When people tell me “there’s nothing good on TV,” I get pissed off. Not just because they are too lazy and full of shit to look for anything good, and not just because they’re saying it to try to sound superior (which they are, if your definition of “superior” is synonymous with “asshole”). No, I get pissed off because how can you generalize the impact or value of an entire medium? Would anyone say “there’s no good books being published”? No, not just because it’s grammatically incorrect; because you can’t dismiss an entire medium.
Just this week, we can see the diversity of television in the coverage of two events: Charlie Sheen and the Japanese earthquake (yes, for these purposes, Charlie Sheen will be identified as an ‘event’).
With Japan, as with other disasters of similar scale, television is making the human cost of the disaster evident to people around the world. For most of us without any Japanese ancestry, an earthquake there really will have no impact on our daily lives. Same with the tragedy in Haiti. If TV weren’t there, using it’s visual immediacy to help us connect on a human level with the victims, you can bet that charity donations from North America would amount to a lot less.
On the other hand, there’s Charlie Sheen. Imagine if someone you know had a raging drug problem, beat and threatened women, babbled incoherently — and was a father of 5, including 4 young children. How amusing would that be? (If you’re treating that as anything but a rhetorical question, and you’re not yet a parent, please consider not adding to the gene pool).
Where TV has been able to bring the disaster in Japan closer, it has distanced us from the human disaster that is Charlie Sheen. Being a celebrity, we don’t see him as a human being; he’s an entertainer, and there he is, entertaining. Being on our TVs for years has made him almost imaginary, which is the same with Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson and other wreckage. We lose our ability to connect with them on a human level, so they inhabit the same part of our brain that processes reruns of “Dynasty” on SoapNet.
So with a medium that has such a potent capacity to at the same time bring us closer together and further apart, how can you generalize the fare being offered? (Again, rhetorical).
It’s true that 95% of everything is crap. But with a million TV channels, the remaining 5% covers a lot of hours of programming. Sitting down to watch TV doesn’t make you analogous to every couch potato who spends hours immobile eating pork rinds, any more than reading the Economist makes you comparable to someone reading Entertainment Weekly.
So, if you’re trying to impress me by saying you don’t watch TV, try someone more willing to tolerate your transparent claims to the intellectual high ground. Jackass.
I’m Ed the Sock, and I’m nobody’s puppet.