A Monkey — or At Least a Pygmy Marmoset — On My Back

I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve been combating an addiction for some years now; every time I think I’ve taken another step toward licking it, I’m reminded that I’m in just as deep as I ever was. Getting clean is a constant goal, though I frequently despair of ever achieving it. No matter how much I try, I keep coming back to...

... television.

One of my all-time favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips had Calvin questioning Marx’s “Religion is the opiate of the masses” statement, to which the television surreptitiously responded that Marx hadn’t seen anything yet. (May Bill Watterson live forever for his principled stand against commercialization, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Televisions — the devices — are valuable additions to the home, if for no other reason than they allow us to watch motion pictures (in original theatrical aspect ratio, naturally). Television — the medium — also serves a worthy purpose, providing news, education, and other information, keeping us connected to the world around us. But so much of it fulfills exactly the role Watterson predicted.

I’m not one who subscribes to the notion that the world is deteriorating around us, generation by generation — at least not in aggregate. Many things are perhaps worse than in times past, but many have improved commensurately. The same can be said of television: For every American Idol there’s a Sopranos, for every Fear Factor an ER, every Anna Nicole Show a Boomtown. The advent of cable and satellite television has added to both ends of this spectrum, while public television still raises the overall content quality bar (though I’ll never forgive them for unleashing Barney on an unsuspecting public). But regardless of the production value, the episodic nature of most television programming lends itself to numbed complacence. Even the most obvious offender, the sitcom, can be entertaining (Seinfeld, to wit) while inducing cultural narcosis.

In reality, of course, film produces garbage as worthless as television (though perhaps not in such prolific quantities). But (again, in aggregate) it’s easy to repeat the old maxim that television is strictly commercial, while film is — at least to some degree — art.

In the end, I’m sure I’ll keep watching television, and loathing myself just a little bit for doing so. Now, time to get my Survivor picks in.


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