Monday, December 20, 2004

Turning off the tube

I watch little or no television. When I do watch it, I usually tune to C-Span and their various policy-related programming. I’m not sure what the exact quote is, or who said it, but there is an adage that people who are productive and get things done, don’t watch much television.

Occasionally, some program catches my fancy and I’ll watch a number of episodes of it, usually once it’s in syndication on a cable channel—West Wing was the last program that I watched regularly, but I can tell I’ve grown tired of it because I only watch an episode here and there—they are all repeats to me now, anyway. As for the current season, I’ve lost interest with all the character defections.

I wasn’t always so austere in my television viewing. At one time, I would come home from work, eat dinner, and plunk myself down in front to the television for three hours before bed. During that time, I rarely read and when I did, it was usually magazines, and occasionally, I’d plow through a book, but it would take several weeks and I rarely finished it.

These days, I’ve committed to reading as much as I can when I’m not writing, so there isn’t a lot of room for television in my life. I’m not sure how many books a year I’ve read over the past couple of years, but I’m sure I average two to three books per month. Granted, I may not always read them from front to back, as some books are better read in sections, but I do draw key points from them. As a result of this reading, I’ve been able to fill in a lot of holes in my knowledge about politics, religion, economics, and other topics that I was grossly uninformed about.

It is in that context that my occasional forays into network television inevitably bring such visceral reactions—as in, “how the hell do people watch 29 hours of this shit a week!” Case in point—my burning the candle at both ends finally caught up with me yesterday, as I woke up with a pounding headache and flu symptoms. As much as I ply my constitution with herbal teas, supplements, and vitamins, nothing replaces adequate rest for maintaining a healthy immune system. As a result of feeling lousy, my head felt too clouded to read much of anything. Instead, I watched a couple of hours of bad television in the afternoon. From being treated to People’s profile of LL Cool J, to some other infomercial about Britney Spears and her difficult life of fame, it’s not hard for me to understand why most Americans have become so stupid, or “dumbed down”, as commentators more kindly say. In hindsight, I probably should have just left the squawkbox off entirely, but in my weakened state, I succumbed to old habits.

I realized that after only two hours of this programming, my head was filled with absolute junk and rubble that served absolutely no purpose, at least from the standpoint of developing my intellect. It did expose me to countless commercials and pitches for the products that marketers pitch to consumers, however.

I won’t go as far as some and condemn all television—it certainly has its redeeming features—unfortunately, most of it is absolute dross, so limiting television input would seem like a positive thing.

You don’t have to cut out television entirely; cutting just one hour per day of television viewing from your life and replacing it with some good reading material could prove beneficial in many ways. A good book from the library could captivate you and possibly, you might become so engrossed, that you’ll leave the television off entirely. Reading is a habit like any other (including watching television). Taking time to cultivate this habit will reward you with a reduction from sensory overload, but also open up an entire new area of vitality in your brain. The more you read, the more you tend to learn about the world. The more that you know about your world, the less likely you are to be manipulated by the media, marketers, or the Machiavellian con men currently running our government.


ChefDunn said...

Number of times I read each paragraph until I could comprehend: 4


Jim said...


Touche! Sometimes, I do ramble.

Welcome to the blogosphere; anxious to read some of your posts.


ChefDunn said...

LoL Jim! Just a joke. I've been watching too much TV...

Jim said...

Hey bro!

I'd probably be watching more than I am, despite my haughty pronouncements, if I didn't have the book hanging like a Damocles sword over my head.

BTW, are you planning on doing some blogging?


ChefDunn said...

I don't know. Maybe... Maybe not... I don't think I could commit to anything... I may put a few recipies and other ideas I have out there for a cookbook.... Of course when I do finally write that book a "cookbook" is probably not what I will be calling it...

Anonymous said...

"60 percent of the adult population has never read a book of any kind; and only 6 percent reads as much as one book a year."

Encouraging, isn't it?

On a positive note, the public library is such an awesome democratic institution it hardly seems real: you mean I can pick out any books I want and take them home and keep them for several weeks??? Surely something so wonderful and positive and enriching will be taken away from us soon....


Jim said...


I had read these stats in Morris Berman's book, "The Twilight of American Culture", but couldn't verify them; thanks for the link.

I'm with you on libraries. Going back to my college days, I could spend hours upon hours tucked away in the stacks of a good library, taking down books, reading and just filling my head full of knowledge.

Obviously, my love of books and literature, libraries and learning, contributes to my feeling out of step with today's instant gratification culture.

It's hard to communicate the joys of books to those who don't have that same connection; I often get blank stares from non-readers when I talk about a book I'm reading that opens up new avenues of learning for me.