They’re beautiful. NBC capture

I Can’t Stop Watching ‘Cheers’ — And It’s Killing Me

Escapism can be dangerous

by MATTHEW GAULT

I’m watching too much Cheers right now. Hell, it’s just about the only thing I can watch.

Black Mirror is my favorite television show of all time. I was already a Charlie Brooker fanatic when the show premiered in 2011. I’d followed the show’s development for months, picking apart the rumors of prime ministers and pigs with avid delight.

I live in Texas so I had to find a creative way to watch the show, but I pulled it off and I’ve been hooked ever since. But I haven’t finished the series current run on Netflix. I stalled after “San Junipero.” It requires too much of me.

I also love Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I watched with my dad as a kid and I’d been rewatching the series as an adult on Netflix and loving it. I pushed through season three into season four and stopped when I came to “The Visitor,” that famous episode where Jake Sisko spends his life looking for his missing father.

“No thank you, not right now,” I told myself. That was two months ago.

Unless it’s for work, I’ve been avoiding complicated media of all stripes. Instead, I’ve been watching Cheers on Netflix and playing simple card games with my wife while we watch American Dad reruns. I’m four seasons deep into Cheers now. Coach is gone, Woody is hilarious and Frasier is starting to get more screen time.

It’s about all I can stomach right now. It’s comforting … and dangerous.

People, and especially Americans, tend to mentally check out at the first sign of trouble. When shit gets complicated, a lot of us stop listening. I’m no different.

I put down DS9 and Black Mirror in October and started watching Cheers after the election results rolled in. I wasn’t just watching the election, but covering it for several news outlets. Through much of October and November 2016, I felt as if I were mainlining fear.

I manned a Twitter account during the debates, wrote the hottest possible takes in the hours after each battle and watched with increasing dismay as internet trolls picked apart the articles I wrote.

I called Trump a fascist, and I stick by that. His unpaid internet army saw fit to mock my chin and send me photoshopped pics with dicks in my mouth. Somewhere in there, I lost my taste for morbid media and challenging art.

After days of fighting, it was too much to come home and think too hard. Even if it meant I missed out on my favorite shows and the discussions that surround them.

Nope

So I’ve been watching Cheers. It’s great, y’know? It’s comforting, the perfect digital analgesic. It’s a place where everybody knows your name, they’re always glad you came and every 22-minute episode feels vaguely like the last. It’s how I go to sleep every night — a Unisom sleep tablet dissolving in my belly and Sam and Diane cutely bickering before my eyes.

I’ve plowed through so many episodes now that I can feel the beats of the show. I anticipate the jokes before they happen. I know when the loser mailman Cliff is setting up a joke for Carla the curmudgeonly waitress. I can feel the elegant blocking of the bar, the way the patrons move and part to let the principal cast pass. It’s a delight and a comfort.

But it can’t go on.

Art, especially complicated art, is one of the whetstones we use to sharpen our mind. The next four years will be a fight — and that fight has already begun. Those of us who care about truth and beauty will have to fight, possibly literally in the streets, to protect this wonderful American experiment.

During times of great political upheaval and despair, Americans tend to turn toward easy and escapist forms of entertainment. As the United States marched to war against Islamic terror in the Middle East beginning in 2001, the box office for simple superhero and pirate movies skyrocketed.

The Lord of the Rings swept the Oscars and stole our hearts. Johnny Depp cavorted before our eyes and fought off hordes of skeletal pirates. We loved it. But too much easy entertainment weakens the mind.

Now more than ever, it’s easier to stop paying attention to the news, never pick up a difficult book and just watch Cheers as the world burns and you hope for the best. Like a stressed out mid-century surgeon smoking opium to calm down at the end of a long day, America risks hurting itself with its escapist tendencies.

Look, I get it. Trust me. The world seems dark and nasty right now. Trump will be in office soon, Russia makes fun of us and the world’s nuclear arsenal seems less secure than it was at any time during the Cold War.

We need to check out of that sometimes. We all need to hit the opium pipe, watch some Cheers and settle down from time to time. But we can’t let these things become a problem. We can’t become addicted.

Our precious free time is not just a time to unplug, but also an opportunity. Those are the moments when we can read a book, watch a documentary that challenges our preconceived notions or research our political opponents. We can, and must, use free time to fight.

Escapism leads to inaction leads to sedation leads to death.

“I understand that free time is probably my enemy,” celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once told a Men’s Journal reporter. “That if I’m given too much free time to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, I’m afraid of that inner hippie emerging.”

“There’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, and smoke weed all day and watch cartoons and old movies. I could easily do that. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid and outwit that guy.”

The holidays are over. It’s time to get to work and outwit the inner hippie. It’s time to stop watching Cheers.

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