August 13, 2006
If you believe the statistics (pdf), the average American now spends over four hours of each day vegetating in front of a television set. How much of that, I wonder, is spent flipping aimlessly through dozens of channels–you do have cable, don’t you?–stopping at last on the most visually arresting image, or perhaps on that program your friends always tell you about or that film you watched all those years ago and then forgot? Far too much, I would imagine. Channel surfing, as a pastime, is a habit I gave up long ago. I haven’t looked back.
I have only two “favorite” television programs: Fox’s 24 and The CW’s Veronica Mars. A standing appointment on my calendar obligates a weekly viewing of both, and rarely stray from that, partly from a disdain for the perceived mediocrity of most other programming but mostly because I prefer to actively choose the content I consume rather than casually “zoning out” for hours on end as characters, plots, and colors whiz by. Statistical improbabilities aside, Sturgeon’s Law is a good standby in this sort of situation: 90% of everything is crap. That goes double for television, meaning that it is 180% crap; that may not make much sense but I’m going with my gut on this one. Perhaps Stephen Colbert is getting to me.
As readers of the blog have no doubt surmised, watching and analyzing films occupies much of my free time; I care deeply about which movie I watch and when, and my tastes do not often coincide with the whims of network executives, who in their quest for ratings are far more likely to broadcast innocuous, generic actioners and lowball comedies than the Oscar winners and little-seen independents I often enjoy. Zoolander may be great fun while inebriated and in the company of a posse of friends, but on more sedate occasions it’s difficult not to think of how very disappointed someone or other who invested time in my personal development would be that 1.5 hours of my life had been lost to Ben Stiller’s gay model shtick.
The guilt can guide my back to things like my recent foray into reading Marcel Proust’s seven-volume novel La Recherche du Temps Perdu, or In Search of Lost Time for those not versed in the language of love–I really must write on it here one of these days. The streams of consciousness flowing through that piece of culture are an entirely different form of channel surfing: images bubble to the surface of the mind, unbidden and fascinating yet incomprehensible. And that’s what most of television is to me: gibberish (scratch the “fascinating” bit). Sure, Taylor Hicks can sing, but can the beauty of his essence move me to sit and ponder the imponderables for unreasonably long stretches and emerge refreshed and overcome with newfound optimism? I think not, but then again, there’s always next season.
Addendum (8/14): It has been pointed out to me that I could not possibly have been influenced by Stephen Colbert, as I claim, if 24 and Veronica Mars are the only programs I regularly watch. Allow me the courtesy of an explanation. I only very occasionally watch Mr. Colbert’s show on live television, preferring to download episodes from Apple’s iTunes or view select segments on Comedy Central’s website. This is, incidentally, an interesting convergence of media types that probably merits its own discussion, but I will leave that for another time. For now, yes: I am indeed well versed in all things Colbert, but no: I do not really “watch”, in the traditional sense, his show. There. You know everything now.
–D. S. W.