Category Archives: Other Media

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Why Do We Watch TV?

May 13, 2014:

Every month, my television, Internet and phone provider charges my family about $200 to keep our services. Seems like a steep price for basic amenities. But let’s face it: they’re important. Without a phone, we can’t communicate with the outside world (unless we leave the house—Heaven forbid!). Without the Internet, we can’t find out what’s going on with the outside world (again, unless we leave the house or pick up a book somewhere, which is stupid). And without television, we can’t eavesdrop on the outside world (because everything that happens on television is far more interesting than anything that’s happening in my regular everyday life). Seems like the escalating price of services is well worth the needs they meet. Right?

Well, I have my own phone plan with another company, so I don’t really use the phone service that my television and Internet provider offers. And the Internet, I do use (I plan to use it when I post this journal onto my blog site later), but I have plenty of public facilities where I can access it for free, so it’s not that essential here. But having phone and Internet is convenient, and convenience equals necessity in most first-world nations. Because I live in a first-world nation, I need my convenience, even when everything is overpriced. It’s my right! Right?

Television is convenient. It allows me to compare my life to the joys and miseries of others. Do the rich seem particularly happy today living in their big houses and playing with their big toys? Let’s measure what they have against the things I don’t. Has that EF5 tornado that blew through that Midwest town thoroughly decimated every historical or sentimental building belonging to it? Time to measure my good fortune to those who are now homeless and desperate for help. For just $77, I get the U200 television package from my provider, which includes nearly every basic cable station from the Chicago stations to the History Channel to FXX, and a DVR in which to ensure I have time to watch whatever I want whenever I want, up to four shows per time slot. For an additional $10, I get to watch my favorite shows in high-definition. Factor in state taxes and service fees, and I get to watch whatever I want, whenever I want, how I want, for the low, low price of about $100 a month. And that’s without the premium stations. If I were to spend another $30 or so, I could even get Showtime or HBO (two different packages) and have access to blockbuster movies all the time. Convenience to the core.

But here’s my problem: With everything “convenient” costing me more and more by the day, and with necessities costing me more and more each day, and my income consistently remaining at the same low, low price of “not enough” each day, paying $100 a month for television is unreasonably high, so the programming better be darn worth it. And thanks to the list of cancelled shows that hit the news this week, I’m beginning to think that paying even $10 a month for television, much less a hundred, isn’t worth it.

Ah, yes, the list of cancelled television shows hit the news this week, and I finally got a chance to read it today. Among the latest casualties caused by lame executive decisions to cut good shows in favor of keeping crappy ones to maintain a backwards ratings system that hasn’t been relevant since Seinfeld was still on the air, include my favorite show, Community, which has been on the bubble since its debut five years ago, and a new show I really like, Growing Up Fisher, which has a great premise, a great cast, and, according to the furious comments posted to various news sites that published the list, is one of the few great family comedies to come out in a while, a claim that I fully agree with, and amid a slew of trashy television shows, it was truly a breath of fresh air, and its cancellation is truly a slap to the face. Every year, the networks end a series worth keeping, and this year, they really went full teen horror movie on their quality programming. The cancellation of these two shows alone causes me to hate the involvement that men in suits have over the fates of my favorites. But between that and the cost of television in general, it leads me more to question whether it’s even worth investing my time in these network-sponsored games of teasing in the first place.

Imagine this: You join a club for singles. You’re new to town, don’t have any friends, and you’re the kind of person who hates being alone. You join this club, meet a few nice people, but really click with only one. You and your new friend hit it off. Within weeks you’re seeing movies together, feeding birds together, and laughing about the stupid jokes you heard on your way to work. Your friendship grows and thrives for months. Then suddenly, in the second week of May, less than nine months after the two of you meet, your new friend dies a horrible death at the hands of some mysterious businessman who dwells in an ivory tower. You two won’t be hanging out again, ever. The future you looked forward to, even believed in, has been snuffed out. Forever. Who killed her? That ugly, angry man in the gray suit who works for a television network’s executive branch. Cold, remorseless killer who has no regard for your feelings. He killed her because he decided it’s cheaper for him and his company if she doesn’t breathe another breath. He thinks you’d be better off with a less interesting friend who breathes less often, but has more potential than the one he’s trying to replace because she costs less to make you laugh. But he’ll only keep that new “friend” alive if she doesn’t overrun his budget for the year, according to the antiquated system that determines her popularity with certain peer groups who have nothing better to do than to stay home and watch television at a certain time. The Internet you’re paying $50 a month for can’t save your friend’s life because the system isn’t designed to track her popularity on Facebook. It only tracks how many friends she sees in person each week. If she doesn’t hang out with x-amount of friends by Saturday night, every week from September to May, her time on earth is marked for termination. Whatever amazing story she wants to share with you a year from now, you’ll never know about it. Kinda makes you wonder if your heart can handle the stress, right?

Losing my favorite shows is not like losing a new friend, but it does trigger an emotional response that equates to a sense of loss. For me, I was really looking forward to Community’s sixth (and final?) season, which the creator had been hyping for several years (six seasons and a movie), because I just want to see a show like that reach its natural end. But then, I’d like to see every show of decent quality reach its natural end. I’ve spent a long time with Jeff, Abed, Shirley, Annie, Britta, Troy, Pierce, Dean Pelton, Chang, and the extensive cast of crazies that make up the student body and faculty of Greendale Community College. A couple of them have already reached the end of their respective story arcs, but what of the others? Now that the show has been cancelled, I’m supposed to believe they had all died in a collision between earth and an asteroid? I know that’s not the real ending, but what is the real ending? I don’t know because NBC did what NBC does and cancelled a great show before it was truly ready to ride into the sunset. (And the other networks are just as willing to cut a good show off before it’s had its chance to finish baking in the oven; I can’t blame NBC for every bad television decision made since the dawn of time, even if I can blame it for about 80 percent of them.) Unless some other eager network champs at the bit to give the show its sixth season and proper ending, I, and many fans like me, will be stuck wondering how the other members of the study group will phase out of college, assuming a show like Community can find its natural ending, which, if you know anything about Greendale Community College, is an ambiguous question in of itself, as no one ever really seems to graduate from Greendale. Sure, they can get their diplomas, but it says nothing about how valid those diplomas are. It’s the black hole of education. Maybe NBC was making its own creative statement by canceling it—there is no end to the vicious cycle that is Greendale. But I doubt it. I think they cancelled it because they are uncreative businessmen who look at numbers from an abacus rather than storytellers who look at numbers only during an out-of-body experience. They don’t experience an emotional connection to their programming because they don’t actually watch their product or care how good it is. They just know that reality shows are big among those who want their programming for free, and most everyone wants their programming for free. I’m speculating, of course. I’ve never run a television network before, so I could be wrong on all counts. But I do know that I’m the recipient of its products, and lately its been making questionable decisions about its product line, and I’m greatly concerned about how well it knows the very product it’s selling.

That said, I’m no longer convinced television is worth the emotional investment. Sure, a few new shows I like made the cut this year: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Goldbergs, Resurrection, and About a Boy to name a handful. But how long will they last? At what point will the networks decide they are no longer fit to live and whatever story they had left to tell me will forever die with them? How deep will the networks trick me into feeling an emotional connection to these characters and their lives and situations before they take a hacksaw to them and laugh their way to the bank with their newfound savings as they leave the raging mess behind? I think the time is right to stop myself from giving them the opportunity. I don’t have to watch their precious torture bait. I don’t have to feed their wallets. If they’re not gonna give me (the customer) what I want (a complete series with natural ending), or update their marketing system to account for the many ways that people invest their time and energy into programming these days (it hasn’t been 1954 for sixty years now—man has since been on the moon), then I don’t need to give them what they want (my time and money). I can just pick up a book instead. At least those are required to have an ending.

But those dang execs know I got to see how Parks and Recreation ends next year, and they know that I gotta come back in September to find out. And they know that I got to see how those cliffhangers they left me with in these other shows get resolved when they also come back in September. It’s like they hire writers to infuse medication into their story lines to keep me teased and addicted. Jerks. I guess the better question is, Why do I blog about why we watch TV? Just like watching television, the blog’s ending makes the rest of my story a waste of time. Maybe we should all just go to bed at eight o’clock at night and save ourselves the redundant headaches.

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