As a child, Jimmy has always had TV as his caretaker. Everyday after school he would always be warmly greeted home by the TV. The TV would softly whisper to Jimmy, “Turn me on. Common, see what interesting shows are on.” Jimmy dashes to the TV and switches it on. It is 3:30PM and his favorite cartoon show is on. He sits right next to the television and lets the soft warm glow of the television radiate onto his face and sinks in as he lets the inaudible chatter drown out all the other sounds in his life.
Now fast forward 20 years. Jimmy has just finished another mundane day at the office and is exhausted from his monotonous 9-5 shift. He tosses his bills that he got from the mail on his coffee table and plops on his couch. He kicks off his shoes and stretches out his legs. He grabs his remote control which controls his DVD system, his Satellite System, as well as his TiVo box. He turn on the episode of “Scrubs” that he missed the day before and plans to catch up on all the other shows that he is behind on. After watching a couple of shows he realizes it is 11PM and it is time for bed. He takes a shower, brushes his teeth, and goes to bed. He continues his daily routine. Rinse, wash, and repeat.
Now this is a hypothetical situation that I just conjured up in my head. Although I created this fictional person named “Jimmy,” there are sure as hell tons of Jimmys out there just like the one I portrayed. As children, they grew up finding television as a refuge and a place to find comfort as well as entertainment. They spend almost all of their free time in front of the television and are constantly entertained, yet they feel miserable inside. They spend the majority of their lives watching others live their lives instead of going out and living their own lives.
Now before you get the impression that I am advocating the destruction of television and all other sorts of entertainment believe me that I’m not. I know the enjoyment of watching a couple of South Park episodes here and there as well as watching the newest blockbuster movies. I love being entertained by these quirky shows just as much as everyone else. But there is a fine line between watching TV once a while it actually being one’s life.
Like every other kid I used to love television and was constantly glued to it. I still remembering waking up ridiculously early in the morning to watch the newest episode of Pokemon or falling asleep with the Simpsons on. However getting only basic channels soon wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. I soon begged and pleaded to my mom to get cable. And once I got cable for my TV, it was like opening Pandora’s box.
There was close to a hundred channels which could satisfy every part of me. I could watch TV dramas when I was feeling serious, cartoons when I was feeling goofy, and even educational channels when I was feeling intellectual. There was always something on to watch. Whenever I got bored by a show or a commercial break came on, I was quick to switch to my other favorite channels to “see what else was on.”
Despite my mother’s constant nagging at me of how much television I was watching, I was genuinely convinced she didn’t know what she was talking about. I tried to advocate the The Learning Channel (TLC) as well as the discovery channel and how it was intellectually stimulating for me. Although these channels did have some educational value, I always found myself passing up that special on Zebras to watch the newest Digimon episode.
Fast forward to high school. I soon became obsessed with Anime and remember sleeping often at 3:00AM on school nights staying up watching “Cowboy Bebop” or “Outlaw Star.” I used to be really into reading books, but being a high school student I no longer had time for “that kind of stuff.” It wasn’t interesting enough and didn’t capture my attention long enough. I needed a constant flow of entertainment; something to always pique my interest. I seriously had the attention span of a pigeon. If I saw something more interesting and shiny in the distance, I would disregard everything else and go there instead.
Now hit the fast forward button x2 and let’s go to college. I now had a job working 20 hours a week, classes, weekly meetings for my clubs, and church and Sunday school to teach on Sundays. I suddenly had no more time for TV. I was doing far more interesting things with my time and didn’t miss TV for even a second. I totally didn’t even notice that I cut television entirely out of my regimen. Instead of finding entertainment in the newest characters on TV, I found meeting new people in college to be much more fascinating. Instead of watching an entire anime series, I found myself picking up a new hobby in photography. Instead of watching that rerun for that episode I missed last night, I went to the gym.
After cutting television completely out of my life for three years, I don’t regret it one bit. After cutting TV out of my life, I have been more active and lived life more, rather than simply wasting hours sitting on a couch watching television on end. We often ask where all our time goes, and I guarantee that a lot of it can easily be wasted watching TV or other sources of entertainment such as surfing the net.
Let’s do some simple math. According to national surveys in the US, the average adult spends 22 to 28 hours a week watching television. And if the average lifetime of an adult is 75 years, the average adult wastes 8 to 10 years of his/her life watching television. Do you really want to spend your precious time on Earth watching pointless TV dramas or over-the-top reality shows?
Think about what you actually gain from watching TV. Nothing is ever truly black and white so I will admit there can be good things from watching TV. Ideas about love, friendship, loyalty, heroism, and inspiration can be found on TV. At the same time, many of these ideas are often perverted in unrealistic ways such as success or even love. How are you going to cram the ideal of success into a TV show? Paint the same picture of a guy coming from rags and getting to riches from all these unprobable situations. How are you going to portray “true love” in a movie? Have a couple who falls madly in love after meeting for the first time, going through one minor conflict, and living happily ever after.
You never truly “gain” anything from watching TV shows (minus “educational” channels). Let’s say you finish watching an episode of Law and Order. What have you truly experienced? Do you really feel that much more satisfied in your life after watching that episode? Do you feel like that you are really “living life” by watching others get into difficult situations and finding solutions in the end? Does your emotional well-being truly depend whether Joey and Monica get back together? Or if Person A ever learns to forgive Person B after he or she cheated on him?
Television is soma for the masses. For anyone who has read Adolous Huxley’s “Brave New World” you would know that soma is the drug which was administered to the masses to keep them happy, although they were being oppressed. So pretty much, regardless of all the atrocities that are happening around the world such as genocide or war, or even how we are being oppressed by our own governments, we don’t care. As long as we have our televisions to keep us happy, we are not bothered at all.
Now compare this to George Owell’s vision of the future in his novel “1984.” Orwell envisioned a future in which a totalitarian government (Big Brother) would repress the people in action and in thought. As repressive as people may say that the American government is, it would be wrong to say that we have a totalitarian government that censors everything in our lives.
According to the book “Amusing ourselves to Death,” the author Neil Postman claims that it wasn’t necessary for the government to repress us and hide knowledge and information from us, because we won’t even care. The government wouldn’t need to ban or burn books, because nobody would be reading books anyways. As long as we are entertained, we don’t care about anything else.
Now everything which I am saying here may sound like the words of a raging liberal bent on destroying all sorts of entertainment in the world. It might sound extreme and offensive as well. However everything I am saying here I am not applying it to you, the reader. This is not a direct attack on you if you watch TV. Even if all you do all day is watch TV and read tabloids of celebrities, this is not an attack on you. It is referring to the American society which values entertainment over everything else, including education and social justice. It is expressing a view which is not commonly shown, as everyone sees entertainment as “harmless fun.”
So I urge you, spend less time watching TV and more time living life. Time is the most valuable possession in our lives, and something that we cannot get back once we spend it. You never truly learn anything about people, society, or even the world from watching pointless dramas on TV. These things can only be learned through intrapersonal contact by seeing them in person, in the flesh. I guarantee you, if you spend that extra hour or two a day meeting a friend instead of watching that newest TV show, you will be much happier in life. And maybe one day you won’t even need that TV to keep you company anymore.