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