Those who argue that families who sit dazed in front of the television are distant from one another have clearly never argued with their friends or parents about which detour option would be better on “The Amazing Race” or whether that one contestant with the goofy hair really deserved to be kicked off “American Idol.”
It’s a common stereotype of “TV families” that they are comprised of couch potatoes who happen to position their lumpy, emotionless bodies on the couch at the same time, stare at a screen for a few hours and then groggily walk away to separate rooms. While this family surely exists somewhere, it is far from my personal experience as a member of what is undoubtedly a TV family.
Television — like all other forms of art — is not meant to merely entertain but also to provoke thought and discussion. Far from leaving family members to sit mindlessly in their own separate pods, a lot of modern television can lead to real bonding between family and friends. The topics of conversation can range from whether or not it’s bitchy to bet a dollar more than someone on “The Price Is Right” (which it is) to whether the writers of “Heroes” have finally gotten it right again (which they haven’t). And discussing these things with someone can tell you much more than just their opinions on TV, as long as you each explain yourself.
Take the “Price Is Right” example. You can learn someone’s moral system — or at least get a glimpse of it — from how they would handle one of TV’s biggest dilemmas. Do they believe we have a moral obligation to give our competitors a fair chance, or can we use our privileged position as the last one to bet to our advantage, even though we did nothing to earn that spot? The answers here provide more insight than was clear with the initial, unexpanded question.
Now, some people may think that I’m reading too much into this. But the fact that, when faced with a current high bet of $900, some will bet $901 and others will bet $950 is proof that people show their true colors under the pressure of Contestant’s Row.
The “Heroes” example is less philosophical, but perhaps a bit more practical, since it caters more to questions of taste. Choosing whether or not you like this season of “Heroes” — or any other show, really — is based on whether you like the riddles that come with mind games and deception, the action and gunfire of epic battles, the humor of a few good jokes or any other aspect of television programming. These choices can say a lot about someone’s personality. I’m not saying all people who like action or mind games are the same; I’m merely saying that once you’ve talked a lot with someone about a lot of TV — even the trashiest stuff — you can get a pretty good idea of what they like and what they don’t.
Now obviously some TV shows spark better conversation than others. Saying why “The Bachelor” is a bad show takes about two seconds, even if you delve into detail, and once you’re done there’s really nothing else to say. And it’s not just the trash that makes for less than ideal conversation. There are shows like “House” — great entertainment but hard to discuss in terms of plot, just because most people don’t know how to diagnose lupus or some strange fever the patient contracted while petting a snake overseas.
But then there are shows like my constant source of inspiration, “Lost.” Whenever I call home, there’s always at least 10 minutes of conversation set aside for evaluating the show’s latest episode — 20 minutes if my dad stayed awake through it. (Important note: He does not fall asleep because it’s a bad show, but because it’s on late and he watches it on a very comfortable couch.) The best shows for bonding are those that make you ask a lot of questions, and no show is more full of mystery than “Lost.”
But before I get caught up praising “Lost” again, let me leave you with some advice. Next time you tune in with your friends or family, turn down the volume for those annoying Nasonex ads with the French allergenic bee and talk about what you’re seeing, why it’s good, why it sucks or anything else that it sparks in your mind. Television by no means has to turn you and your friends into isolated vegetables. Besides, at the rate commercial breaks are lengthening, these could be some of your longest — and perhaps most interesting — conversations to date.