Remember back in the day when people would brag about not watching or owning a television? We’ve all come across people who self-righteously feel it’s below them to “waste their time on mindless media consumption meant for the masses”, instead opting for books and other non-digital activities.
The other day I had a self-validating conversation about tv watching with my best friend with whom I happen to talk a lot about this topic (and cats, and capitalism, and misogyny, and numerous other fun topics). She and I are both hard-working, dedicated professionals with generally busy lives. We also spend a significant amount of time watching our shows (remember when this used to refer to soap operas?) Sometimes we even binge shows at the same time so we can chat about the plots, and characters and unexpected twists. She recently turned me onto Schitt’s Creek which I am grateful for, because right now I’m in that in-between period when some of my favorite shows are done for the season, but I’m waiting for other ones to start back up.
For example, we’ve both watched Breaking Bad several times. We especially enjoy reminiscing about our favorite scenes like Walt’s perfect pizza toss, Jesse’s shitty underdog story, the tragedy of Jane the addict, the descending evilness of Walt, and the creepiness of the actor who plays Todd the friendly psychopath (and who is damn good at taking on this particular type of character).
The Sopranos is another mutual favorite. We are especially fond of the neurotic Paulie Walnuts. These shows and characters are so relatable, which is what makes them so captivating. And we love the escapism of this immersion, a necessary release from the dumpster fire that is our world.
Hilariously, she revealed that a long time ago she had a bumper sticker on her car that said “Kill your TV” with an image of a guy smashing a tv with a sledgehammer. Not surprising for someone who works in academia. Now she loves her 54″ 4K tv and decries, “fuck the me from 20 years ago and my smash the tv bumper sticker!” Likewise, I used to judge people who feel asleep with the tv turned on. Now I watch shows on my tab in bed before going to sleep, more often than I read a book.
Me and my cat Adonis watching a WWII documentary.
I’ll come right out and say it. I loooove watching tv, and I spend a significant amount of my time in front of the boob tube. (After typing the phrase “boob tube” I realized I didn’t know its origin; apparently it comes from old-school tvs having a cathode ray tube, and “boob” being slang for a dumb person). I have a 48″ tv (my friend’s got me beat by 6 inches)! I subscribe to Netflix, HBO and Hulu. I have the Adult Swim app (which needs serious UX improvements) to watch my favorite cartoon of all time, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I estimate that I probably watch roughly 1.5 hours of tv a day on average, sometimes more, sometimes less. I have a ritual of watching at least one tv show at night after a long day because it helps me wind down (to the contrary of what science says about effective bedtime hygiene and habits).
I used to find my giant tv embarrassing. Sometimes I cover it with a cloth to hide it from my sight during the day, but especially when guests are over, because I don’t like it when tvs are the center of attention in a living space. You can see the cloth in the above image, laying on my couch, where it can remain for days until I put it back on.
Another point of discussion was our mutual guilt around the amount of time we spend watching tv, which makes us feel like disgusting slugs. A voice inside my head reminds me that I could be doing something “more productive” like reading or blogging or networking or reading the 500 tabs I have open in my browser and the 5,000 articles in my Pocket. It’s a lot of pressure that many of us put on ourselves because the world tells us we should constantly strive to do more and to be more productive and professionally and physically active.
But you know what? I don’t feel like using my brain after a certain point in the day, and I’m also an introvert. And that is okay! It is okay to binge-watch! Or, for an even better metaphor, it is okay to feast, a term coined by anthropologist Grant McCracken who did some of the original research on this behavior for Netflix.
That said, both of us have defined what is “too much” when it comes to tv, so we strive for a balance. Did we bust our asses all day? Did we take a walk around town? Did we work out? Were we productive enough? If so, then great! My friend has a nifty strategy of using tv as a sort of motivational reward to take care of important tasks. She watches an episode or two, then scrubs the floor. Then another episode followed by dusting.
The impact of smartphones and streaming services can’t be discounted. 15 years ago, only a minority of people had cell phones, and smart phones didn’t come out until the release of the iPhone in 2007 and Android in 2008. Now they are ubiquitous and screens of all kinds are constantly in our faces. Digital devices, watching a lot of tv, and general media consumption are no longer taboo. Yet there is still a stigma and guilt around doing it “too much”, and I suspect that a lot of people feel this way.
It’s 2020, and I say, watch as much tv as you damn well please. I’m gonna, and I’m not gonna put as much pressure on myself about it anymore, while making sure to remain cognizant of my desired balance. In an era of peak information, where 24/7 professional grind culture is rampant, and where more of our time is taken up by things that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago, IT IS OKAY to watch tv and to watch whatever you want, even if it’s garbage reality tv!
It’s difficult to exist in capitalism, but self worth does not have to be tied to productivity or cramming information into your brain. Our lives and identities don’t have to be dictated by what we perceive to be the ideal professional or human being. And really, it’s absolutely okay to do whatever you want in general, to use your time as you see fit! If it works for you, do it. Life is short, and it’s your life.
Cat on couch image by threefatcats.