Saturday, March 10, 2007

Anti-TV and Pro-TV

In an earlier post I described why I prefer to read rather than watch TV. I'm not sure I did full justice to my reasoning. Part of it is that, for some reason, I feel the time God has given to me is important and I feel guilty if I'm not using it constructively. So some of the time that a natural-born couch potato like me would spend staring at the Tube, I would spend instead writing a story, composing a piece of music, or practicing the piano.

Even reading--though in many ways it is just as passive and indulgent as TV-watching--seems more worthwhile to me. I get to use my imagination, which always seems more vivid and interesting than the way the story comes out on film. I fall into the story more, feel more a part of it, enveloped in it.

I also like the way the story flows better in a book than on TV. The story in a book unfolds at its own speed and takes as long as it needs. A TV program is a slave to the commercial breaks that interrupt it after every 7 to 10 minutes of storytelling, and its dramatic shape and rhythm are adjusted accordingly. While film or TV can spare you a lot of time for description by just showing stuff to you, it also denies you the chance to savor richly-drawn setting or a highly satisfying story as long as you want. The book is more continuous; as long as you have free time to read, the experience may be interrupted only by your need to eat, use the bathroom, or sleep. More commonly, it is interrupted by having to go to work or church or other is a pleasure that can last for days. And it can go with you to the waiting room at your doctor's office, or your car mechanic, or the airport, etc., to fill time when TV is not available on demand.

To put my preference of book or TV in negative terms, I felt that when a commercial break came on, I was having valuable moments of my life stolen from me. It was really, finally, my abhorrence of commercial breaks that tipped the scales for books and against TV. This, perhaps, explains why I still have a TV, hooked up to a DVD player (and a VHS player, though that is rarely used). Now and then I'll watch a movie. Sometimes I'll watch one every day for a week or more; sometimes weeks will go by when I never watch one. I have even invested in some TV series on DVD, one season per boxed set, which I typically watch around the clock until I've gone through all the episodes once, and then rarely watch again.

Not a good investment, maybe. Or maybe it's just that the types of TV shows I like to watch in the first place are also, unfortunately, the type that one can't really enjoy more than once: mysteries. I've viewed one or more series each of Numbers, Monk, The Closer, Bones, Cracker, and House this way. I suppose I could call those "my shows" and, instead of vegging out on given nights of the week to watch their first-run broadcast (with commercials, ugh), I simply buy them on DVD and hold a marathon viewing over the weekend. But I'm starting to think that I might tire even of this. For one thing, I'm learning that TV shows (mysteries especially) are so ephemeral that once I've seen one, even if I've enjoyed it, I never want to see it again. Also, that "wasting my God-given time" guilt is buzzing around in the back of my head, even on weekends, when I know I should do this or that or, yes, even read because when else am I going to get the chance to finish the book I've been reading in 2- or 3-page snatches for the past two weeks?

But what will probably be the scale-tipping consideration, once again: commercial breaks. The DVDs don't have the commercials. This is one of their great selling points, to me. But they do still have that annoying rhythm/structure that surges to a minor climax just before the end of each act (where there would have been a commercial break, in broadcast TV). This rhythm results in some pretty odd things. Sometimes the transition from one act to another seems superfluous and goofy, when viewed continuously without a break. Another result is that the stories begin to seem tediously similar; once you understand their structure, you can predict the next move so accurately that the show becomes boring.

And finally, after years of being an old-school couch potato (commercials and all), my conditioned response to the every-seven-minute climax is to get a case of the munchies whenever the music swells and the camera zooms in on a character's thoughtful face. I then have to put the machine on pause and get a snack instead of having the commercial break in which to do it. Watching TV shows on DVD is, after all, just as fattening as watching them on network TV. Only, when you're watching a whole season of episodes over a weekend, the impact on your system could be catastrophic.

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