As a child I watched cartoons every Saturday morning. I turned on the TV in the same motion that I threw off my book bag after school. I listened to the background noise during dinner. And when it got too dark after playing outside, I would come inside and catch an episode of whatever happened to be on.
All of my friends watched TV. Steadfast social allegiances were built on shared amusement in the same commercials.
Listening to Laughter
In sixth grade, I started to notice laugh tracks in sitcoms. I pondered the years of comic prompts I had absorbed without hearing, and realized that I could not recall most of what I had watched on TV: those hours of my life were gone.
A Burst of Creativity
Suddenly I found myself drawn into the pages of novels and my own short stories and poems. I learned how to draw, became proficient with juggling sticks and hacky sacks, and fell in love with theatre. I started running. And I shirked electronics to work as a summer camp counselor learning and teaching ecology, basketry, leatherwork, and wilderness survival.
Social Cues and Hidden Curriculum
I got through college easily without television. But entering the routine of a daily job, I found myself missing references to shows that figured largely in the lives of friends and colleagues. I would comment that I hadn’t seen a particular commercial. People thought I was kidding.
I decided to return to pop culture on my own terms: commercial free via DVDs and online streaming. Televised programming reinforces destructive habits, presents a limited range of choices and beliefs, and numbs us to how alive we are.
Programming and Enculturation
With cross-training in literature, theatre, art, and environment, I’m fascinated by how entertainment is staged. I study camera angles and movements, the placement of lighting, the direction of actors, the backgrounds of scenes. I watch for cues that encourage mindless consumerism: product placement, disposable commodities, globalized food networks, protection of corporate interests, automotive travel. I find recurring themes: happiness is attained through external factors, people are intrinsically flawed, science is our salvation, prevailing authority and power structures are to be trusted.
The Power of Stories
Now, watching TV shows and movies is an exercise in ecological literacy. I look for the unspoken ways in which the stories instruct us how to live. Sometimes, when I glimpse monitors in public spaces broadcasting news or talk shows, it appears like flickering waves of propaganda shaping the opinions and preferences of viewers.
For me, getting away from television helped me tune into my own thoughts and focus on the absurdity, drama, suspense, and sensuousness of daily life. And without owning a TV, I have more time and less clutter to do the things I want to do.