May 22, 2009
Sickness and TV, a Perfect Pair

My nephew Will Doolittle’s latest, in the Glens Falls Post-Star:

You’ve got to be sick to spend all day watching television.

But I was sick for two days this week, with flu-like symptoms, and, supported by the pandemic of swine flu paranoia, I broke with my own precedent and stayed home, quarantined to the couch.

The first day, I watched TV for four hours or so, interspersing other things, like lunch. The second day, I watched for a minimum of seven hours.

If you flick channels as I do, refusing to endure commercials, you get to watch, in a full day, at least a few minutes of a large number of shows. Here is a sampling of what I saw this week: the 1959 film “Anatomy of a Murder,” with James Stewart and George C. Scott wielding evocative voices in a courtroom battle; the 1968 movie “Coogan’s Bluff,” with Clint Eastwood as a taciturn western lawman in New York; an “All in the Family” episode, with Archie talking about the heated toilet seat he wants to invent; the 1999 film “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” the final word in beauty pageant black comedy; an episode of “Las Vegas,” where the bad guy is a plumber who kidnaps James Caan and wants to make money by importing Korean bidets with heated seats; and “Wife Swap.”

I’m still swimming for the surface after this immersion in TV’s broadcast bog. And I’m struggling to make sense of the questions suggested by TV culture, like “Why are we fascinated by heated toilet seats?”

But, in the end, neither the dreck, like “Las Vegas,” nor the gems, like “Wife Swap,” linger in the mind.

It’s the experience that takes over, the pure passivity — sitting still, gazing at the flickering images. I might as well have been the child in the beginning of the movie “Terminator,” watching a fire burn in the shell of an old TV set.

What I was watching was secondary to the warm blur of images, whether they showed Jimmy Stewart or James Caan, Kirsten Dunst tap-dancing or Caan choking the bitter plumber with a metal cane.

Watching television requires little energy of any kind — mental, physical or emotional. You can lie on the couch, thinking about your career and eating an apple while a woman on screen is getting beaten to death with a tire iron.

After several hours, the TV induces a headache and a physical heaviness, as if, like Roald Dahl’s Mike Teavee, you are being drawn into the set. It takes an effort to break away. But it’s worth it, like a return to health.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at May 22, 2009 09:09 AM
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This is something that I think about often, as I work in the cable industry. There is a passivity that creeps in, but also a degredation of logic, that goes with constant tv watching. Incredible addiction as well.

I saysthis because I can't tell you how many times there has been an outage, and people call in a total, complete panic because the tv has been out for more than 15 minutes. "But HOW much longer! I have NO tv's in my house!" Yes, I am sorry, there is a line down due to the storm, and everyone in your area has no tv. We have a crew out right now splicing the line back together. In the wind, rain, and sleet, up high in a bucket truck. "But it WAS working!" Yes, thus is the nature of broken, lets try to make arraignments to fix it,ok? "Oh my god, what am I going to do? Oh well, I guess I'll look for a dvd (cause god forbid we DO something other than WATCH).

But the ultimate is that every single time there is an Amber Alert or emergency broadcast test, the phone lines light up with folks complaining that their tv show was interrupted! I have given up explaining that the Amber Alert saves lives, and the emergency broadcast system is may someday save their life. I have to explain that its not the cable co. doing this, its the government, to which many mutter darkly about the "goddamn government."

I am not saying that tv can't be fun, and sometimes have some good shows to watch and enjoy. But you can see after just two days some of the effects of watching hour after hour. And I have seen the cumulative effect of unintentional, daily, constant tv viewing. It takes over, it really does.
And sometimes I wonder if a lot of the horrible things that are happening around us are allowed to do so because of the passivity and brainwashing of tv.

The revolution will NOT be televised.

Sorry for the long rant. Just coming off a long work week.

Posted by: Brittanicals on May 22, 2009 12:54 PM

I had given it up completely and now Mrs. Batard has too, except for very rare occasions. C-Span can be interesting, but if we want to "watch" C-Span, we can get it on our computers. C-Span is quite fascinating to listen to because you can watch commentators take questions from the public and hear how TV and radio and other forms of propaganda have warped people's thinking all over America.

Although I do admit to liking many of Ted Turner's movie purchases that were made when he owned the Network. I especially enjoy some of the older movies. Noir is abundant in many black and white films from the period during the 40's up until the early fifties. An interesting period of the art of making movies. Google 40s film noir to get some of the titles, but not necessarily all of them are the good ones. But Rosebud lives on.

But the commercials make the other channels not worth watching, although Educational Television, Public Television or whatever it is called in your state often can be quite good. But they too have become infested with parasitic commercials quite often.

We did enjoy the Sopranos although we never had HBO and didn't watch it then, During a few months of weakness when I fell back into old habits I watched a few of the reruns and then bought the whole series on DVD. Tony and the gang seem to be the perfect metaphor for the state of America during the last few decades. Perhaps a sin, but not if you understand the metaphor, which took me a while to get.

My only other television sin is a passion for The Antiques Roadshow. Although Mrs. Batard may differ with me because she's seen me fall into the demonic grip of television and go off on a binge or a bender with our old evil vessel of electrons that will steal your body, mind and soul and turn a human being into a television lush.

Posted by: Buck on May 22, 2009 2:56 PM

Antiques Roadshow? I hope Mrs. Batard does differ because if she doesn't I will. That show stinks, I would relate watching that show to torture. I look forward to being able to get whatever I want on the computer, and when I want it.

Posted by: knowdoubt on May 23, 2009 7:56 AM

I've read that CAT scans and MRIs show that you use more of your brain when you're sleeping than when you're watching television. That's why so many people love it: it reinforces their inner infant.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on May 24, 2009 8:46 AM
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