Joe Millionaire: 1, Battle of the Network Stars: 0
April 24, 2005 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Don't catch all the West Wing Dialogue? Me either... The idea so offended my NPR supporting cum aging grad student sensibilities that I had to read why "Watching TV Makes You Smarter" (nyt, reg. req.). Am now completely sold on the argument for the Sleeper Curve.
posted by Wash Jones (70 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tonights "Deadwood" sure gave me a workout... cocksucker.
posted by thanatogenous at 8:09 PM on April 24, 2005'll upset all those people whose only claim to being cultured is that they "don't own a television".
TV, like any other medium, has highs and lows. More lows than highs, but still. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and.....oh lord....
posted by nightchrome at 8:14 PM on April 24, 2005

Ah... Smell that?

It's the best of the web for sure... Or is it just another sweaty crotch?

Hard to tell, isn't it?
posted by Balisong at 8:32 PM on April 24, 2005

An interesting article, though I was surprised that Law & Order was discouraged as overly simple. Law & Order has always chosen moral complexity over plot complexity. It doesn't fit on one of those unattractive little graphs, but it's still there and making you think.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:36 PM on April 24, 2005

second jacquilynne. I don't watch broadcast tv or cable, but i have seen a few episodes of L&O, and often the moral or legal complexity is quite interesting and instructive. If nothing else, it'll give people who think that justice is "easy," those who decry "lenient sentences" or "technical dismissals," something to chew over.

I prefer to get my televisual drama on DVD, though -- the most abhorrent thing about tv is the ads.
And for a show like "24" I can't imagine waiting a whole week to see the next hour -- the tension would kill me. :)

an interesting article. I'll have to look for the book when it comes out! thanks, wash jones.
posted by Al_Truist at 8:51 PM on April 24, 2005

TV is going to get no respect until they do something about the commercials. Its hard to take something seriously if you get screamed at every 10 minutes to buy crap.

Not to mention the horrible state of TV news..
posted by antispork at 8:53 PM on April 24, 2005

ThePinkSuperhero: we just say it to get attention.
also: most people who hear you don't watch tv want to know why, and that can lead to these really neat, incredulous looks on their faces that are more entertaining than most anything on tv.
Also, it CAN be useful to cut off those who would like to take the next 22 minutes of your time to describe in painful detail all of the activity and the backstory of their favourite "reality show," and why Contestant X is gonna get "voted off the island," and why Contestant Y is the next "Idol." Totally.
posted by Al_Truist at 8:56 PM on April 24, 2005

I'll agree that TV has gotten more complex. I'm not sure how that makes you smarter, though.
posted by fungible at 8:58 PM on April 24, 2005

Frankly, I'd just settle for a little acceptance of the idea that tv doesn't make you stupid. Stupid stuff is on tv, stupid people watch a lot of tv, doesn't mean tv causes stupidity.
posted by nightchrome at 9:04 PM on April 24, 2005

I think what's tough, and it applies to lots of things, is for people to take their learned capacity for complex nuance and apply it to things actually important to their life.

(also, could we just link on the main page to boing boing, et al, and put an end to all the cross posting?)
posted by sdrawkcab at 9:07 PM on April 24, 2005

I love how they use 24 as an example of smart TV. Personally I love how 24 provides an excellent strawman argument for how awesome torture is and how it can save our lives.
posted by abez at 9:12 PM on April 24, 2005

This doesn't address the plot complexity of the article, but on "it's the willingness to immerse the audience in information that most viewers won't understand"--sometimes the audience thinks they understand, and therein lies the problem.

People may think they know what an anyuresm is after watching E.R., but that doesn't necessarily mean they're more informed. Quasi-intellectual shows and dialogue that sounds fancy enough to impress a layman can leave everyone worse off.
posted by Anonymous at 9:13 PM on April 24, 2005

Television is not for intellectual stimulation, and this is not a bad thing. Television is at it's best when it offers either brilliant mindlessness a la Gilligan's Island and The Partridge Family or populist cathartic interpretation a la The Simpsons and All In The Family.

The Golden Age Of TV passed a long time ago, and yuppie slop like The West Wing is what we're left with.
posted by jonmc at 9:31 PM on April 24, 2005

Storytelling is one of our most longstanding traditions, in pretty much every culture on earth. The fact that bad stories get told on tv a lot doesn't change the value of the good ones.
posted by nightchrome at 9:33 PM on April 24, 2005

nightchrome, I forget who said this first, but: "The ultimate TV rush is the invasion of the rubes into the hallowed halls of high cultre." Later in the same article the author posits that "while Family seems as quaint as love beads, we'll be watching The Beverly Hillbillies into eternity."
posted by jonmc at 9:39 PM on April 24, 2005

my girlfriend loves law and order, because the show's plot is so nuanced, things happen to the characters but you only get glimpses of their lives, in the background. Characters get pissed off at each other or fall in love, and there will barely be a line of dialog making note of the fact...

anyways there's some good tv out there... it's either on HBO or it gets cancelled after like 4 episodes

btw does anyone else get freaking (Document Contains No Data) errors EVERYTIME they try to go to page 2 of the times' websites? i hate you nytimes!
posted by stratastar at 9:49 PM on April 24, 2005

So there's an uptick in programming that involves a little bit of knowledge or intelligence to appreciate? Is this really anything to write home (or the NYT) about? There's been a parallel uptick in supremely "witty" but manipulative ads as well throughout the years -- for proof, look how corny old commercials look today. It's just the medium evolving to better exploit its (extremely large) ecological niche.

nightchrome: storytelling is central to being a human being, I agree. I'm just eagerly waiting for the day when the bulk of shared stories in the developed countries doesn't have to come from TV. What that other source might be, or who will create it, I don't know. I just know TV's stories currently have way too many strings attached.
posted by growli at 9:52 PM on April 24, 2005

my girlfriend loves law and order, because the show's plot is so nuanced, things happen to the characters but you only get glimpses of their lives, in the background.

I love L&O because it's (as Jack Lechner put it) "Dragnet with moral complexity." Whenever the doink-doink happens I sing "dum de-dum-dum dum."
posted by jonmc at 9:54 PM on April 24, 2005

In support of Steven Johnson's thesis, I'll humbly submit that Lost was the first network TV program for which I had to do research in order to pick up the plot midway through the first season.

Also that The Sopranos has more to say about our life & times in a given episode than All in the Family managed to articulate in its entire run.
posted by gompa at 10:21 PM on April 24, 2005

I'll agree that TV has gotten more complex. I'm not sure how that makes you smarter, though.

My thoughts exactly. Especially considering that now, a lot of people watch television instead of reading books, it's possible that television just got more complicated because it has to fill a much larger role in our lives. I'm not saying that this is true, but it's certainly possible, and the article says nothing that convinces me otherwise.
posted by Hildago at 10:25 PM on April 24, 2005

gompa: Absolutely. Lost is one of the best things on television right now. I know diehard television-haters who begrudgingly adore it.
posted by nightchrome at 10:39 PM on April 24, 2005

You all sound like addicts.
posted by bshort at 10:43 PM on April 24, 2005

Books are a gateway medium to the harder, more deadly television.
posted by nightchrome at 10:45 PM on April 24, 2005

I love how they use 24 as an example of smart TV. Personally I love how 24 provides an excellent strawman argument for how awesome torture is and how it can save our lives.

Two episodes feature innocent people getting tortured to no positive end. Make of that what you will. Personally, I think the writers are at least indifferent about torture, if not against it outright.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:50 PM on April 24, 2005

a lot of people watch television instead of reading books, it's possible that television just got more complicated because it has to fill a much larger role in our lives

Yeah - the trouble is that the books-are-inherently-better crowd seems to argue that the hole being filled is so intellectually vast that TV can't possibly do the job.

I don't think this is what you were implying, Hildago, but one of the things that always annoys me about the argument that books are inherently better for society is that those arguments build from this notion that before TV everyone sat around having erudite, insightful conversations about Fitzgerald and TS Eliot (and so on). Which conveniently ignores the fact that more people read third-rate, formulaic Westerns by writers whose names are deservedly lost to history than ever read The Great Gatsby or The Waste Land.
posted by gompa at 10:54 PM on April 24, 2005

Come to think of it, this argument also ignores the fact that most people - or at least a lot of people - didn't read at all during literature's supposed golden age.
posted by gompa at 11:05 PM on April 24, 2005

I've had no problems with West Wing dialogue since they got rid of Aaron Sorkin. Of course that lines up nicely with the point at which the show was driven directly off a cliff.
posted by mosch at 11:08 PM on April 24, 2005

I don't read third-rate literature. I read the classics... Brown, Clancy, Grisham, Ludlum, Michener...
posted by mosch at 11:11 PM on April 24, 2005

One thing the anti-tv people tend to forget or gloss over is the simple fact that everyone will, by definition, have something in common with at least some of this "lowest common denominator" content. There may be a lot of crap to wade through, but you are bound to find something you like. It's almost guaranteed by the nature of the beast.
By throwing the baby out with the bathwater, you are depriving yourself of something you will most likely find appealing/interesting.
posted by nightchrome at 11:16 PM on April 24, 2005

Wait a second, is this guy arguing that T.V. is getting better? My bullshit-o-meter went off.

No matter how "smart" or intricate a T.V. show is, all you really have to do is sit still and remember what you've just seen(which advertisers hope includes the commercials).

T.V. is entirely passive, non-creative, and only gives the viewer the illusion of participation. Worst of all it gives the illusion of possessing the traits being depicted(i.e., I watch smart shows, therefore I'm smart! I watch sexy shows, therefore I'm sexy! I watch socially-conscious shows, therefore I'm a humanitarian!).

I look forward to the Internet's eventual absorption of television. And I don't care if some guy who has staked his career on dotcom-nineties style media shilling says otherwise in his upcoming book.
posted by archae at 11:29 PM on April 24, 2005

How exactly is watching television any more passive than reading a book? Because you don't turn pages?
When reading a book, you use a mental image of the described scenes to understand the story.
When watching television, you use a mental framework of the history of the show and social networks to understand the story.
posted by nightchrome at 11:37 PM on April 24, 2005

Stop making every thread about television into a TV vs. books debate, people.

This was a good article. The complex narrative threads and diverse characters, in mimicry of cop shows, is what made Alan Moore's Top Ten so great. I let a friend who hadn't read comics in a long time borrow my copies, and he responded, "I didn't know comics have gotten so sophisticated!"

The problems with these types of shows, though, is that the writers are making it all up as they go along, which leads to so many red herrings and dropped subplots that it doesn't bring satisfying closure. This is a problem with literature too, especially serialized literature - Dumas often forgets about his subplots, and the end of the Moonstone really bugged me for writing off some threads as red herrings (I wanted the Shifting Sands to play a bigger role!). I love Twin Peaks, but I always wanted everything to wrap up nicely together in a tight little package at the end. One of the things I always liked about Seinfeld is a typical episode contains three or four subplots which all eventually intermix with one another. In the episodes where the subplots don't come together appropriately, I feel cheated.
posted by painquale at 11:52 PM on April 24, 2005

I don't watch TV. Haven't for years, and I don't miss it (I found it pretty boring to begin with). However, I do broadly agree with the article - TV has got more complex and requires the brain of the viewer to work a bit.

Looked at another way, though, this extensive subplotting and cutting between multiple storylines could well be catering to (and contributing to?) our apparently shortening attention spans. Not so good, perhaps.

I'm fine with telly though, I'm sure there are some great shows around.. I don't have a problem with anyone who turns on their TV to watch something they like. My issue with television is that so many people don't turn it off again, and spend the rest of their evenings just staring at a box - not even enjoying it, just gazing. Ever dropped in on a friend for a cup of tea or a sneaky beer, and the TV stays on, and kills any conversation? Seems pretty insidious, on the whole.

(I wonder why nightchrome is so vehemently pro-TV, and who these diehard TV-haters are who make him feel his overwhelmingly popular faithlifestyle choice is under attack.. I tend to find the exact opposite - I usually avoid mentioning my lack of a television because of the inevitable "you stuck up elitist" backlash!)
posted by cell at 12:52 AM on April 25, 2005

I think schroedinger has made a good point, with fictional narratives and how they permeate our reality.

It's easy to see how a complex plot and its understanding could make for smart thinking, but I cannot see how the definition of smartness fits in when there's no discrimination for good and bad information.

In most of these plots, that require sub-plots to be neatly tied off within 45 minutes, there's some form of resolution. The requirement for such a thing leaves out ambiguity, nuance and the ability to see errors. If everyone watches complex plots that end in finite means then it's a smart pyramid, it's pretty dumb near the end.

I'm making some generalisations; I think there's been some good TV that had some interesting resolutions --like Deadwood and The Wire.
posted by gsb at 1:55 AM on April 25, 2005

cell: I deal with a lot of pseudo-intellectuals who proudly wear their lack of a television like some sort of badge, spitefully damning every single aspect of "popular" culture as being fit only for the swine everyone else must clearly be. I can be a little defensive on the topic. I like tv. I like some of pop culture, and I don't begrudge people the things they like which I don't.
That said, I don't think I've watched television programming on an actual television with actual commercials in years. There's a lot to be said for getting your content whole and uninterrupted.
posted by nightchrome at 2:26 AM on April 25, 2005

I use TV as a means of resting my eyes after reading books and/or computer screen all day. I'm surprised no one else has said that. Could it be that the quality TV programming out there is to cater to people in my situation? Surely I'm not exceptional in this regard.
posted by Goofyy at 3:27 AM on April 25, 2005

You know what? I like TV. All you readers can just go live in a bank vault with Mr. Bemis for all I care.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 3:30 AM on April 25, 2005

Reason I hate television is you can't turn to the last chapter and find out if she got the right man. DVD's ok
posted by TimothyMason at 3:59 AM on April 25, 2005

Several story archs: more complex or still dumb?

Having several stories and cutting between them is a very easy trick if you want to make those stories look more interesting than they are. For example. Take five stories, each of them mindlessly stupid. As soon as story A developes into a cliffhanger you cut to story B. Let story B develop into a cliffhanger, then cut to story C. And so on. Mix 'em up good. After a while this is going to look pretty complex and people will start talking about how interesting it is to watch this.
posted by Termite at 4:23 AM on April 25, 2005

Seriously, to use 24 as an example of "smart tv"? That's gotta be a joke. The first season was a bit novel, but beyond that, I just grew weary of one ridiculous plot contrivance after another, just to create more bogus tension -- the daughter being chased by a mountain lion after escaping from kidnappers??? WTF. The show is a parody of itself.

That show is as dumbass as anything else on TV, but tries to mask its triteness and vacuity with a multi-threaded plot.

The smartest thing on TV is still Jim Lehrer's show. Everything else is just diversion written at the fourth grade level. Not, mind you, that there's anything at all wrong with that, but let's not kid ourselves.
posted by psmealey at 4:37 AM on April 25, 2005

I learned a lot about millipedes from watching Fear Factor.
posted by Man-Thing at 5:05 AM on April 25, 2005

And what would happen if people stopped watching TV? All those former couch potatoes would be out roaming the streets, that's what. You'd have to wait 20 minutes to get a latte.
posted by sneebler at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2005

In this profile of Andrea Levy, prizewinning British author, she admits to having learned how to tell stories from watching TV (she never read a book all the way through until she was 23) and that she can spot other authors of her generation who have done the same. I found this appalling. Then again, I'm one of those snobs who doesn't watch TV.
posted by amber_dale at 6:27 AM on April 25, 2005

So, would dedicated soap opera fans be the smartest tv viewers, since they've been watching complex multithreaded plot lines for the longest?
posted by carmen at 6:44 AM on April 25, 2005

Funny — the author made the same mistake we always do. We can't talk about TV without turning it into a moral issue — is TV good or bad? And this guy can't do it either!

He could have written a good solid article on how TV shows are changing. Instead, he had to get sidetracked into this moral bullshit — TV isn't just changing, it's getting better and better for you.

It's a pity, too. Without the moralizing, it would have been an interesting article — it's still worth it just for the part where he points out that 24 works like a soap opera — but with the moralizing it's pretty hard to swallow.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:18 AM on April 25, 2005

Andrea Levy tells stories - as in fiction
posted by TimothyMason at 7:19 AM on April 25, 2005

People may think they know what an anyuresm is after watching E.R.

But if you'd watched St. Elsewhere you'd know, man, you'd know!

I love TV. I admit it. It's the perfect medium for serialized and/or epic storytelling (West Wing, Lost, Alias, Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine to name a few). I just don't watch TV on TV anymore. When Hollywood finally realizes that either a) copyright law will get sane once again or b) I won't be watching TV on my computer either.

Also? Sports.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:42 AM on April 25, 2005

Sneebler - what would happen to our productivity if we stopped spending all our time with the Best of the Web?

Sitcoms were mindnumblingly dumb, and it's possible they are being replaced by slightly more complex things. Good for entertainment. I love West Wing, HBO shows, etc. Was there any TV comparable in an earlier era?

At the same time, intentionally informative shows have all but disappeared. Anyone else cry when a documentary shows stock news interview footage with insightful and erudite discussions on network TV?
posted by allan at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2005

Was there any TV comparable in an earlier era?

I don't think of the HBO shows as TV. They're more like really short movies. Not a bad thing, but that's not what TV's about for me. TV is for The Honeymooners. I seek erudition elsewhere.
posted by jonmc at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2005

I've heard over and over again about these intolerable people who are going on so pompously and endlessly about how they don't watch TV -- but I've never actually met one.

Come to think of it, I've been subjected to several aggressive tirades on the subject by people who heard me mention -- in context, perhaps even when prompted -- that I don't watch TV. Oh! The hipster glory of the anti anti-TV stance! The snarly outrage!
posted by argybarg at 8:11 AM on April 25, 2005

You know what? I like TV. All you readers can just go live in a bank vault with Mr. Bemis for all I care.

GooseOnTheLoose, or we could send them all to the cornfield. (And it's a good thing I said that, a real good thing.)
Meh, I'm wading through this article, but so far it seems a bit pretentious because I'm not interested in the author's narrow focus. I enjoy complex plotlines ala "Lost" or "24", but also the kind of show that features longterm character exploration and/or witty dialogue without the complex plotlines, e.g., "Moonlighting," "Northern Exposure," "The Gilmore Girls."

And forget the books v. TV argument - many of you have already made the point that if there were no TV, not everyone would be sitting around discussing Great Literature. How about a more closely related battle of the pop media?
In the late 80s-early 90s, it seems I'd find just as much good on TV as in the movies. "Serious" topics that used to be dealt with in films were more likely to appear on TV. More recently we went through that bad reality-show phase with little good drama on broadcast/basic cable. But now we're back to some interesting variety.

And ditto to whoever said there are some days when I turn to TV because my eyes are killing me from close work on computers or in books. (Of course, at that point, it's also good to get out for a walk or talk to people or something.)
posted by NorthernLite at 8:21 AM on April 25, 2005

98% of everything is crap. The other 2% is neither harmful nor life changing.
posted by bondcliff at 8:39 AM on April 25, 2005

I never watched 24. It seemed too gimmicky. That said, I am hopelessly addicted to Law & Order. First half an hour, cops are chasing suspects, second half an hour DA's are trying the case. It all gets wrapped up neatly in an hour. Even the spin-offs are neat and practised. I'm never disappointed. Unlike when they make the 'Lisa' episodes of The Simpsons :\ Social virtue of Pop Culture? Sheesh.
posted by bdave at 8:41 AM on April 25, 2005

The average TV programming is geared toward the average 8 to 10 year old intelligence. TV execs have admitted to this in the past.

This guy is just trying to make people feel better about watching television, with his little curve thingy.

I'm not an anti-TV person (House and Boston Legal are particular favorites) but that's how 'tis.
posted by First Post at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2005

Interesting article, thank you.
posted by nthdegx at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2005

Draw a map of all those intersecting plots and personalities, and you get structure that -- where formal complexity is concerned -- more closely resembles 'Middlemarch' General Hospital than a hit TV drama of years past like 'Bonanza.'

I know, I know. The author admits it. But I'm with fungible. How does "complex" TV make you smarter?

The characters talk faster in these shows, but the truly remarkable thing about the dialogue is not purely a matter of speed; it's the willingness to immerse the audience in information that most viewers won't understand that the words don't really matter.

All you need to hear in that detailed E.R. dialogue to understand the plot is "Her liver's shut down" and the worried look between the two doctors.

I think this whole article is bunk. I thought he might have a point in the first page, but then it gets worse and worse.

The economics of television syndication and DVD sales mean that there's a tremendous financial pressure to make programs that can be watched multiple times, revealing new nuances and shadings on the third viewing.

Can anyone actually say that with a straight face?

I do agree with his notion of "sharing smart culture," but without the Internet for people to dissect the latest episode "with an intensity usually reserved for Talmud scholars," how would it be possible? He has an argument there somewhere, but I don't see how TV differentiates itself from any other mass medium.

The Internet makes much more sense because it requires interactivity. TV requires nothing but presence.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:16 PM on April 25, 2005

How exactly is watching television any more passive than reading a book?

Because all of the imagery is created for you. Yes, there's some secondary "social connections" or information that you need to process, but it can't compare to translating that information from text.

Two people who watch the same TV show will generally have the same interpretation of it. The same is not true with a book. There's much more activity involved in translating words into a comprehensible narrative then watching moving pictures. You also process the information at your own speed, whereas TV you take what you get at the speed offered.

I'm afraid I haven't explained it well.

I use TV as a means of resting my eyes after reading books and/or computer screen all day.

And ditto to whoever said there are some days when I turn to TV because my eyes are killing me from close work on computers or in books

I'm surprised to hear that argument. Does TV really "rest" your eyes? I know that it's not "bad" for your eyes, and I know that your mind goes into "alpha waves" or whatever, but are you really resting your eyes that much? I'm curious.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:25 PM on April 25, 2005

I used to be an anti-TV person, but I've been sucked into it of late, so much so that I'm returning to my anti-TV-person attitude about it. It's not that there's nothing good on (with good being defined as "stuff I like to watch"). It's that there's so much crap that's mildly amusing. I just don't want to look back on my life and say, "Hey, Virginia, I was mildly amused." It's not that books are 100% better. Most books are crap, too. But it's easier to sift the crap from the good stuff when it comes to books. There are existing canons of good stuff to read (if you like the classics). And your bookish friends, if you can tolerate their company (and, I'll admit it, many bookish people are too self-important to tolerate), can hip you to new things that are worth checking out.

The only thing that sucks about reading as opposed to watching TV is that you have fewer people to share your interests with. Most people have TV in common. And TV is, primarily, a communal activity. Reading is, primarily, a solitary activity and it's harder to find other people who like to read and like the same books as you.

There's good stuff lurking in any genre. But I still prefer browsing the stacks of a library or the shelves of a bookstore to surfing channels on the television. If that's snobbery, so be it. I call it "not wasting my time."
posted by wheat at 12:34 PM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Newspapers and magazines are going to get no respect until they do something about the ads. Its hard to take something seriously if you get screamed at every page to buy crap.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:04 PM on April 25, 2005

that's clever, Steve.
posted by Al_Truist at 1:10 PM on April 25, 2005

in a newspaper or magazine you can NOT read the ads.
on television (live broadcast, not taped or Tivo'd), you get it anyway. and there are clever technologies at work making sure that unless you turn OFF the tv for the duration of the ad, you're going to get some of it "rubbing off" on your brain.
posted by Al_Truist at 1:12 PM on April 25, 2005

IF TV makes us smarter could that explain the Flynn effect?
posted by LarryC at 1:13 PM on April 25, 2005

in a newspaper or magazine you can NOT read the ads.

With TV you can get up off the couch and go do something else for a few minutes.
posted by Cyrano at 1:35 PM on April 25, 2005

I'm not sure about Television, but these bittorrent plotlines are getting really complicated
posted by braksandwich at 1:46 PM on April 25, 2005

"Bochco's genius with 'Hill Street' was to marry complex narrative structure with complex subject matter. 'Dallas' had already shown that the extended, interwoven threads of the soap-opera genre could survive the weeklong interruptions of a prime-time show, but the actual content of 'Dallas' was fluff."

Apparently Steven Johnson never heard of the old Peyton Place tv show.
posted by bluffy at 6:53 PM on April 25, 2005

I'm getting sick of people tossing around this word "hipster" to demean anyone who holds an opinion seemingly also held by today's youth.
posted by nightchrome at 7:45 PM on April 25, 2005

Seriously Steve, get a new trick.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 8:07 PM on April 25, 2005

This thread's already long enough (and old enough) that I feel relatively safe in de-lurking and getting onto a soapbox.

I don't watch TV, but I do watch TV shows. I pick what I want to watch, and either get it on DVD or from any of a (rapidly decreasing) number of bittorrent sites. The stuff I choose to watch is hardly what you'd call super-intellectual, but I enjoy it, and when it's done, I find something else to do.

I kicked the TV habit about three years ago, and seriously, it's made a huge difference in my life. For one thing, I have lost the manic urge to buy everything all the time because what I already have is (for reasons unknown) unsatisfying. I cannot BELIEVE all the crap I used to buy, and maybe it's a coincidence, or attributable to other causes, but my reduction in crap-buying also coincides with the steep, sudden reduction in my exposure to advertising.

There are some down sides. Some things you don't see until you're on the outside, and you've been clean for a little while. And then you walk into a room where people are watching TV, and it's the stupidest boringest crap they're watching (as they would happily tell you themselves), and yet... and yet, it has turned them into narcotized semi-comatose zombies who have lost the power to either speak or look away from the box. Every time I blunder into this scenario (cough roommates cough), I am thankful again that I was able to give it up. Maybe it's the alpha wave thing that someone mentioned up-thread, but it is truly a frightening sight to behold.

I don't claim to be more cultured or morally superior because I don't watch TV. I'm just telling you, watching TV turns your brains to oatmeal. Do what you wish with that fact; I'm just the messenger. Giving up TV doesn't mean giving up TV shows - it just means watching them on your own terms, without advertising, and without the three hours of shows that you watch before and after just because they're on, and the thing about TV is that it never ends.

Seriously, folks - cut the cord. You'll thank me for it.
posted by mechagrue at 9:55 PM on April 25, 2005

Extra extra. TV marginally more intellectually demanding now than 30 years ago. Read all about it.

What someone said earlier in this thread about viewers thinking they get it is really the key point here. Also the fact that psuedoreality television, from ER to ... hell, nearly everything ... makes people have a totally dramatized and skewed perception of reality.

TV is very real, when you sit and watch it for hours and hours a day and let it absorb you fully, and talk about it to your friends and coworkers, etc, etc, etc. It skews your mind. I don't think the average serious TV viewer thinks of it as drama anymore, no matter what they may claim.

People love TV, though. It grabs you and sucks you in. People yell at televisions, cry at televisions, laugh at televisions and masturbate at televisions. I can't imagine what I'd think of the Iraq war if all my news on it had been from, say, CNN and CBS. But this is the absolute reality for a huge swath of the population, and they don't see anything wrong with it.

Moving pictures are incredibly powerful, and we'll never be free of the glazed empty stares it produces. It's too handy to do away with.

Ah... Smell that?

It's the best of the web for sure... Or is it just another sweaty crotch?

Hard to tell, isn't it?

The best comment. Period.
posted by blacklite at 6:38 PM on April 26, 2005

Although, you know, in the interest of full disclosure, I like Law and Order. I like arguments. They present something that's in a bit of a gray area and they argue. Mild character-based subnarratives here and there. Good little capsule stories. I watch about one every two months, maybe.

And I love Boston Legal, which is basically all character with mild plot in the background. And Firefly, which is far too good to summarize in this small space. And I quite like engaging commentary on current events on CBC news programs. (Hi, I'm boring.)

The rest of TV scares me.

I can spam here because no one is reading this thread anymore.
posted by blacklite at 6:48 PM on April 26, 2005

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