Just Own It: In Defense of the Vast Wasteland

This is 2016. Don’t tell me there’s nothing good on tonight.

It feels like I have been having the same conversation over and over recently. I don’t like it. It leaves me feeling like a square peg. I don’t like it at all.

See, I’m supposed to be this well read, highly educated creative writer. I teach writing to kids and I know a lot of things about a lot of things. I used to describe myself as having “eclectic tastes”, but that sounded so pretentious that I cut it out. That doesn’t make it any less true though. I read a lot of books, I listen to a lot of music, and I watch a lot of TV. It’s that last one that’s been giving me all the trouble.

Somewhere along the way television has gotten a bad rap. I don’t know why. Like the internet, television was meant to be a means of dispensing knowledge to the proletariat. At least, that’s what I think. I can’t really help it if all you want to watch is Fox News and Real Housewives of South Central or whatever. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t fantastic, engaging, and thought provoking shows out there, ripe for your consumption.

When I was a kid we only had five channels. Cable wasn’t even an option. What was a kid to do? The stuff on the major networks in the middle of the day was garbage. Thank everything that is good and holy for PBS and the VCR.

I know what you’re thinking “Why were you watching TV in the middle of the day? Why weren’t you outside playing?” Good question!

We was poor. Childcare ain’t cheap. When I was in the second grade, my parents started leaving me home alone when they had to go on service calls. The rules were:

  1. Don’t answer the phone.
  2. Don’t answer the door.
  3. Don’t go outside.
  4. Don’t use the stove.

So, I was left to watch a lot of TV, read, write, draw, play with indoor toys, and subsist on popsicles, ice cream, and whatever could be easily microwaved. Wonder why I’m fat? I ate nothing but processed food FOR YEARS. This isn’t anyone’s fault, really. Had I wanted to, I could have made healthier choices. I remember trying to get in some exercise by running laps through my bedroom and the living room. But it was most likely for naught, as I was a child. Children are going to be lazy and live off of sugar. Such is their nature.

I digress. We’re talking about TV. TV was my savior. It was my window to the world. This was before the internet, mind you. I had all sorts of VHS tapes, and there was always something compelling on PBS. Can I just say that I LOVE This Old House? Because I do. I really do. And Bob Ross? A saint.

So, what became of me from all this “mindless” television consumption. Did my brain turn to mush? Did I begin failing all my classes? Nope. Until Geometry got the better of me in the 9th grade, I was more or less a straight A student. I was clever, loquacious, and intellectually well rounded. I could talk circles around several of my classmates, and my teachers thought I was just the most well read kid they had ever met.

I wasn’t though. I read YA books and Anne Rice. That’s it. But they thought I had read all the classics. Why? Because I talked about them. I would even check them out of the library and carry them around. I tried to read them, but have you ever attempted Silas Mariner or Don Quioxte? Dry stuff. I got the basics fromWishbone and since I was apparently the only kid who retained what they watched, I was able to use what I learned to make connections in conversation, class discussions, and homework assignments.

I engaged with the things I watched, because the shows were my after-school companions. My friends were for at school, and the occasional play-date but the TV was always available. While the other kids were playing with friends at daycare as they waited for their parents to get off work, I was at home, absorbing knowledge from this box in my living room. It was grand! Or, so I thought. In hindsight, I think that the isolation might not have been the best thing for my developing people skills, but how was I to know that at the time?

In the seventh grade, my voracious television consumption slowed a bit. There were no more service calls, and I had a boyfriend. The hours that I used to spend with my TV friends were now spent on the phone with him. Intellectually, I don’t know that I ever recovered. Because I had spent so much of my TV time alone, I found that I couldn’t fully engage with what I was watching if I had company. The boyfriend and I would watch movies sometimes, but mostly light comedies like those of Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey. There wasn’t a whole lot of learning going on, but there was a good deal of laughter. I still love Adam Sandler. He makes me smile, and no one can take that away from me.

Through the years, I continued to read, listen to music voraciously, and watch a whole lot of television and I find on the whole that I am far more well rounded than the average person I talk to. I used to think that this was because they are plebeian rubes, but even as I write this, I’ve begun to see that there’s another reason. It’s about relationships and value.

I have had a longstanding friendship with the picture box, with the written word, and with the radio. These things became my friends when I didn’t have any. Please don’t think this is all “Poor me! I didn’t have any friends!”. I did have friends, but they were in a world of their own — either at school or over the telephone. There was the occasional weekend sleepover or Saturday play date, but for the most part, my constant companions outside of school were the words of song, screen, and scribe. Words were my best friends.

Where other people have that best pal that’s been with them since elementary school, I have Are You Being Served? My longest constant human friend is Mojo Jojo, and you know what we bonded over? Words. Anne Rice and The Golden Girls. We have the same taste in media, and other than some small differences (such as age and gender) we are essentially the same person.

So, with over a thousand words worth of context out of the way, let’s talk about this conversation that I seem to keep having.

Me: I just watched “Movie”.

Person X: Oh neat! What’s that about?

Me: Well, it’s about (people, places, things).

Person X: Cool! I’ll have to check that out.

Me: You should. It’s really good. If you’re into that sort of thing you should check out “TV Series of the Same Ilk”.

Person X: Oh, I don’t watch TV. It’s brainless. Except for this one mindless reality TV show that I like.

Uranium J: ???

Yeah. I have had the same or a similar conversation with no less than three people in the last month. More, if you consider the fact that one of these exchanges was in a group setting. Now, I am not saying that everyone should watch TV. I’m not even suggesting that you should have highbrow tastes in your TV consumption. What I have a problem with here is this:

Person X admits to liking movies, but designates TV as less worthwhile. There are some garbage movies and there are some incredible, thought provoking, mind blowing TV series. It’s all about what you’re into. Not all TV is bad.

In one variation of this conversation, I listened to a group of women talk at great length about The Bachelor. OK, that’s cool. I’ve never seen it, but I like The Real Housewives of New Jersey if it’s on, so I’m not judging. I also won’t turn the channel if Dancing with the Stars is on. Or Jerry Springer. Jerry will be getting his very own post sometime soon. My love for him knows no bounds. ANYWAY . . . There I was, listening to Bachelor gossip from this season and comparisons to the previous seasons. I was lost, and it was a strange social gathering anyway. There was a lull in the conversation, and I said “I don’t know what you guys are talking about, I’ve never seen The Bachelor. I’ve just been watching House of Cards on Netflix lately.” To which someone replied, “I don’t really watch a lot of TV.”

Okay, I’ll give the speaker that. She had said something about not being able to follow anything because of kids and not having a TiVo . . . but still. I felt like a heel. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. Maybe this is an example of how all that TV and so little playtime as a child stunted my social growth. Or maybe the speaker felt silly because I countered their reality TV with a political drama. Maybe I made them feel silly. I don’t know. It felt pretty lousy though. If I did make them feel silly, that wasn’t my intention. I loved that they were loving The Bachelor right up to the point where they denied watching a lot of TV. The previous conversation negated the statement. Why say that in the first place?

Why did I have to make this? Why wasn’t this just already on the internet?

Another incident occurred wherein Person X said that they don’t watch a lot of TV, preferring to read. Okay, that’s fair, but I said, “Well, it’s all writing, isn’t it?”. “Yes,” they replied, “but television is passive. You turn it on and veg out.” Is that really what people do? I can’t imagine. I get very involved with my shows. If I’m watching National Geographic, I am right there with the cheetah as she chases the impala. “Go, Cheeta! Go! You have cubs to feed back at the den!” Maybe that’s just me. I just don’t see how it’s any different from going to a play. Why is Arthur Miller fine and dandy, while SVU isn’t? I’ll never understand.

I’ll say this though, my favorite people to talk to are the ones who don’t make apologies or excuses about what they like. These are the people who love what they love and talk about it with passion, damning the consequences. They are not trying to fit themselves into some mold of what they “ought to be”. I might not care about what you are talking about, but I care that you care. All the better when I am interested though.

Everyone has different tastes and interests. No, I don’t like Jersey Shore, but I’m glad you do. If you’re going to go on and on about what you like, I’ll smile and be gracious. I love that it makes you so happy. I just wish that I didn’t have to feel like what I love is strange, unacceptable, or for some reason, wrong. I don’t expect you to be interested in Waiting for God, I just expect you to not dismiss me for liking it.

I’m trying to let go of my word friends, and replace them with friends of flesh and blood, but all this coldness is making it kinda hard. We don’t have to agree, but please, let’s not drag one another down, yeah? Even the guy who said “TV is a vast wasteland,” had rescinded his assertion. At 85 he is a self admitted “TV junkie”. Posturing is insincere, and it gets us nowhere. Loving what you love makes you interesting and engaging, and that dear friends, is the key to relationships. And it was always about relationships anyway, wasn’t it?


If this post resonated with you, be sure to check out my writing blogwww.joyceannunderwood.com and my personal blogwww.firstpersonnarrative.com for more from me.

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