What Kind Of ‘I Don’t Own A TV’ People Do You Have In Your Life?

by Joe Berkowitz

You know the tone people employ when announcing that they don’t own a TV. Casually tossed off, yet firmly resolute; it’s the same tone that might be used to dispel any other unflattering misrepresentation (e.g., “Oh, I don’t have syphilis.”). The funny thing is that nobody ever actually asks the question, “Do you own a TV?”

Unfortunately, there are scads of people who seem convinced they’re blowing everyone’s minds with the announcement. Others, meanwhile, manage to keep TV-free homes without ever drawing attention to it. The mere fact of not owning a television does not make a person insufferable (although it certainly does help.) As with so much else in life, it’s the way that the information is conveyed that makes the difference. Sometimes it’s a pre-emptive conversational tourniquet, stanching the flow of any entertainment-related questions to come. Other times it’s a lifestyle signpost, the implications of which are murky at best. And then, of course, once in a while it’s a sort of long-form birth certificate that proves one’s subscription to The Economist.

In any case, once TV ownership is disavowed, what follows is a weird limbo moment where any number of responses seems appropriate. Do you:
 • Empathize? (“I can plainly see why you choose not to own The Devil’s Box.”)
 • Condescend? (“Aw, you’re adorable.”)
 • One-up? (“I don’t even know what televisions ARE.”)

It all depends on what kind of ‘I Don’t Have a TV’ person you’ve got.

The Pauper
 First up, there’s the person who could probably afford a TV, but definitely can’t afford cable and so isn’t even bothering. To say that his apartment is spartanly furnished would be an exercise in understatement. It sort of looks like the white room in The Matrix (an allusion that many people on this list would claim not to understand). Managing to get along without television is the least of The Pauper’s problems, though, and doing so is by no means a political or philosophical statement. The Pauper enjoys watching shows, but frankly, there are more pressing matters on his mind, like getting food and keeping enough clean clothes around to avoid looking like a hobo-clown.

Best response: Extend an open invite to watch TV at your place sometime.

The Shrugger
 Not everybody is interested in the same things as everybody else. That’s a given. Some people legitimately have no interest in movies or TV shows and therefore have no need for a television. That’s the Shrugger. It’s not a matter of self-identification, just a personal preference. Perhaps her parents didn’t let her watch TV as a kid and then she never cottoned to it later on. She occasionally enjoys watching shows in a group situation, but just doesn’t really care for the experience overall, and it’s not that big a deal. She recognizes and allows that TV can be an entertaining diversion for some, and she doesn’t begrudge others their viewing habits. Neither does she have any delusions that by forgoing a TV she is making a bid for intellectual sainthood.

Best response: Smile and let her know she’s not missing that much (whether or not you believe this to be true).

The Efficiency Expert
 Much like the Shrugger, The Efficiency Expert simply doesn’t have much of an interest in movies and shows, except in her case the indifference stems from an attitude that time spent on such frivolity is an irresponsible waste of a finite resource. By abstaining from that most highly engrossing of all pieces of furniture, she is making a statement that time is money and she’s not leaving any money on the table. The Efficiency Expert may have the live-and-let-live attitude of the Shrugger, but may also take a passive-aggressive poke at those who squander their time by tuning in.

Best response: Change subjects, perhaps to the tax code.

The Professor
 “You just don’t know, man. You don’t even know. Allow me to detonate some truth-bombs in your mind-shaft. Are you ready for this? Commercials aren’t the crap in between shows — shows are the crap in between commercials. Boom. Take a moment to collect the shattered fragments of your psyche. By turning on your TV, you are bending over in a manner known throughout the animal kingdom as ‘presenting.’ Every moment spent sunk into your couch cushions, glassy eyes fixed on ‘Total Request Live’ or ‘Beavis and Butthead,’ you’re allowing the indoctrination to continue. You receive messages all day long and make the purchases that perpetuate this consumerist dystopia. The propaganda merchants have locked you into a zombie lifestyle that you aren’t even aware of. Baa, sheep, baa. I want to hear you say it.”

Best response: Pretend that you work for the CIA, and then “recruit” this person on a “mission” to destroy “Time Warner Cable headquarters.”

The Poseur
 Of all known varietals of “I Don’t Own a TV” people, The Poseur is definitely the most likely to annoy. Even the most tangential subject matter will prompt this person to mention that thing he doesn’t own, and he seems to equate this lack of ownership with an enlightened, progressive ethos. He may or may not have a job or a band or whatever, but he definitely has a laptop and a thirst for entertainment. For the Poseur, the unspoken second half of the sentence “Oh, I don’t own a TV” is “but I frequently watch stuff online.” Not owning a TV is fine, volunteering that information unprompted is questionable, but doing so when you’re intimately familiar with the third season of “Mad Men” is unacceptable.

Best response: Agree that there’s definitely no way to be aware of the negative aspects of television and also own one. Bring up other messages best enjoyed without considering their mediums, like the football-playing of Michael Vick or the filmography of Roman Polanski. Make sure and let the person know that you only got your TV to better understand what was going on in your Twitter feed.

Joe Berkowitz edits books and writes stuff. He also has a tumblr.

Photo by zzkt.