Distracted Watching

This week I am writing in defence of watching less TV. I’m not out to shame or blame or screech that “TV is bad for you!” This week, think of me as your childhood caregiver, the person who delivered you a grilled cheese sandwich and lovingly told you to sit further away from the TV set. I f’ing love to watch TV, so if you love watching TV too, understand that this essay is written from the perspective of a benevolent slob. One time I watched the entire series of How I Met Your Mother, and then when I was done, I started watching it again a few days later. I don’t even love that show. It’s just pretty good.

Why would anyone spend time watching a show they didn’t love? Ever since we started writing this blog, I have thought about how and why people watch TV. Even in the three years since we started writing this blog, how we watch TV has changed. Subscribing to Netflix is a given. Having cable is no longer a necessity but a luxury. Laptop screens used to feel small but now our eyes have become used to watching TV and movies on our phones. We are always going to watch TV and movies, so the how is irrelevant. It’ll always change and we’ll always keep watching. Why we watch is more interesting.

Some reasons to watch:

– to be entertained
– to be distracted from daily life
– to put you to sleep
– to have noise on in the background
– to learn something new
– to have an activity to share with another person
– to witness an important event
– because there is nothing else to do

To put it more succinctly, a study from a marketing company in the UK suggests that there are six reasons: “to unwind, for comfort, to connect, for an experience, to escape, or to indulge.” For me, the reasons why I watch TV can mostly be fulfilled by other tasks more suited to the intended result. For example, music is much better suited for background noise, and a thick piece of bread with butter is better for indulgence. My favourite reason to watch TV is to be entertained. I love laughing at great jokes and following complicated stories about people that I know nothing about. I go to the movies for amazing cinematography but for long-form visual storytelling, nothing beats TV. 

Think about all the work that it takes to get one episode of great TV to you. First, a wannabe writer plugs away for years writing bad jokes for game shows, while writing ideas for network sitcoms on her bathroom breaks. Then one day, she gets lucky and a producer wants to make the show. The producer grubs around for months asking other producers to contribute money and resources. If the show finally gets greenlit, dozens of people put weeks of work into pre-production, creating schedules, filling out forms, hiring people, ordering food and coffee. Then the show finally goes into production and it takes months of hundreds of people showing up on time, running cables across Hell’s Half Acre, learning lines, lighting actors, more forms, more coffee, more everything. Then the show goes into post-production and a handful of people obsess over every detail of what was created during production, carefully and precisely crafting a beautifully tight timeline of random images –  every episode a self contained nugget of story, each nugget building towards a golden tapestry of story. Then finally, the show is aired. The viewer watches.

So now I get to the nub and gist of this essay. If you are going to spend time watching TV, watch it. Stop rubbing on your phone. Stop studying. Stop. Watch it. Do you like the show you are watching enough to devote your whole attention to it? No? Stop watching it. Watch something else. Does that show bore you? Are you bored while watching TV? Maybe what you want isn’t TV at all. Maybe it’s a long walk. Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe it’s a banana and a glass of chocolate milk. Maybe it’s reading the news online, or just watching the clip of the Superbowl Halftime show. If TV isn’t the absolute best way to get what you want, don’t watch.

If we watch a show mindfully, with our full attention, we’ll get more of the story, more of the jokes, enjoy the experience more and in the end we may watch less TV. Maybe we will watch more, but that’s cool too! At least we’ll enjoy it more. Nobody has binge-watched the entire season of Orange is the New Black and felt good about themselves. Hundreds of people didn’t devote months of their life to creating a piece of art, just so we could fart in our pajamas and play Candy Crush while half-heartedly flicking our eyes upwards every 10 seconds. Let’s fully enjoy the amazing TV that the Golden Age of TV has to offer, and if that means watching less TV, so be it.

Post Script in case anyone who knows me read this article: Yes, I constantly crush candies while farting in my pajamas and “watching TV.” This essay is for me as much as anyone else.

One thought on “Distracted Watching

  1. Pingback: Email Roundtable #53: Resolution Roundtable 2016 | The Golden Age of Television

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