The television is a powerful tool for its owner when used moderately and with an eye for more than just mind numbing entertainment. Unfortunately—and this is speaking for myself—television has proven to be anything but powerful (except perhaps in that brain-washy, propagandistic manner that its detractors so rail against). Much to the chagrin of my mother and her best-laid plans, I took to being what she described as a square-eyed child, and sad to say, as I consider myself a writer, a more voracious television viewer than reader. In fact, after the Berenstain Bears, Maniac Magee, and the Goosebumps series, I wasn’t too interested in reading. The idea bored me. Though I still loved to write, and often declaimed that I didn’t need to read in order to write.
Growing up in the 90’s, I was fortunate enough to witness the tail-end of the early era of the Fox network before its foray into right-wing news television. I was too young at the time to appreciate the subversive humor of In Living Color, the smart social commentary offered up by The Simpsons, and the irreverent absurdity of Married… with Children*, but as I matured, I found that these shows amazingly (not surprisingly, actually)—if not unfortunately—informed my formative impressions of people and the world around me. On dates as a teenager, it was pointed out to me on several occasions how often I would begin sentences with, “This is like that time on….” My romantic life was essentially one big Family Guy trope. Killed my chances for more than one second date.
And so it has continued in my writing. I Dig Symmetry, And Six Other Stories is peppered with more blatant references to The Simpsons alone than any precedent literature. I suppose this is what industry types and critics define as “low-brow,” and that is perfectly all right with me, but my mother will always remind me that despite my literary tastes these days, she couldn’t get me to read shit through most of my teenage years.
Now we have the internet, and this is where television becomes more interesting. [Because] most every movie and television show in entertainment history is available at the click of a mouse. There’s YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and malware-ridden file-share sites galore enabling us to virtually ditch the cable bill altogether. It’s a beautiful thing, and here are some of the best ways in which to enjoy it all.
Seems like a no-brainer, but watching the tube alone is perhaps the most satisfying method of rotting one’s brain via entertainment. It has a two-fold aspect in that you are free from subjecting others to your tastes and vice-versa. It’s a judgment-free zone of awesome. You can be naked and odiferous and eat whatever garbage you can think to concoct (most likely in the microwave). I like cheese melted over chips (I don’t dare to call them nachos) or those cups of ramen.
2. With a like-minded friend.
You probably have that friend or those many friends who are hooked on those seemingly culturally approved as “good” shows (Lost, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, et. al), and hell, maybe you’re one of those people (not me). Nothing wrong with that. It’s always more fun to view these shows in the presence of people who share a similar appreciation. I like to grab my cigs, get a beer, and chill next door with my magician buddy who likes a lot of the same dreck I do. Sure, we spend a lot more time shooting the proverbial shit than actually watching anything (why Alone is so important), but it’s the socialization that makes it all worth it.
3. With a significant other or fuck buddy.
Ah yes, television is much underrated as a source for background noise. The default is almost always music (or silence, which is preferred for me), but I don’t really see the point in sexing someone to the beat of a song. It’s redundant. Create your own beat. Or just turn on Netflix and watch the first five minutes of an episode of Coupling you’ve seen six-hundred times before shifting the focus to the person next to you. Heat it up ‘til the credits roll or ‘til you’ve gone through an entire season successive.
4. With a book.
I hate silence and I don’t need it to enjoy a great book. I tend to stick to shows I’m familiar with for the most part, so putting one on and then suddenly being inspired to finish that huge Vollmann novel for no apparent reason puts no kibosh on that. The background noise the television show becomes is comforting.
5. While writing or painting.
When I was learning lines for a play, I stopped writing. I found that I would start writing in the voice of my character (no, I don’t use the method; it just takes a lot more of my attention). This does not translate to consumption of television information. I have written a great many things (this article an exception) with some show or other blasting in my ears. I get a lot of painting/drawing done in this fashion as well. Like I’m dividing myself between being productive and lazy.
Coming full-circle, I must admit that the best way to watch television is alone with no other activity. I am fully engaged in enjoying whatever I’m watching. No one is talking to me or trying to lay me, and I’m not trying to satisfy my other needs/obsessions. But I still have to eat. Television makes me hungry.