TV as a time-suck, and as a part of us

I grew up with a very moderated television viewing schedule. In fact, the one small TV in our house was often relegated to our parent’s closet if they thought we were watching too much. Cable was out of the question. For the longest time we didn’t own a VCR; we rented one from the video store. As the kids got older this electronic banishment became less and less common, but in college I basically only saw one show, The Simpsons, in the dining hall at supper. I didn’t have a television in my room and really didn’t want one.

A few months after my wife and I got married we inherited the same little TV that occasionally hid out in mom and dad’s closet, along with a VCR that liked to eat tapes. We found that we liked to watch movies together, as so many people do. Since then we’ve upgraded to a relatively inexpensive flat panel television and a DVD player (although streaming from Hulu and Netflix via the Wii have been our preferred modes of video reception of late). We still like to watch movies together but also watch television. In fact, in the past 18 months we’ve watched a lot more television than film, mostly on DVDs. It’s much more pleasant sans the commercials, which probably doesn’t need to be said.

My wife, being female, can multitask. She knits or spins with a show on in the background. That’s harder for me to do, especially considering how much messier my chosen crafts generally are than hers. I’m usually more particular about what I watch than she is partly for this reason. I end up getting sucked into the programs, some that I don’t even like — like 24 — and that’s a giant waste of time when I could be sculpting or working on Scissortail instead. 24 is actually playing in the background as I type this entry.

There are some decent things about 24, such as the overall concept. But I don’t like the writing. 95% of the dialogue is just cheesy and often unaware of itself, and many of the characters are simply idiotic at times. The show also suffers from redundancy. Subsequent seasons are basically the same plot rehashed. A lot of shows grow old before they need to after finding a formula that works, that keeps viewers and advertisers coming back. The art, the imagination that drove the original idea, seizes up in light of the almighty dollar.

Image from Wikipedia

So why do I watch? My best guess is that it has something to do with the innate importance of story in our lives as humans. This is something that I’m just beginning to realize thanks in large part to my wife, who manages to read about 85 books a year. I barely get through five, and most of them are nonfiction.

TV, and therein story, can be more than entertainment. In my own life Bones is a good example of this. The wife began watching this show on a recommendation, as I recall, and it took me a while to get into it. The gruesome representations of human remains stuck in my head, unpleasantly, and I grew tired of the psychopaths. The show is very good though, and I’ve stuck with it. The characters are wonderful, as is the interplay between them — particularly between Booth and Bones. The dialogue is sharp and witty. And most interestingly I’ve become desensitized to the images of decomposing flesh.

Of course, such is commonly considered one of the evils of television. We see murders, we see violence and our observation presumably devalues human life. We’ll begin to emulate the actions of the characters as we continue to follow their stories.

We’ll all be emulating the corpses portrayed on Bones in some way or another (though hopefully not as murder victims dumped down a sewer drain) at some point, barring a present rapture or cremation. Or mummification, but that’s beside the point. Death is reality. Bones helped bring our human mortality to light in my life, at least in part. I’ve never been to a funeral for a person I knew, which for a person of my age seems out of the ordinary — though something to be thankful for as well — at least to me. So the reality of our finite time on Earth is a lesson I’ve had to come by through other means. In this case, through story.

What I’m wondering at the moment is this: How can we balance listening to other people’s stories, written in books or as a television series, with making or living out our own stories?

In a month we’ll be in Nashville for the Hutchmoot. The thrust of the moot will the importance of stories (from what I can tell anyway; I’m not sure there’s actually a theme). From the moot’s website:

We want you to come and enjoy a weekend of music and conversation about the stories all around us in song, film, books — and most importantly the story being told through our lives; our own story — what it means to get to the holy hidden heart of it, how to tell a better story with the days we’re given, and how our stories intersect each other’s and connect to the Great Story.

I’m grateful for the written word, for oral traditions and I’m grateful for photographic media (including video) as well. I’m glad I’m able to be a part of other people’s stories and learn from their experiences. However, at times I worry we neglect our own stories in favor of other’s.

I’m trying to figure out how to keep that from happening in my own life, how to find a balance.

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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