I’m going to come straight out with it. I have a bit of a problem. Strictly speaking I actually have multiple problems, most of which I don’t particularly care to share, but there’s one in particular that I feel I must get off my chest at this moment.
I am addicted, enslaved and altogether powerless over television. Yes, television. That glorious box we all possess that emanates messages of light and happiness and all that is good in the world. And I can’t get enough.
As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, I dabbled in t.v. Access was limited, so each interlude was a sweet, rapturous moment spent with the Bradys or the happy gang from Love Boat. It was a simpler time of scripted shows, laugh tracks, three networks and no remotes. A time when families understood each other and the bad guys always got what was coming to them. These were my gateway programs, and soon I was hooked.
Later, as I got older, I graduated to programs which required regular viewing – serials, mini-series and the occasional soap opera (I swear that was only on a couple of drunken nights in college). The depths of my dependence demanding a more and more serious commitment. As my habit grew, I deluded myself with “I’m a social viewer, I never watch alone –only at parties or with my roommates.” and of course, “I can quit whenever I want.”
But could I? As time went on, I was becoming more hard core. With the advent of Tivo, not only could I skip commercials, I could now binge watch episodes of series I had recorded, sometimes all by myself. Watching Lost until the wee hours of the morning, waking up next to a half eaten lean cuisine, a diet coke and microwave popcorn in my hair, even the cat refused to look me in the eyes. Stumbling through the next day on a few hours of restless sleep, babbling to myself whether the island really is purgatory, was starting to take it’s toll.
And then it happened. I hit bottom. I was watching television in the garage as I cleaned out the minivan, (yes, the garage….obviously for all those long hours on the treadmill…whatever..). I was flipping back and forth between Entertainment Tonight and a Seinfeld rerun while scrubbing the spilled yogurt out of the backseat and I got a glimpse of myself in the side mirror. Who had I become? With glassy eyes, dilated pupils and a creepy smile frozen on my face, I was a monster. Something had to change.
Upon our arrival in Bali, I was the first to notice that our house had only one small television. I started to feel the onslaught of a small panic attack. I calmed myself with the thoughts – “oh well, it’s only 27 hours back home” or “it’s cheap to build here – I wonder what a bamboo media room would run?” Ironically, I didn’t even bother to turn it on. At first, everything here was new and exciting and I didn’t think about television….for a while. And then, about a month into our stay, I sat down to relax and turned on the t.v. For those of you unfamiliar with Indonesian television, it is a dreadful mash-up of Javanese soap operas, Australian Football and Al-Jazeera. And, as if to rub salt in my already gaping wounds, Hulu, NBC.com and just about every other site with replays of American tv shows are unavailable here due to licensing restrictions. I had been mercilessly cut off. So, I said to myself. That’s it. I’m done. That was 147 days ago.
I can’t say that every day has been easy. Pangs of withdrawal creep up all the time leaving me with important unanswered questions like – Who won this season’s anemically contested American Idol? Will Kim and Kanye get their own well-deserved show? and Why does Ashton Kutcher still live with Jon Cryer? I certainly don’t have my finger on the pulse of pop-culture like I used to (for all I know, those questions may have already been answered!). I didn’t even hear about the crazy lady who just loves cats until last week (from my ten year old daughter, no less!). I fear I’ll be terrible at parties when people bring up the Voice and I struggle to come up with relevant comments, eyes darting back and forth, scrambling to change the subject to cover my shame. I dread those moments.
I guess that all begs the question – what have I been doing since I went cold turkey and gave up television? That’s a tough one. I’d love to tell you my life has been instantly transformed but, honestly, I don’t feel that different. Maybe, I was so far gone that the results of my quitting will take some time to recognize. I do remember a girl in high school who’s family never owned a television and I think she’s working at the NIH or JPL or someplace where they discover important stuff. I, on the other hand, have read a few books and am playing more board games with my kids. Some days the quiet and peace in the house is startling (never too startling though, due to the mellifluous din of the neighbors roosters), yet, I find myself enjoying it. One of the biggest benefits I’ve found is the freedom from the unrelenting barrage of warnings and frightening stories coming at me on a daily basis. And, who knows, maybe someday I’ll discover some important stuff too. But, right now I have to go. It’s my turn to roll.