It’s 9 years of your life – and it isn’t sleeping or eating

The loan your TV principleTerminate my brain: The Sarah Connor Chronicles DVD on Amazon

A couple of years ago I managed to loan my television to various friends who were broke or in transient accomodation or both.

My TV-less period lasted 3 years in total.

It’s surprisingly difficult to lend your TV to people actually. In the end my TV was found wanting because there were too many other people out there also trying to loan out their TVs, and their TVs had better specs than mine, a bigger screen, built-in DVD, etc.

In retrospect I find it interesting that all of us were loaning rather than giving our TVs away. It’s as if we couldn’t cut the umbilical cord, we could bring ourselves to part with it but deep down knew that like a straying pet it would probably keep coming back to feed on our brain (if that sounds a bit ‘un-pet like’ take a closer look at your cat) .

Look out for my new venture, ‘’: there are thousands of people out there wanting to part with their TVs if someone would just help them through this difficult transition, find a new place for their beloved TV, and not allow them to back out of the deal at the last minute.

What television and toxoplasmosis have in common

There’s some Japanese horror movie out there whose name escapes me (probably sucked out by the aforementioned pet), I think it was ‘The Ring’, where the plot involves a video that kills you when you see it.

The Ring does seem a bit of an extreme metaphor but on the other hand it’s hard not to think that television does something to your brain…

Television doesn’t always entertain – or not in the way we know it Jim

How else do we reconcile that so much of what we watch is simply so bad? We’re not just talking morally or intellectually it just doesn’t entertain. Yet, we still watch it.  

How else can you explain staying up till midnight watching an appalling Manga-adapted subtitled Asian martial arts film called ‘Crows’ largely about the hairstyles of the protagonists with westernized-looking Asian female characters saying insightful stuff to monosyllabic male characters like “am I irritating you?” 

Or what about another gem I’ve been glued and gripped by:  ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’? In a recent episode John Connor  is being supplied a girlfriend from the future to make sure he is psychologically well adjusted and not too dependent on his mother … hmm … how Oedipal. 

And then there’s the extremely dubious idea of the attractive robot Cameron (played by Summer Glau at left in the picture above) who just stands around looking …errr … attractive but conveniently has no feelings to be offended by John as the adolescent male in the series …  love to have sat in on the marketing meetings on this one.We still love TV now just as much as we did in the 50s - Photo by gbaku on Flickr used under Creative Commons Listening to ‘On the Media’ the other night Brook Gladstone noted that the female Captain Janeway in the Star Trek series was considered too hard to handle for their prime young male demographic so they had to bring in the curvaceous cyborg ‘7 of 9′, again a case of a non-threatening good looking but ’emotionally dumb’ girl for younger males.

Yet applying a ‘high culture’ filter to television might be missing the point. We might just be too dumb to understand what television is really about.

Sure, we know that television provides an illusion of social company for us as social animals.  Sure we know that television has the capacity to relax us – over a lifetime a 75 year old will have sat through 9 years of television at an average of 3 hours a day viewing. There aint nothing else that I’m aware of that can make anyone sit that still for that long. More interestingly there have been suggestions that we like the orientation buzz that the techniques of film bring i.e. the content doesn’t matter we simply are attentive to the pans, zooms, cuts, and jumps, even down to preferring so many per minute.

The subtle benefits of junk television

However there are other more subtle benefits to junk television which perhaps are the tradeoff for whatever it does to our brain. For example:

  1. Junk television does not actually require your full attention. That’s a damn good thing. Television multitasking - photo by Brett L from Flickr under Creative CommonsWe can eat dinner in front of it or do other things.  Walk away from a television program and unlike the onstage actors in a theatre nobody is gonna care. And the way television fits with multitasking especially on the web is becoming increasingly important:  36% of UK broadband users (aged 16-55) state they have both the TV and Internet on in the same room every day. On weekdays the time when TV and Internet multi-tasking is most likely to happen is around 8pm in the evening (TNS/YouTube Media & Audience Study December 2008).
  2. Perhaps for the intellectual snobs amongst us television allows us to feel superior to what we are watching on screen? Who hasn’t sat with a bunch of people watching ‘social’ TV and joked about the predictability of the plot, or character cliches onscreen? Haven’t done this? Try interactive TV by talking about it with kids/friends as you watch it.
  3. Or what about television’s ability to seduce the conscious part of our brains so we can avoid the trap of analysis paralysis? It’s hard to take yourself too seriously while writing and watching ‘Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation’, watching junk television stops you from writing something that requires someone’s full attention (because reading stuff on the web is not something anyone gives full attention to!).
  4. Another subtly brilliant feature of a lot of TV plots is that they actively encourage channel surfing – it’s easy to follow 2-3 programs simultaneously. Perhaps this is actually good for the television watching surveys run for advertising purposes?  Channel surfing is a little harder with the emotional ups and downs and plot intricacies of, say, ‘Silence of the Lambs’…
  5. Or what about the cultural hegemony theory: all those hours of enlightened American drama deluging the developing world have to be reshaping socially backward countries (although perhaps ‘I Dream of Jeannie’  or ‘Bewitched’ could be said to undermine this argument not to mention the way so many TV plots seem to imply that most serious problems can be solved with a handgun).

As the amount of time that we spend reading online ratchets up (according to Nielsen the average person is now spending about 2 and a half hours on the internet a day) I’m inclined to think that the easy non-committal nature of television is going to keep our loyalty.

Excuse me. I have to catch that episode of ‘Heroes‘.

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Article posted by @Drivelry on October 15, 2009

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