Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do Not Boast About Not Owning a Television

Here's another one of those Mensa-type errors in judgment that to me seems perfectly avoidable. The Mensa problem is that people who are drawn to Mensa membership think this will improve the regard others have for their intelligence. Tragically though, a boast of Mensa membership will generally produce the exact opposite effect. No smart person would join a club for smart people. Insufferable shits, on the other hand, would most certainly join an insufferable shits club, and most people grasp this intuitively.

The statement: "Well, actually, I don't own a TV." is similar. When spoken, the clear intention is for the listener to think "Wow. No TV. This guy must be pretty bright. Not to mention he's apparently got no appetite for all that crass, lowbrow entertainment. This is pretty forward thinking and liberated! I think I could learn a thing or two from him!"

But of course this is what the guy from the Princess Bride would call one of the "classic blunders". In reality, the statement "Well, actually, I don't own a TV" invariably results in the listener thinking: "Oh God. One of these assholes." And it's very simple to break down the logic of this conclusion. The listener isn't annoyed because the speaker reads too many books, goes on too many nature hikes, spends too much time in the museum of miniatures or just generally doesn't place any importance on watching television - that's not it. Many people who own televisions place no importance on watching television. What the listener actually thinks is this:

"Televisions are cheap. Most people own several. The programming on TV is so diverse that virtually any person on earth could probably find many things to enjoy. Even leaving enjoyment aside, there's tons of useful information on TV. There's breaking news, speeches from the president, there's tomorrow's weather, there's shows that will distract your kid for a few precious hours. There's the olympics and shark week, and Spanish language soaps. There's classic cinema and PBS and Saturday Night Live and war footage and iconic stuff like the Berlin Wall falling. This is stuff that isn't quite the same when you read it in the newspaper or dial it up on the internet."

"Owning a television doesn't mean I watch it all the time. TV falls somewhere between an occasional entertaining diversion and a when-I-need-it-it's-there resource. Having one in the den doesn't speak poorly of your character, and it's unclear why it would be virtuous to not have one. If you're poor, sure. If you're 90, okay. If you're so internet savvy that your computer screen is sort of like a default television, then I get it. Short of these excuses, why not make the buy? TV promotes sociability. You can gather the family in for your favorite show. You can snuggle on the couch with your spouse. You can have friends over to watch the game. These aren't bad activities, and it's weird that anyone would think they were."

"The deliberate choice to forgo ownership of a television must not really be about television. It must be some sort of gambit to assert a kind of personality or lifestyle, at the expense of one's own comfort. But that's sort of the point, isn't it? I forgo this easy pleasure, because I search for deeper, richer, more meaningful pleasures. But isn't that a crock of fairly pungent bs? People who have achieved greatness - the ones who have cured diseases, written great novels, built cities, etc. Do you think they owned televisions? I'm guessing they did. Why wouldn't they have? If they had been sufficiently asinine to think not owning a TV was a plus, they wouldn't have been geniuses."

"The only real reason not to own a TV is to be able to make the smug comment I just heard, made by a person who clearly thinks he's just earned a gold star, staked his claim to a little superiority on the cheap, and is obviously unaware how insufferable they sound and to what degree they've just advertised that their acquaintance will pay no dividend."

Fortunately your brain, being pretty quick, summarizes all that up as "Oh God. One of these assholes."


James Kirkman said...

Great post as usual..I have commented here mainly as a means of getting in contact with you. I just wanted to say I have really enjoyed your writing in general.


James Kirkman

Anonymous said...

For years I didn't own a television because broadcast TV technology sucked. When I actually wanted to watch broadcast, I used the tuner in a VCR, (one used mostly for PCM audio recording) connected to a studio display.

Lots of folks these days, especially those who live in cramped spaces, don't bother with TVs because they can do it all with computers.

Nevertheless, your point is well taken, and instead of telling people I don't watch TV, I just ignore them until they stop talking about the real housewives of Luna city.