Tuesday, January 23, 2007

TV and Information

Everyone keeps telling me (well, I say "everyone" -- but really, it's more like the all of three people or so who have had anything whatsoever to say about Martin Amis) that I've selected the wrong book of his to read. I really don't hate this book, though. I just want to find someone with whom I can talk about it. One person has even suggested I switch. I kind of like this book, though, and want to know what happens. And it isn't turning me off of Martin at all; I'll definitely want to read another of his...which I'm gathering should be Money.

I've recently read the part where the crazy criminal/entrepreneur guy enters Gwyn and Demi's house as a burglar. Among his ruminations about possessions in various houses, whether luxuriously fashioned or sparse, whether there are candles or couches or mahogany or plastic, he notes that rich or poor we all have this common denominator of the gray square, the television.

I like to remember the times when I actually didn't have one. Those times shocked people. They were basically -- when I lived in my studio apartment in Hollywood. Before my friend moved and gave me his old TV on his way out of state. I've had a recurring theme in my life of people giving me their old television sets. Oh! And our sophomore year of college, in that apartment with Mara, Ranj, and Kristen. We didn't have a TV. We were definitely the odd girls out. On many levels. I love that I had three whole roommates who also didn't need a television.

It's just - if it's there, you'll watch it, you know? But life without television is really fine. And of course, I use it now for watching DVDs. Quite often. (I'm all about the Netflix. All about.) Another ex-roommate, Renee from Boston, once questioned why I make such a distinction between watching movies (which I adore, recommend, and can't understand how anyone could NOT do) and watching TV shows (which I scorn, am picky about, and avoid).

See, my whole thing is that a film is a complete work of art, much as a book or a play. Or even when you read a magazine, if you read a magazine cover to cover. When it ends, you are finished. You've completed something. At that point you might stretch, stand up, go get something to drink, call someone, go out, go to school, go to work, go to bed, go jogging -- basically, you go and do something else. Television is the one that doesn't really work that way. When you sit there watching TV, a show ends and then you get sucked in to the next one, because before there's any settling, processing, or contented sigh it's "UP NEXT! DON'T GO AWAY!" and so on. Sucking you in. You're never satiated.

You don't really do that with something else. If you finish a book, you don't reach over and pick up the next one that very instant (except possibly in circumstances of extreme sickness). In the theater, you finish watching a play or a movie and then you go home. (Unless you're a rebellious teenager trying to sneak into another flick for free. I've found that just makes your ass hurt by the end of the day, really, if you watch too many.)

Note also that this is why I don't really like watching movies on commercial television, and I am generally OK with watching TV shows on DVD. (Have I mentioned that I love Netflix?)

Television strips away your ability to recognize when you should be finished. It is inherent in the medium. And that is how it wins. And is pernicious. And takes our money. And so on.

Renee was right -- there are some crap movies, and some quality entertainment on TV. It's just that the medium is the message, you know. (And if you think I made up that last, I shall further mourn for the general state of things.)

Please note: I look highly upon television's ability to bring us together for shared events, be it a prominent person's funeral, 9/11 coverage, etc. Also, the announcement of the Oscar nominations, brought to me live. (Although last year from Korea I watched them streamed live on MSNBC.com...)


Heather said...

Ten million people can watch the same television show, laugh at the same jokes, and cry at the same drama...and still be lonely. That is a paraphrased quote from some brilliant person I can't remember the name of right now.

Thanks for the comment on my blog.

Of course...
The L-word is in no way being criticized when I criticize TV

micah said...

hm, thanks for encapsulating everything i could never vocalise about the distinction between movies and tv. :)

linda said...

If anyone's interested in some great further food for thought about what's wrong with television, I highly recommend Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman and Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander.