They’re an inevitable obstacle at every social gathering: The People Who Don’t Watch TV. To me and my kith, this is like encountering the Living Dead– you really don’t want to get trapped in a small space with them.
Time was, you knew who they were because they’d smugly tell you, “Oh, I don’t have a TV.” My automatic reaction to this ridiculous statement used to be to just write the utterer off as a pretentious dick and keep my plethora of TV opinions to myself. I do know some people who explain that they’re just too busy, which I suppose I buy. I’ve noticed that these people tend to be workaholics, which is a bummer for them. Too, “I don’t have a TV” can now just mean the speaker watches everything on his computer, in which case I shrug and continue to vomit pop culture all over him. (Though I’m still partial to watching stuff on a slightly larger screen.)
Now, for some reason, I’m much more prone to ask these people “Why?” And this is how you find them: The true Smug Assholes. The ones who say, “Why would you waste your time on that?” or “It’s just so trivial,” or some variation thereon. These responses imply you’re vapid, or that you don’t contribute to society– or, worse, that you contribute to the degradation of society. That damn boob tube! Polluting everyone’s minds! You’re part of the problem! Get off my lawn! Hackles: raised.
So, because I can’t talk for shit, I cobbled together a response, sort of a cheat-sheet for myself. Haters to the left:
There is a lot of garbage on TV. But the reason I watch hours and hours of it and obsessively follow events like TCA and the Upfronts is that good television tells a story, and I’m a sucker for good stories. And I’m not the only one: As a species, we’ve been telling stories for thousands of years, from Gilgamesh all the way through Jonathan Franzen. Would you also say those people who sat around a fire listening to some scop natter on about Beowulf were idiots wasting their time?
But what’s really irritating is when people say those stories are better than what we’re creating now. The epics we have from bygone eras are just the ones that physically made it: Theirs were the tablets or parchment that survived, buried deep in some deep dry cave or dusty monastery; or someone decided in the 1800s to record traditional oral folktales. We have no idea how many terrible– and maybe not-so-terrible –ballads have died out over the ages. Maybe great shows like Arrested Development will be lost to our descendants, a victim of some catastrophic flood. Others will simply fade away, and the world will be better for it. And really, is Lost‘s sprawling mythology really any less cool than Gilgamesh‘s? (The answer is “No,” regardless of your feelings on the finale.) You can’t argue that the Old Ones are better because everything we create today is built on those primordial stories– does that really remove Our Stories’ value? Do you still use a can opener on your soda can?
Slightly more recent (“recent”) works inspire the same televisionary disdain, too. Yes, Smug Asshole, I know Shakespeare broke a lot of new ground in the entertainment world (to put it mildly). And yet a couple of his plays were kind of shitty, and he could definitely have used a good editor. Yes, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and James Joyce and blah blah writercakes. Yes, cinema blah blah filmcakes. You know who’s also helped shape the landscape of popular culture, from vocabulary to narrative structure? Joss Whedon. J.J. Abrams. John Wells. Plus about a hundred other creative geniuses I could list but won’t, because that would be boring and too much like one of those year-end listcicles journalists love and commenters love to hate.
TV is just a new medium for telling these stories. It’s a function of technological advances, not a desire to turn people’s brains to mush. The best TV inspires, sets your imagination blazing, makes you think differently about the world. They are our tomes on society and human nature, our lighthearted farces, our epics.
That is why I love television.