Monday, May 19, 2008

Lookin' for the mouse...

I don't have TV in my apartment.

I'm not bragging or complaining. Nor is this a setup for a "Get Matt A TV" charity fundraiser. (A Television Telethon?) I'm just saying it because nobody believes it.

The main topic of conversation among my current crop of American friends always seems to be "What was on last night". Alas, when I have to opt out of a chat because I missed the latest episode of "Two and a Half American Idols Dancing with Big Brother in Smallville: CSI" because I don't have a TV, people don't seem to know how to handle it.

Them: Wait, what?? You don't have a TV?
Me: Nope.
Them (horrified): Then... how do you... you know... watch? Television??
Me (somewhat embarrassed): I guess, I just... don't.
Them: ...
[Stunned silence as they take a few cautionary steps back, clutching a TV guide.]

(Disclaimer: OK, I do actually own a TV. It's a 13-incher that my brother was going to throw out, but I'm using it as nothing more than a monitor for my video camera and place to hang socks so, it doesn't really count.)

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against TV per se. I can't be. I'm an actor. I even have a degree in Mass Communications (which is being used as much as my brother's TV). And there are some really great shows out there - 30 Rock, Dexter, Daily Show, Heroes, LOST (season 4 finale already??) to name a few - but I don't need a TV for them.

I've got a nice computer with a great display, a fast internet connection and a Netflix account which means I can watch all of these shows commercial-free (albeit after the fact) and at my convenience. I really think that more and more people are going to catch on to this type of viewing. The outdated model of being at the mercy of programmers and the mythical Nelson families has got to go.

Anyway, I've had a few realizations the past few years that have led to my current state of TVlessness. The first, and most important, of these occurred in Japan:

1. When I only have around 15 channels to choose from - 13 of which are brightly colored and pretty much incomprehensible - I spend more time doing other things.

Makes sense, right? I did more in Japan, despite a busy schedule at work and little free time, than I did here in Seattle with no job and tons of free time. A lot of that was the result of me taking TV out of the equation.

2. American TV has waaaay too many commercials.

I first sensed this in Japan. Occasionally they played American shows on Japanese TV. Every few minutes there would be an odd fade to black before the show would resume. I eventually realized that these were the places where, back in America, there would have been 5 minutes of commercials. (Japan seemed to play most of its commercials between shows.) I was always surprised at how many commercials I was supposed to be sitting through.

This realization really hit home during a one-month vacation back to the States at the end of my third year in Japan. After years of Japanese television and months of getting caught up with LOST via the internet, I finally got to watch my very first "real-time" episode.

Here's the setup! Here's the hook! Here's Sawyer's sarcastic reaction! Here's the big floaty LOST title! Here's a... commercial? For "Cialas"? What's "Cialas"? (watches commercial) Ugh.

I sat in frustrated awe at just how many damn commercials there were, stretching a show which normally took me around 40 minutes to watch, into a full hour. Even worse, some of the commercials were repeated 2 or 3 times in a row. ("Fine! I'll buy a Blackberry! Enough with that song!") I can't imagine that such repetition would work, but it must. Which reminds me...

Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Buy a Blackberry.
Read my blog.

3. Most TV shows are crap.

This one wasn't hard to figure out, I just had to turn on the TV.  And can we stop with all of the reality shows?? I once had an idea for a movie screenplay that revolved around the filming of a reality TV show. I never wrote it because I figured that, by the time I was finished with it, reality TV would be a thing of the past. That was in 1998.

You may argue that most of this crap is only on network television but I think cable is no better.  There was a time when there were no commercials or reality shows on cable but not any more. Cable television provides an unlimited selection of bad shows from a very limited palette of ideas presented via a passive medium that promotes further passivity. No thank you.

Yet a lot of people still watch. Why? My brother Ken and I think that a lot of it has to do with it being a release after the daily grind of the 9 to 5. This seems reinforced by the fact that neither of us have traditional jobs and neither of us watch much television. But, another reason I think people keep watching is because:

4. American commercials breaks are tailor-made to make you unproductive and to keep you watching TV.

After I returned from Japan, I came to Seattle to apartment-sit for my brother. It was a tough time for me. I missed Japan, I was deep in the throes of reverse-culture shock, my pile of notes and photos was overwhelming and the sun was setting around noon. So, I watched a lot of television. Actually, I only tried to watch a little television but it never worked out that way. It usually went something like this:

  • The last part of the show I was watching would play in a way that made me think there was more. (Or there'd be the promise of scenes from next week.)
  • There'd be a quick commercial break.
  • The credits would fly by as they'd play the preview or do one last joke.
  • They'd immediately cut to the start of the next show, always opening with a hook, something overly-dramatic, a "body floating in a pool" sorta thing.
  • David Caruso would deadpan something witty like, "Shouldn't eat before swimming" or "Hot fun in the summertime" and then put on his sunglasses.
  • Roger Daltry would scream, "YEEEEEAAAAAARRRRRHHHHH!"
  • The Who would play "We won't get fooled again" as another show began and another hour wasted.

Next thing I know, BAM, I've just watched 8 hours of television. This is highly unproductive and not conducive to writing a book, leading a healthy lifestyle or maintaining a basic level of hygiene.

So, instead of losing the uphill battle to a medium scientifically-made to keep the viewer unproductive, inactive and helpless to walk away, I've just chosen not to own a television. Problem solved.

So, taking all of that into consideration, I think you'll understand why the following lecture struck such a chord with me. It's around 16 minutes but well worth it.

So hey, it turns out that all of my blogging is not stalling, I'm actually "deploying some of my cognitive surplus"!

Then again, maybe I really should get a proper TV and some cable.

Otherwise, I'd miss stuff like this...

With commercials.

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