Several years ago I bought a large TV with the wages from a summer in retail hell and this September I brought it to my new apartment as I had been doing since that summer. I don”t know if it was the TV or the apartment, but no antenna-based channels were coming in on the thing. Not a problem though. I intended, as always, to just get cable anyway. I called to have it installed, but unfortunately Comcast”s “appointments” are four-hour blocks of time in the middle of the day, anytime during which the cable guy may show up. With my class schedule, I couldn”t possibly be there for nearly that long on any given day.
The result was that I missed my first appointment and a few weeks later, my second. This was, at first, disappointing since I was something of a news junkie and there were some pretty interesting things going on at the beginning of the semester. I wasn”t totally cut off. I watched at friends” houses and ate lunches in front of the continuous CNN screening set up in the Union. But after hearing the same old stuff repeated for a couple days, I gave up. I began just reading newspaper stories online in the morning to find out what was going on.
At first I planned to make another try at getting cable, but it had now been a few weeks without it. I felt strangely unbothered by my lack of TV viewing and decided it might be a good idea to try to live without it for a little longer. At least it”d save me a couple bucks. Four months later, I feel the same way. I”ve missed a lot of the cool stuff I had always watched and there have probably been things on I would have enjoyed greatly. But having freed up untold hours over that time, I can”t say anything I did would have been time better spent on even my favorite shows.
What I found most beneficial about cutting back on television was giving up cable news. I”m sure that”s not the mindless crap most anti-TV types seethe about, but it is surprisingly mindless and stupendously crappy. What I”m really pleased I”ve been doing without are the pundit-based bitchathons that pass for news commentary and analysis. Ideological commentary became a staple of television news because it keeps the channels” limited audience of politically interested newsies glued to the set for longer. It worked on me for a long time. I used to watch the various ever-proliferating pundit shows daily. And once confined to their own shows, these fonts of wisdom, usually received from other pundits, had even leached into regular news shows and you could now see armchair politicos interviewed as if they were real ones.
I”m not some kind of crazy anti-television zealot and I was never cut off from TV or the talking heads completely. I”d still watch at friends” houses sometimes or read about some of their more egregious behavior. But I consider myself lucky to be living through the most controversial era of my life largely free from the endless daily (non)controversies whipped up for the cable news.
To get an idea of what they”ve been talking about recently, yesterday I looked at the website of one of the more amusing pundits, Bill “I ask the tough questions” O”Reilly. The first headline on the site: “Are the Rolling Stones Evil?”
Since O”Reilly had obviously lost it and I had lost interest in searching further, I decided to just ask a friend what the hot topics have been. I was told the issue of what to do with John Walker Lindh was big for a while and still popped up now and then.
Pre-September I”m sure I would”ve had all kinds of opinions about such a subject that I would justify as important because of what it meant for our legal system and messages that were being sent or whatever. But really, who cares what happens to him? He”s one guy whose importance is largely a product of commentators” ability to rile people up with the imagined implications of his treatment. The world is filled with weirdos, injustice and lost souls. Walker”s particular fate concerns me not in the least and hearing endless blather about it from the guardians of morality or civil liberties or from random loudmouths was a waste of time I”m glad I didn”t subject myself to. Looking back on all the other drivel I spent my time listening to and being agitated about, I”m much better off now, blissfully unconcerned by such matters as the proper level of patriotism or what college professors and students are saying to anger pundits now. There are undoubtedly real issues out there, but they can be found in a newspaper and don”t have to be filtered through hours of partisan pontification.
I knew I had really given up cable news when I went home for a couple weeks over break and even in my most bored moments, didn”t watch anything but old movies and music videos. MTV was one of those things I wanted to steer clear of too, but late at night they actually play a lot of good music.
I suspected I”d miss a lot of things about not having a TV, especially not watching The Simpsons every day, but I never even think about it, or much else I used to watch. I hate to sound like an annoying parent, but there are a lot better things you could be doing with your time than watching TV. What I did with the time, largely studied more, probably isn”t what most would do, but even doing things many might consider a waste of time, like having a couple beers with your friends, is undoubtedly a more fulfilling experience than a TV show. Probably the only reason I never started watching the same way I used to is that I couldn”t, so I know it”s hard. But I have to say, it”d be well worth the effort.
Peter Cunniffe can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.