(2003 to 2005)

Throw your television away

Sun Dec 28 02:11:00 UTC+1100 2003


I started out writing something extremely verbose about television, but decided to summarise:

I grew up without a TV and presently don't have a TV. Televisions brainwash you and waste your time. You should seriously consider getting rid of the television in your household. Put a desk, chess-board, fish-tank or a book cabinet in the place that it used to be.

I had posted the summary above and was initially inclined to leave it at that but was eventually compelled to revise it providing more detail. Nevertheless I have still attempted to be brief:

I've spent so much of my life without a TV, that I rarely find myself bothering to explain this phenomenon to anyone anymore. Knowing this is probably an important part of understanding who I am however, and probably goes someway to explaining the way I think and behave. Naturally when I was a kid it was so unheard of that I pretty much found myself needing to explain to everyone that I met that I didn't know what they were talking about, because I didn't have a television. I even recall classroom discussions that I could not participate in, or that had no relevance to me because I didn't have a television. One night my homework was to watch a particular television show and report on it (I think I could run a pretty good argument that prescription of such an activity is unethical, but I'd be drawing a hard-line) so I simply excused myself from the task, you know, “I'm sorry Sir, I couldn't do that because I don't have a TV” ;)

These days I tend to just tune out and let people continue to assume that I have a television like everyone else. Not having a television is not the same as not having a home phone, or running water or electricity - although in my experience people might look at you as if it were. Certainly you will not undergo (or continue to undergo) the same socialisation and brainwashing as your peers who probably have a television do and at first this may have a tendency to leave you or others feeling slightly alienated - but this is a good thing. Personally when I was a youngster I was eventually able to strike some common ground with my peers via such activities as sports, games and literature. As I grew up (say from junior high-school) I'd seen enough TV to participate, particularly in regards to certain shows, such as Seinfeld, Simpson's, Futurama, South Park, etc. And I've always been a bit of a movie buff, at one stage of my life I'm pretty sure I'd watched nearly every video in the store (when my family finally had a TV when I was in my mid to late teens I felt I had a lot of catching up to do) so I haven't been completely out of the loop, nor without a TV my whole life.

Not having a TV can leave you at a bit of a loss in many social situations. This is not a compelling reason to have one however. As a case in point from my recent experience (i.e. last week): Recently there has been a television program known as 'Australian Idol' or similar on Australian television. From what I understand this is basically a national talent quest, and I think that the winner was a person called Guy Sebastian. Recently I was at a comedy night at my local pub, and the MC said that regular comedy night goers need not worry, because he wasn't going to make any Guy Sebastian jokes (apparently quite common these days). Apparently the show was so popular that everyone knew what he was talking about, but I had to ask someone else - the guy could have been a politician or serial-killer for all I knew. I have never seen the show 'Australian Idol' and haven't got the faintest idea of who this 'Guy Sebastian' fellow is, although I have it on good authority that I would have seen his face by now, as it is on billboards around town (although I consciously try not to look at these, so it may be the case that I haven't seen his face at all). I got all this information in several subsequent discussions about Australian Idol that have sprung up around the place recently, where people have exclaimed to me “how could you not know who Guy Sebastian is“, or stated that I must be living in a cave (possibly not far from the truth) or flatly labelled me a liar (ouch). This is just one example of many such incidents that are extremely common, and always have been, in my life.

The other thing that regularly vexes me, is that at trivia nights I hardly ever know the answers to the questions, as they often revolve around pop-culture that you simply wouldn't be aware of if you didn't have a television. Although having lived in our society, I have picked up an awful lot, thankfully more from discussion than exposure. For example, I simply know nothing about MASH, sure I've seen parts of it a few times in my life, but couldn't tell you more about it than it was on the ABC, there are plenty of other shows in the same category. I couldn't tell you if Kylie Minogue came from Neighbours of Home and Away for example, or name a single character from those shows (although I'm 99% confident that Kylie was on one of them, or Young Talent Time perhaps?).

If television is modern culture, or a requisite for social interaction, then I'm happy to give it a miss. I'm pretty sure that I behave differently and think differently to other people because I didn't grow up being taught how to behave by Neighbours, Home and Away, Sex in the City or Friends.. although I must admit that television, advertising and other pop culture has certainly gone a long way to shaping who I am, regardless of the fact that I didn't (and don't) have a television in my household. I can only hope that I am able to consciously process what I'm exposed to, so I can arrive at a rational position on issues and decide for myself based on sound and considered judgement how they do or do not affect me. The nightly news does not tell me what views I should hold, what topics should interest me or what I should fear this week, although the society that I live in generally does a pretty good job of being the middle man and letting me know (which can be a bad thing).

Although there are many things that strike me, the number one thing that sticks out to me like a sore thumb in regards to television content (not advertising) is that generally it is OK to behave dishonestly or stupidly. People who watch TV regularly have probably never consciously acknowledged this recurring often apparently humorous assumption. I mean it is funny seeing the crowd in Seinfeld get away with telling another lie isn't it? The Fonz is cool isn't he? Imagine if you met that guy in real life. He's an idiot and he behaves like one, even if he does regularly pick up dumb sluts (Oops, I think I've probably just hurt someones feelings). Short, ironic, seemingly witty statements are no way to communicate with your friends, although they are very safe, and you could never be reproached for being un-cool or holding a controversial view - of course in my view although common such interactions are simply a form of dishonesty.

I'd provide better examples, but I'm not well versed on television, and things aren't popping to mind. Trust me though, dishonesty is well integrated as an accepted social behaviour in most television programs, and often in movies too, it's rarely explored as a theme, more often simply accepted or used as an excuse or catalyst for situational comedy. Think of the characters that you see in television programs (or movies for that matter), and what it would really be like dealing with a person who acted like that, you'll quickly realise that they are actually dickheads and shouldn't be idolised. The most recent example I can think of is Bad Boys 2 or even more recently SWAT - the characters are pathetic, and if I had to deal with any single one of them in real life I'm quite sure I'd end up being quite insulting to them. In my view, the heroes in these movies should not be heroes.

I suspect dishonesty and ridiculous behaviour as portrayed on television is probably a great contributor to continued pretence in modern society, although looking back it seems that perhaps modern society is less pretentious than societies have been historically. Pretence tends to require dishonesty, denial of self or self delusion and you may find that both you and your peers do this, perhaps because it is how you have been socialised. So often I see pretence as a required mechanism in social interaction, at the basic level it is children claiming “well my dad installs televisions“, “oh yeah, well my dad is on television“, “that's nothing! My dad invented television“ using fallacy as a form of self validation, attempting to convince perhaps both yourself and your peers that you are worth while. Or, hey, do you like my new Walkman? “It's a Sony“. None of this helps create a more honest and open society, and many of those children will take their views threw to adulthood. You know, “well I my daughter just got a job selling phones and she's only 16“, “oh yeah, well my daughter bought the most recent model phone with money saved from her own wages and shes only 15“, “that's nothing, my daughter invented SMS and she's only 14“.. of course what they don't know, is that my phone is a Sony.

I don't even want to get started on advertising, which I loathe more than the shallow content served up in between. Advertising plays subconscious tricks and teaches you that it's OK to be branded, and that you can purchase the emotion, body, friends or personality that you want. You are not immune, exposure is enough - even the conscious act of trying to rationalise it away is only serving to reinforce someones brand. After you get your brand on TV, society takes care of the rest. I can't avoid this in my day to day life, and I don't even have a television. If I did, it'd be a Sony.

I would urge anyone to get rid of the TV, but especially if you are raising children. Instead consider taking your kids to the movies regularly, with their friends if they like, or to other shows or outings. It would give you the chance to spend time with them, doesn't take too much time/money out of your schedule/budget, is recompense for not having a TV (which they probably want, since 'everyone else has one') and allows you to talk with them about what they are exposed to and teach them to consider it - even if it does mean they think you're a fuddy-duddy. I'm sure they'll appreciate it in the end.

Funnily enough, you can rarely escape advertising in movies either. As a case in point this Christmas Eve (i.e. a few days ago) I went to the video store to get out a movie from the 80s, called Short Circuit (I got both 1 and 2). I noticed that even in that movie 'Number Johnny Five' was bragging that he came complete with a Nike swoosh - I would never have consciously processed this as a child, even if I had I would not have acknowledged it as evil but probably just requested my parents buy me a pair of Nikes (as it were I wanted Reebok 'pumps' when I was a kid, and begged and whinged for a year until I got them. Even not having a TV hadn't saved me, the social pressure from the kids that did have a TV was enough. I just wanted to be cool you know. So sad.)

I'm not sure how to manage the Internet though, especially with regard to raising kids. Particularly as it becomes more and more crucial to being part of society as a vehicle for productivity, communication and learning, while at the same time more and more like television, with regard to shallow information and mindless, unapologetic, in-your-face or subversive advertising in content and software. I'll leave this as an exercise for the reader, along with what to do about sex and drugs and rock and roll - I'm glad raising kids is still no responsibility of mine.. although ensuring that I maintain the integrity of my mind, and don't allow someone else's agenda to manipulate my conscious or subconscious thoughts remains my responsibility, and it will for the rest of my life - I have to say though, that for a person that doesn't have a TV, I have difficulty enough in day-to-day life, just walking around.. perhaps I should go and live in that cave. After all, it can be hard interacting with the rest of society if they have been conditioned to behave in one way, and you expect them to behave in another way. At least Billy Joel knew what was going on, so did Kurt Cobain - his resolutions weren't as tough as the ones I'd prefer to choose for myself however.

From the disjointed and possibly paranoid way I've been carrying on in this post, I fear that I may have given one the impression that I am a bit of a nut. I'm quite sure I'm not, although I am very frustrated by the patronising, lowest common denominator, pathetic content served on television. It's not the only thing that vexes me about the world, and it's not the only medium by which such content is pumped into the mainstream, but it does upset me. Don't get me wrong, I do think that there is a place for everything, but it strikes me that there is too much that is sensationalised and we are allowing ourselves and our society to be raised as dumb consumers. For myself I choose to opt-out, and I recommend this for everyone.

I'd love to get into my views on irony and its abuse in society and pop-culture, but I'm pretty sure I've typed enough for now. I've even disappointed myself by including sarcasm in this post, something that I sincerely believe there should be far less of in the world.

Trust me on the TV thing. Don't just turn it off, get rid of it - it will change your life.


Copyright © 2003-2005 John Elliot