Bread and Circuses: The Temptation
Maria browses the Internet on our new HDTV.
My Internet service provider, Time Warner, has always probably held that I was a strange customer.
When I first called them up to order service, they were incredulous that I wanted only Internet service and no cable access for television. They had all sort of special deals, the customer representative explained to me, to bundle high-speed cable modem access to the Internet with all the cable TV stations. “No,” I was patient but firm. “I just want a contract for Internet access but NO cable TV.” I got what I wanted.
For almost two decades I have turned my back on what has been called “the great unacknowledged educator of our time” – television. In my early twenties I took my TV out to the desert and blew it up with a shotgun blast at short range and have lived without it ever since. At the time TV seemed to me like an insidious plot to make my country stupid, and I would have none of it; the act of destroying my TV was a ritual cleansing of sorts, and I continued sans television until I got married at 36 years of age. After long negotiations, my wife and I agreed to own a TV hooked up to a DVD player but with no cable TV access – I could live with that. For a wedding present my good buddies Jim and Marty bought Maria and I a TV, something that brought them much mirth. “Let’s buy Richard a TV!” they laughed together. These past five or so years we have watched movies on DVD with Jim and Marty’s TV in our living room.
But this holiday season we acquired a new HDTV, and this has changed things. Time Warner regularly sends me “special offers” trying to entice me into buying more of their communications services. “You already have the Internet coming through our pipes into your home,” they say, “so why don’t you simply add on TV and phone services, too. We could hardly make it more easy than this.” To be more specific, their latest offer is cable TV, high-speed Internet access, and digital phone for a hundred bucks per month. Their whole approach is to get customers to have all the services bundled together. The Time Warner logo emphasizes this, and they have special offers to get customers to commit to Time Warner for all their communications services.
If I canceled my analogue phone service with ATT and committed to Time Warner digital phone, I could almost get TV in the bargain for what I pay now. It would essentially be cable TV for free! And now that I have an HDTV, I could have all the new HD cable stations without spending any more money per month. It would take just one phone call.
I am tempted.
It all comes back to the same dilemma as always: time and priorities. That precious spare time, after all one’s obligations to the rest of the world are settled – how does one use it? On my deathbed, will I regret having missed television? Or will I regret not having delved further through the stack of books next to my bed (often wait in vain) that await my limited time and attention? So what if the HD signal is wonderful and rich and vibrant? Is there really much on TV that is worth it? Anything really worth my time will eventually come out on Netflix sooner or later. And my wife is trying to get into painting and a sense of space and quiet – no new electronic distractions – would help.
I tend towards wanting to control the pace of dynamic media entering the household. I tend towards voting “no” on TV in our household. When I watch TV in hotels, it seems like such a circus. It seems they would do anything to keep you from changing the channel and losing advertisers – they are in the “boredom killing business.”
“TELEVISION IS A GODDAMNED AMUSEMENT PARK"
From Network (1976)
There are flying graphics and flashing lights and everyone-is-so-excited – seemingly designed for an audience with the attention span of a gnat. I think I would want more quiet and introspection and less circuses and noise in my life (and the life of my family). I know there is good programming on TV, but if it really is that good I can wait and get it on Netflix. If the movie is any good, I can wait six months. I could care less about sports and sports coverage. I read two newspapers a day and am informed about the world there and on the Internet.
What is left?
On the other hand, there is so much I want to write – so much I want to read. In this sense, I harken back to the days of Lincoln, Jefferson, Bacon, Montaigne, Boethius, and Seneca where distractions were fewer. I don’t see how TV brings me closer to discovering myself – to living as deeply as did people in the past. I see TV as taking me away this. TV seems to me all about entertainment, and I don’t really want “entertainment.” I want something more. In the past people were thrust back more on themselves. It got dark out and you lit a candle and wrote, read, or talked with family or friends. They didn’t use TV as a form of electronic anesthesia.
What can TV offer me? I don’t want sitcoms. I don’t want a laugh track. I don't want celebrity gossip. I don't want "lifestyles of the rich and famous." I don’t want wit and style. I don't want to watch others play sports – I want to play sports myself. I don’t want simulated life – I want real life. I want fulfillment. I want truth.
And I have that pretty good right now without TV.
On this first day of 2008, what is the best use of my precious time? Just because HDTV nowadays has more vibrant color and a wider 16x9 format, is the content of any higher quality than previously? I don’t think its any better than before. So I am inclined to say “no” to Time Warner and their tempting offer.
What do you think? Am I missing something?
I am open at this moment to the opinions of others, especially those different from my own.
Wife on her way to Stage 6 and downloading 1080p DIVX clips to play on new Sony Bravia HDTV via her laptop.