Today my mom posted on my Facebook wall: “I read your blog telerevisionist [sic] and I was wondering why you discuss these inane TV shows like they are real life?”
This comment made me think about the way we think about television. To me, television feels somewhat closer than multiplex movies or paintings in a stodgy museum. It’s usually watched in a home (and occasionally in an airplane–your temporary home in the skies!), sometimes we eat in front of it–a sign of friendship and trust, and I lovingly like to refer to it as “my third parent.” In fact, entire books have been written on the position of television within a family. These books often contain vaguely intellectual arguments about the importance of television that are based on the premise that every home has one and we even named an entire room after it. Does anyone else’s family refer to that perpetually disorganized living space as the “TV Room”?
Does our intimate relationship with television mean that viewing our favorite shows through our own experiences is the only way to evaluate them, or are there other ways to understand television? Take the last show I watched, House S07 E12, as an example. I could write about House as a character, like I did with Barney from How I Met Your Mother, or I could write about his relationship with Cuddy, his mistreatment of his staff, or his propensity for diagnosing Lupus in everybody (although it never came up this week!). This sort of writing does tend to humanize fictional characters. The more we understand a character’s background and motivations, the more the character begins to resemble a real person. Don’t we always feel as if we understand people better once we can offer a reasonable explanation for their actions?
When I read the news coverage of the recent shooting in Arizona, I found it most remarkable that everyone who knew the shooter kept saying how they didn’t really know him at all. After Loughner’s rampage, friends, and notably, several ex-girlfriends, could no longer fit Laughner into their pre-existing conceptions of him. People can’t understand him because they can’t explain his seemingly irrational behavior.
If we consider outward behavior as the manifestation of someone’s internal self, then wouldn’t analyzing speech and actions offer some clarity into a person’s inner depths? In understanding television shows as if they were real life, I’m perhaps giving them too much depth, but if we continue to probe our supposedly shallow, decidedly middlebrow culture, might it not reveal something slightly more profound?
I’ve met people who categorically don’t like music, and I’ve met people who don’t like movies, or art, or books, but I’ve never met a person who denounces all television. If television is so harmlessly ubiquitous as to be considered inane, then there must be some identifiable reasons, beyond the standard escapism excuse, that explain why so many people watch. In writing about television as if it’s real life, I guess I’m just trying to understand real life better. Will these pseudo-philosophical musings end? (I can actually answer that rhetorical question right now…yes, yes they will) Stay tuned!