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October 13, 2015

Things I Hate about TV: People who claim not to watch it

by Jay Black, posted Jan 11th 2007 3:09PM
Hey! Look at me! I'm an Grad Student!(Writers Note: This post is not about something I hate ON the television, it's about a particular type of person I hate that is caused by the existence of television. It was hard picking a category for it, so I went with the one I did.)

I was an English major in college. If you ever get the chance to be an English major, do it! It opens so many doors to your future: with your English degree you can teach English! Or, also, starve!

Being an English major, though, brought along with it one major annoyance: wannabe intellectual types who felt that since they read Keats or whatever, they were somehow better than the civilians who enjoyed Melrose Place or The X-Files.

A quick story to illustrate my point: my junior year, I was sitting in the lounge of the English building discussing some finer points of TV trivia with one of my friends. A bearded (he was nineteen, but he had some serious Uncle Jesse action going on) hipster type sat down next to us. I recognized him from my classes as the "guy who always raised his hand and said something that looked smart, but in reality was just speaking nonsense and because the teachers are all touchy-feely English types, none of them have the heart to tell him how stupid he was sounding". You know that guy. Of course you do.

Anyway, he was sitting next to me and my friend at right around the same time I was asking my friend my favorite trivia question (what was the Skipper's real name). As my friend pondered the answer (Jonas Grumby), this is what the bearded one says to me:

"Oh. You're discussing television."

Me: "Yeah."

Beard Guy (slightly pompous): "Hm."

Me (slightly annoyed): "You don't like TV?"

Beard Guy: "Well it's just that... it's just that..."

(He ruffles around in his backpack, bringing forth a copy of Light in August.)

Me: "It's just that what?"

Beard Guy (showing me the book): "It's just that, it seems such a waste of time! Faulkner is my TV."

It's at this point that I set fire to his beard and pushed him through a plate-glass window. Well, not really, but it's what I wanted to do.

I would have been all right with that statement had it been 70 years ago and had it not been said with the implication that somehow TV is worse than Faulkner. A lot of it is, but there's some stuff that I'd put right up there with Light in August.

The problem is that Beard Guy is not alone. Not a single day goes by -- especially online -- that I don't see someone smugly claiming to "not watch TV."

Somewhere along the line, watching television became cultural shorthand for being a stupid. Thus, for wannabe intellectuals, not watching television is the best way to prove to everyone that you're intelligent. Saying, "I don't own a TV" implies a life of Shakespeare and smoking jackets.

Except, here's the thing: Shakespeare was the television of his time (insofar as it was wildly popular and easily accessible by the masses). Seriously. His theater was on the wrong side of town, next to bear baiting pits (a sport that I fully expect Fox to revive before the end of this decade). The intellectuals of the day looked down on it as something vulgar and common. Shakespeare was filled with unnecessary sexual innuendo and broad, bawdy comedy -- I mean, it really was Two and a Half Men of Verona.

The reason why Shakespeare has a reputation for being intellectual now is simple: it's hard to understand. Same thing with all forms of popular culture that were once the province of the masses that are now the province of bearded wannabes. Guys like Dickens, Twain, and Wordsworth look great crammed into a Barnes and Noble bag because it's a lot harder to understand them than a new episode of House or The Sopranos.

You have to wonder how they would have shown their superiority during the times when those authors were actually part of pop culture rather than culture with a capital C. Would they have preferred Shakespeare when Dickens was writing? Homer when Shakespeare was popular? Cave pictographs when Homer was reciting?

So, if they can enjoy Shakespeare so much, why is it that "intellectuals" can't enjoy popular culture? Because they're being pretentious.

It's not to say that everything on television is worth while (I can't stand Greys Anatomy and I think that everyone working at MTV needs to be brought up on charges of war crimes), but television itself is the most worthwhile medium in the history of man.

Sure, there's a lot of crap floating around out there, but there's always been crap. When we read English anthologies, we see the best of the best. When we watch television on a nightly basis, we see 75 NEW hours of programming EACH night. And the next night, we see 75 MORE hours. So, the quality ratio is going to be a lot lower on TV versus the anthologies, but it doesn't mean that there isn't greatness to be had.

The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Simpsons, Battlestar Gallactica, The Wire -- these are the building blocks of tomorrow's anthologies. As ridiculous as it sounds, these will be studied with the same zest as all the other bits if pop culture that have transmogrified over the years into actual culture. (As a former English teacher, I can also make the prediction that those far future kids will be just as resistant to it as they are to everything else. "Awwww, do we have to watch The Simpsons again? When are we ever gonna need this stuff!?)

Anybody that's ignoring this simply because they want to look a little smarter than their neighbor is being willfully ignorant to their own culture. And that makes them a stupid-dum-dum-head.

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Thank you for this article. I loved it.

May 22 2013 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with poster #8 re: channelsurfing v. watching TV. I think many of the pretentious types who claim "I don't watch TV" really mean they don't channel surf. (I know-- I'm one of them!) They're trying to say that they do other things as well (read, golf, write letters to the editor, etc.) They're trying to imply that they aren't sitting in front of the TV from the time they get home from work to the time they go to bed, rotting their brains with Maury Povich and Viagra ads. They're saying that most of TV is crap and they haven't been sucked in. But like a liberal politician trying to talk health care, your non-TV watcher can't quickly explain his or her position, so the sound bite becomes, "I don't watch TV."

February 27 2007 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm one of those "I don't watch TV" types; I was also an English major for a quarter and a film major for yet another quarter. My wife watches some, but for the most part the TV is simply set up in the living room for DVDs and VHS.

I don't watch TV because it's shlock (it is) or because I don't like most of the shows (I don't). I mainly don't watch it because I've got an unrelenting hatred for commercials; I will NOT sit still for the 3-5 minutes of commercials to watch TV, particularly when it's a show I find only marginally entertaining to begin with. Will and Grace, for instance, will give me a chuckle now and then, as will Sex in the City - and I should note that I'd be aptly classified as an 'educated redneck', being about as un-PC as possible without being a hater - but I would rather have a tooth extracted than watch the commercials which air during those shows. Otherwise I might be convinced to sit down and watch them with my wife.

On the other hand, I will download/stream episodes of shows from (say) CBS.com like Jericho, which I find interesting enough (but not so interesting that I fit it's showing into my schedule). I'll watch an episode sometime throughout the week - with single, short commercials where 3+ minute commercial breaks normally exist - and not get up and ignore the commercial.

To summarize: I don't watch TV because of too many of the irritating kinds of commercials during shows (ie shit like vagasil and various other things nobody in our household would ever buy). Especially with the trend in commercials these days of 'over-selling' a product; it doesn't matter what it is, but I guarantee you it'll have a 75% chance of being sold with either sex or image. And then there's the sitting through the same commercial maybe 3 or 4 times in a single hour time block...

The only commercial I've seen aside from one from Budweiser or Geico in the last year or so was the recent Old Spice commercial for Bruce Campbell - and that was because it was a well conceived, well orchestrated piece of marketing, divorcing itself from the neo-traditional image associations that are common.

Anyway, I got off-topic there.

February 21 2007 at 10:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Unless you study all forms of media or entertainment, you don't have the right to proclaim one to be better than another. You're right, Jay. I probably would have tossed him out the window.

I went to a top tier school. I was a History major. I am, and have always been, addicted to TV. It's not the TV that has made me dumb. It's the substance abuse.

January 12 2007 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh, and another thing to add - I think being a well-rounded person adds to the enjoyment of *all* media. Lots of 'higher' novels I've picked up lately have references to pop culture that are really essential to providing context to the story.

It works the other way, too - one of the more striking examples came in one of the "fall season" Lost episodes with Benry and Sawyer exchanging Steinbeck quotes. The weight of that scene with such perfectly selected literary references was enormous... Unfortunately, more than half the people I talked to couldn't grasp why I was raving about the scene so much. Anyway, we've all said it more or less - discounting TV automatically is just closed-minded.

And by the way, I was Journalism/Political Science, so I guess I'm the minority here. That's right, suckas, I don't put commas after the last item in a list! Oooohhh... AP style for the win!

January 12 2007 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ben small

Is it beyond the realm of possibilities that a person is able to actually enjoy reading great literature and aren't wide-eyed with excitement for television? This old "egghead snob" concept is so worn out. These days, if you say you don't watch Survivor or Idol or Scrubs, YOU are the victim of snobbery from almost everyone. I want to set on fire the Magnum Moustach of every idiot who immediately labels you a snob because you like Shakespeare or Beethoven or, god help us ... poetry! THAT'S A SNOB!

January 12 2007 at 9:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anthony Lynch

great post

January 12 2007 at 6:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I used to live with a quasi-intellectual girl who claimed she never watch tv, but always when I came home unannounced she would lay on the sofa like the slack that she was and watch DAYS OF OUR LIVES!!!

Please head to Digg.com and digg this story, make the
world take part in this "debate":

January 12 2007 at 5:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes. I've undertaken this exact argument many times.

And high school students should be studying Rod Serling right along with Willie S.

January 12 2007 at 1:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

whoa - is everyone here an english lit major? i thought it was just me.
actually, i've been an eng lit teacher for the last 15 yrs or so, and a lot of my students don't watch tv - they play video games instead. i think the tv is too much 'thinky make head hurt' for them to handle. how sad is that?
i just had two things to add:
1. i don't think dickens or twain are any easier to understand than an ep of House (even if you treat the medical jargon like white noise)
2. i knew a girl who went to our crap local college and bragged about not owning a tv ("i packed it up and sent it to my worst enemy, har har"). what a twit. i remember telling her about the 'taming of the shrew' ep of Moonlighting (that's how long ago this was) and she said, "What? You mean they actually did something clever on television?" sooner or later, she annoyed everyone into leaving her alone, so i assume she got a tv at some point. either that or she's still wrestling with gravity's rainbow.

January 11 2007 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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