Do you remember 1983? If so, what were you doing in July?
Because that’s the month that marks my last serious connection with one of the main drivers of American mass culture: Television. I could push the date further back, to spring of ’82 perhaps, when I first started dating. Or later, to fall of ’94, when Laura and I formally disconnected the antenna on the television we hadn’t watched more than once a month in the four years we’d been living together. But August 12th 1983 is probably the best date. That would be the day I got my driver’s license and was formally free of being stuck at home in any meaningful way. That’s the day I stopped knowing what was on on any given evening.
This comes up because over the years I’ve had any number of conversations that follow a certain pattern.
1. Someone will ask me something about television, a program, an event, something.
2. I say I don’t watch television.
3. They say, “oh really?” or “I don’t watch it either,” or something else that acknowledges that they’ve heard and processed what I said.
4. A bit of time goes by and then they make some reference to something on television and are quite surprised that I don’t know what they are talking about.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 up to half a dozen times before it sinks in.
Sometimes this will happen more than once with the same person. It’s understandable really. Television plays a central role in American culture and most people watch at least some television, often without even registering that they’re doing so. I have no moral or cultural objections to television, it just doesn’t interest me all that much.*
The only non-DVD** television shows I’ve watched since 1994 are scattered episodes of Myth Busters,(~15-20) The Daily Show,(~5-8) Muppets Tonight (~5-10) and Whose Line is it Anyway, (10-20) all seen either while staying in hotels or because friends taped stuff and insisted we would enjoy it.***
From ’83 to ’94 I watched occasional episodes of Night Court, (~5-10) Next Generation, (~5-8) Deep Space Nine,(~5-8) The Young Ones (~15-20) and Cheers (~6-12), mostly because it was on when I was visiting someone.
I’ve never seen a single episode of Friends, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, or The Drew Carey Show. Nor have I seen Voyager, Buffy, Angel, Babylon 5, Xena, Hercules, BSG, or any other f&sf favorites of the last 25 years. I have never seen an entire episode of reality tv of any kind.****
I am not plugged into television culture and haven’t been for 30 years. But it is so pervasive that even people who’ve known me that whole time and know that I haven’t been watching television are often surprised when they talk about some show, or a star or director of same, and I don’t have a clue who they’re talking about.
I find the phenomena fascinating and occasionally frustrating.
*Let me repeat in the firmest possible terms I have ZERO moral or cultural objections to TV. It just doesn’t interest me. I got a lot of pushback on this post when I originally put it up from people who felt that I was judging them for watching TV. I wasn’t, and I don’t. I do however find it fascinating how many people assume that my not watching TV means that I condemn the idea. Not true. I really really really don’t care if other people watch TV.
The reason I blogged about it is right there in the post–Americans talk about TV shows on a regular basis and when I explain to them that its not a subject I can really participate in because I have no frame of reference, many of them either don’t believe me or don’t process the information and keep asking me questions that could just as easily be in Sanscrit for all the sense they make to me. I find it to be a fascinating phenomena.
**On DVD we’ve watched four new shows: Dr Who Seasons 1-6, The Big Bang Theory, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey. We’ve also watched two shows from my childhood: Soap and The Muppet Show, but those don’t add anything to my post ’83 cultural literacy.
***and they’ve been entirely correct.
****not quite true, I did watch one episode of the Nineteen Hundred House because friends thought Laura and I might be interested.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog September 16 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)