more focused on selling products during commercial breaks and seducing audiences with cheap thrills.
There's little real, honest or tangible about television shows and certainly no storytelling as high-level or emotionally raw as some of the film work out there, which accomplishes a greater feat in a shorter timespan. When it comes to visual entertainment, it seems less truly is more.
Since the advent of reality television, the overall quality has plummeted drastically, making it easier and easier to switch off the television. I'll always have a soft spot for a handful of past shows (SeinfeldBuffy the Vampire SlayerThe Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and will continue following up with the few current shows I do follow online (Family GuyGleeHow I Met Your Mother). Hell, I'll even keep watching those short-term overlooked gems I've come to love (Arrested DevelopmentFlight of the ConchordsFreaks and Geeks) on DVD or Netflix.
Again, my intention is not to insult those of you who preciously cling to your weekly dose of Real Housewives to get through the work week. But, as a critic of popular culture and artist at heart, I have become increasingly exasperated and disappointed with how television has developed since back in its "Must See TV" heyday.
In my opinion, the very nature of television as a medium is to transform smart Americans into devotees of whatever shallow, unoriginal shows they can dredge up, many of which corrupt the lifeviews and perspectives of today's youth in the process. There's little opportunity for viewers to grow emotionally or mentally, as they should with great art... just the chance to waste hours turning into the equivalent of modern zombies.

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