on Nov 15, 2007
In my snarky post on the writer’s strike lots of people stuck up for some of their favorite TV shows, which really surprised me. I never had any sort of allegiance to the thing when I watched, and was sort of taken aback by the fondness some people expressed for various shows. I thought TV was, if not a dying medium, then perhaps a medium inhabiting an iron lung while relatives sat outside and whispered to each other about who should get the good china someday.
Last time I saw television it was a wasteland of “Reality television” shows. “Reality” in this case means “contrived situations designed to maximize conflict, which are then carefully edited for dramatic effect”. I always thought of the shows as social cockfighting. What few hours of prime time weren’t given over to this sort of gossipy angst were spent on dreadful sitcoms where the laugh track would jump in on every third unfunny remark to let you know where you might laugh if you were currently mildly retarded and high on nitrous oxide. I gave up on television and never looked back.
Some TV fans pointed out that in many cases shows have moved from telling interchangeable episodic stories to tackling more complex story arcs. It sounds like this trend was just about to take off about the last time I watched television, back in 2000. I’m a big believer in story arcs and tire quickly of static-state shows, so this is good news for people who’s jibs are of a cut not dissimilar to my own.
(And yes, I consider shows like ST: Voyager to be static-state. While there was an overall plot that lurched forward every once in a blue moon, you could still mostly watch the show in any given order and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. It’s like reading a book where you get a first chapter introducing the premise, then twenty chapters of frantic activity while the plot spins its wheels, then everything is abruptly resolved in the final chapter. I realize it was a limitation of the medium (since the writers wanted their show to be able to go into syndication) but it made the shows unsatisfying for me. Frustrating, even.)
(And yes I know you’re not supposed to put a whole paragraph in parentheses, and you’re not supposed to nest parentheses. Who makes these rules, anyway? If it were up to me you could nest sub-thoughts as deep as you like. Using curly brackets! And indentation!)
Still, I’m not about to return to TV anytime soon, although it is nice to hear the medium is evolving. I’m not signed up for cable TV, so it would be impossible for me to watch even if I suddenly got the urge. But now I know that someday these shows might end and retire to DVD – perhaps even after a satisfying conclusion – and that gives me something to look forward to.
The other thing that keeps me away from TV is the commercials. I’ve heard other non-TV watchers comment on this as well. Once you get away from TV for a couple of months, it sort of hurts to go back.
Television ads are loud, obnoxious, heavy-handed, obvious, grating, patronizing, demeaning, mean-spirited, predictable and (worst of all) mood shattering. I hate getting immersed in a story only to be yanked out, distracted, insulted, annoyed, and then thrown back into the narrative. It’s like being mugged in the middle of a conversation, and the other person simply wants to pick up where you left off once the assailant has departed.
Blocking out or ignoring commercials seems to be an ability that you develop over time. You get acclimated to them and learn to ignore them. Advertisers know this, which is why they are always trying to make them more intense and distracting. They all want your attention, and have to drown out all the other stuff in your brain to get it. Their goal is to more or less get you to stop thinking about the show you were enjoying so you can think about the crap they’re selling. People get desensitized to the current level of half-naked girls, screaming salesmen, and pestilent jingles, and so they have to intensify their efforts to overcome the viewers’ heightened immunity to audio and visual pollution. This is fine as long as you keep up, but if you leave television for months or years you’ll lose that filtering ability. Without it, the potency of modern advertising quickly reaches toxic levels. Once every other year I’ll end up in front of someone else’s television. I find that by the time a commercial break ends I’ll have forgotten what show I’m watching entirely. It’s disorienting and aggravating.
If I’m ever going to watch television shows again, it will probably have to be on DVD. It’s nice to know they are making shows I might enjoy. I remember the late nineties as a wasteland of unwatchable dreck, and I really didn’t think anything had changed until I saw the comments last week. Nice to know the stuff is there if the urge for that sort of thing ever returns.
Although I still maintain that there are upsides to the strike. It gives me no small pleasure to see these two on a picket line instead of “writing” or performing.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.