Not Hamlet’s question (although it’s not a bad Mondegreen), but…
I’ve been struck over the past few days by several people (librarians, librarian bloggers) pointing out that They Don’t Watch TV, Don’t Want to Watch TV, Don’t Even Own a TV.
It’s pretty clearly a point of pride in some cases, although in others it’s just a lifestyle comment.
By comparison, I don’t happen to own a DVR–yet–but that’s mostly because we’re cheap, own an S-VHS VCR that provides comparable quality, and haven’t yet gotten quite sick enough of a growing flood of commercials every five minutes even on the major networks to kick in for the DVR and watch everything on a slight-delay basis. It’s not a point of pride that I don’t own one, and that lack of ownership is likely to be a temporary situation (go back and reread the previous sentence if you wonder why); when, in the past, I’ve commented on reasons for not (yet) owning a DVR [OK, “TiVo” if you only know the dominant brand name], it had to do with the prevalent comment that “we see so much more TV since we got one” and our lack of desire to watch a whole bunch more TV. Thus, a few months ago, commenting on the lack of a DVR was a form of lifestyle comment; now, it’s just something we haven’t purchased yet because we’re cheap, slow, and not particularly fond of collecting Things. (One advantage of always living in tiny starter houses: With no room for Things, you tend not to accumulate them.)
Back to the point: I was particularly bemused by a librarian who feels the professional need to know about pop culture–but neither owns nor plans to buy a TV. Isn’t that a little like feeling the professional need to know Unix but neither owning nor planning to buy a computer?
Yes, TV is mostly crap. (Sturgeon’s Law applies to TV even more than it applies to books, music, and the like. Actually, what he said was: “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud.”)
But, quite apart from the usefulness of having the Weather Channel and CNN and local news available at certain difficult times, TV also has remarkably good stuff, even excluding pay channels. The best of TV stands up to critical scrutiny and bears comparison with all but the very best of movies (and I’m not sure about the qualifier there) and, certainly, most books. And by “the best of TV” I don’t mean TV movies, miniseries, and specials–TV movies are, after all, just that: Movies made for broadcast, but movies nonetheless. (I was going to say “made for the little screen,” but that’s silly these days.)
I mean series. I mean network series. I mean Northern Exposure, Moonlighting, Desperate Housewives, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and any number of others over the years. Some of them hits; some failures. (OK, I don’t mention much in the way of CSI/Law & Order/etc., mostly because I’m an early-bird and just don’t watch 10p.m. shows much.)
Our local TV critic, who I frequently deride (at least internally), claims that TV making is, on the whole, superior to movie making. I’m not sure I agree–but there’s a craft to building characters whose interaction and lives continue to matter over the course of a hundred hours or more that’s different and in some ways more impressive than putting together a script that starts and ends in 90 minutes or 2 hours. And, of course, a typical TV show has to work on a much tighter budget (both in dollars and time) than a typical movie; TV can’t really just keep us in the seats with fight scenes, explosions, and special effects.
I’m certainly not arguing that anyone who Doesn’t Own a TV should run right out and buy one–just as I’d reject an argument that I need to run out and listen to lots of rap music or that I’m obliged to run out and buy PDAs. Personal time is one of the few true zero-sum games; if you find your time and attention more valuably spent on other things, well, good for you. (Seriously.)
On the other hand, your choice to opt out of an entire slice of contemporary culture doesn’t give you moral superiority. It’s a choice, comparable to choosing never to eat Asian food or pizza: Neither a commendable nor a necessarily unfortunate choice.
(Yes, it’s Friday.)