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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Saying Farewell to Television

Walk around the neighborhood for a period of time, and it’s a given that at one point you’ll inadvertently glance into the first floor window of houses where there are no blinds or curtains. When you do this you are sure to see a lot of big plasma TV screens. These plasma screens are sometimes as big as small cars, for they not only dominate a room, they are sometimes the only real piece of furniture in sight. In most cases, the plasma TV screen is arranged like a high altar on a central stage. Everything else--chairs, tables, even the occasional, rare book shelf—is arranged off to the side as a mere afterthought.
In those same houses where the plasma TV is king, you might also discover that everybody’s watching the same show. This Orwellian fact of life might lead you to revise Karl Marx’s famous quote that television, and not religion, is the opiate of the people.

“When you watch TV,” writes Wes More in ‘The Journal of Cognitive Liberties,’ “brain activity switches from the left to the right hemisphere. In fact, experiments conducted by researcher Herbert Krugman showed that while viewers are watching television, the right hemisphere is twice as active as the left, a neurological anomaly.1 The crossover from left to right releases a surge of the body’s natural opiates: endorphins, which include beta-endorphins and enkephalins. Endorphins are structurally identical to opium and its derivatives (morphine, codeine, heroin, etc.).”
In other words, TV can be addictive, and withdrawing from regular TV watching can be painful. TV is its own kind of drug.
Well, I’ve been living without TV for nearly 3 months now, and I must say the effect has been liberating. Since television switched to all-digital and I let my converter box collect dust under an old family desk, I’ve been reading more books, renting more movies, doing more things socially, and paying more attention to “real life” around me. I believe I’m also a happier person. Today, I don’t miss TV at all. In fact, I never even think about it.
I admit there were withdraw pains at first. Not having morning coffee to Matt Lauer on ‘Today’ had me grasping for a substitute, although I did not miss Today’s second half hour, which more often than not was focused on young blond women who disappear on cruise ships, get kidnapped when they go to Aruba, or are murdered by insane husbands. Just like certain people, TV news shows have their obsessions: The ‘Today Show’ would follow certain stories other networks downplayed considerably. In the end, it all became too much.
Garbage in, garbage out; I was also getting tired of all that talk.

Though never a compulsive TV watcher, the hour or so a day I’d spend watching wound up depressing me. It’s not what I saw that got me down; rather it was the act of sitting passively before a screen watching other people live their lives while I hibernated, even briefly, on the sofa.
But long before I “killed” my converter box, I was lamenting the state of television land.
The number of reality shows, multiplying everyday faster than viruses in a tropical climate, became as annoying as a persistent mosquito. Reality shows, while currently popular, are cheap to make. Harsh economic times have led producers to produce these low cost, one-location shows where you can get away with paying the participants much less than you’d pay a real actor. American Idol and its spawn of clone shows also seemed to be taking over the airwaves. Forget the evening news and so called news analysis shows. Compared to reading the online version of The New York Times, network news was a bubble gum sound bite. Even PBS was becoming a disappointment: hours of Suzie Orman talking about money in a moneyless nation; “feel good” gurus with shaved heads drawing tears from middle aged women, or fundraising telephones with 1950s Dick Clark dancing stars and washed up DJ’s with big hair didn’t jive with my idea of “education.” Adding insult to injury, good PBS shows like Amy Goodman’s ‘Democracy Now’ were moved to obscure times.
Now that my small addiction to TV is gone, I don’t have to worry about the obnoxious crush of political advertisements when election time rolls around again. All that negativity weighs you down without your ever being aware of it.
So if you ever pass my house and peek in my window one day during one of your walks in the neighborhood, you’re likely to see a big empty shell of a TV with no picture and no sound and with nothing to live for.
And that’s just the way I like it.

Thom Nickels can be reached at

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