“It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.” –T. S. Eliot
It is said that the goal of television for the masses is to train our nation’s youth to become passive and inert, to breed a sedentary and useless adulthood, to produce nothing as we wait for our flickering fourth walls to entertain us and bring faux meaning to our otherwise dull and insignificant lives.
Apparently, I missed that memo when I decided to buck the vicious cycle last year and revolt.
All melodrama aside, last year was an interesting experience for me. After previous years of life-altering events, 2009 ended like a hurricane and 2010 hit me like a tidal wave. Little did I know what 2010 would hold for me. Suddenly, I was thinking very clearly about things. I wanted to explore and create. I wanted to question why things were instead of just accepting them as law without evidence. I wanted to see everything life had to offer instead of just settling for the bland status quo.
I also took stock of the dreams I had and the goals I wanted to accomplish. One of those dreams, as I have previously discussed, was writing, and my goal was to get published. But at the time, I was working the night shift, and on top of that, all my other chores and responsibilities cut into the time I could be spending doing something more creative. So, discouraged and hopeless, I turned to television or movies every day and lived vicariously through actors, watching other people live their dreams, knowing that my dreams were never meant to be. I looked around and saw everyone else doing the exact same thing, but they justified it by calling it “adult” and “mature”.
Then, it hit me.
Why was it that following my dreams and doing the things I love were considered by the world to be so childish, yet whittling away my days staring at a flickering box watching inane programming was not? So, I conducted an experiment. I would cut my television and movie time for a couple of weeks, and whenever a weakening urge would appear, I would write, draw, read, play the piano, or work a puzzle. In two weeks’ time, my hypothesis was proven right. I became more motivated to be creative, and found plenty of time that I didn’t think I had to accomplish the things I didn’t think I could accomplish during the week.
And I discovered that having more time was a good thing.
Thus when the experiment was over, rather than scurrying back to our television again like a caffeine addict to his local Starbucks, I made my findings the rule in my life and not the exception. This, however, was not met without its share of resistance, and these times opened my eyes to how much our lives, our culture, and our heritage depend on television; to how much they depend on improbable things that never happened portrayed by people we’ll never meet, or unrealistic, unscripted scenarios billed by the masses as “reality”. At times, this manufactured reality is far more real than our own lives, and I found it to be very disturbing.
I came from a household from which the television was always on, even during family mealtime, and I worked the night shift in a place where the dozens of televisions on display were never shut off and the familiar electronic hum and multicolor flicker could always be heard, seen and never escaped. Everywhere I went, everywhere I turned, there was a television. It was loud, it was bright, but it was far from inviting. I didn’t long for the days of old and give in to my human weakness. Television and cinema held nothing for me anymore. It had become an annoyance, and soon it became repulsive.
“But what do you do to relax and unwind?” Everyone asked.
“I read.” I replied.
Though I read by assignment in school and made very high marks in reading and comprehension, it wasn’t until picking up Richard Adams’ Watership Down in college that I truly discovered its value. When I started the night shift, I would pick up books here and there, but it wasn’t until this point in my life that I went on what can only be described as a “book binge”.
Books spoke to me more vividly than the visual arts ever could. When I watched a movie or a television show, it seemed that I was being told how to interpret the story and what to feel. And nearly nothing was left to the imagination because all the images and faces were shown and all the voices and sounds heard. Entertainment and thought were one and the same in my mind, and I accepted it because this was the way of the world. When I read a book, however, it felt much more intimate. It felt like a single person, the author, was speaking directly to me, and because the visual and auditory elements were left to the imagination, it left the work completely open to interpretation, as well as lending itself to the other senses like touch, smell, and taste.
And yet the world was still stuck on the latest movie or the newest development in reality television, and I had a difficult time communicating with it. Television has set out to make us all homogeneous, and judging by how many people I heard discussing the royal wedding and Osama Bin Laden’s death the last time I went to the grocery store, it has succeeded. Before, I had difficulty engaging in rich, fulfilling dialogue with people, but in freeing myself from the bounds of status quo and entering a personal renaissance, I isolated myself with the other extreme and had difficulty having dialogues, period.
And yet, at the same time, I felt free.
What I feel, though, is not likened to a smoker quitting cold-turkey only to feel the pangs of addiction rearing its ugly head and beckoning him back. Quite the contrary. I have had the opportunity these past months to learn and study in ways I never have before. I’ve been able to rediscover and reinvent myself for the better. I’ve fixed my broken path and gave myself a clear direction. I discovered that with a little practice and determination, I could classically train myself in piano, become a painter, explore the world’s music, and even bend modern technology to my own will, making it work for me, rather than succumbing to its wiles and having me work for it. Enacting this conscious change has made me consider others, such as exercising in the morning, quitting soft drinks, eating healthier, and yes, even attending church on a regular basis.
Why would I ever go back?
As I have said before, television and the cinema holds nothing of value for me anymore. Perhaps there will be something truly special in the future to make me turn my head again, but until that unlikely event occurs, I turn my back on it all and feel that my life is richer without it. My only regret is that I didn’t come to this conclusion sooner.