Obviously, the pleasure of life with cable and a DVR has changed me. Of course, it didn’t happen just the way I wished or expected it would. Yes, I get Battlestar Galactica and Rome, but Deadwood is over and they’re trying to make me believe Starbuck is dead or maybe a Cylon and didn’t I already go through this with Fox Mulder? At least when Buffy died you knew the stakes—the show was called Buffy. Either she was coming back or there would be hell to pay…eternally.
Anyway, it’s interesting to me to see what I’ve ended up watching after not having TV for some years. The fine people at This American Life conducted a similar experiment with writer David Rackoff on their last episode. Inspired by their upcoming foray into television, it had a lot to say about what our watching habits say about us. As a fan, I was glad that Rackoff shared my fondness for Kyra Sedgewick on The Closer. But I wasn’t surprised that after the experiment was over he cancelled his Time Warner account.
I’m not about to stray from CableVision, but I understand what I’m in it for: the illusion and how well wrought that illusion might possibly be as compared to others, namely books and films. But that’s just exactly the kind of weirdo I am. When I decide I’ve consumed too much and I need to turn off the box it’s usually because I realize I haven’t been spending enough time reading other illusions, my Netflix pile is getting dusty, or I haven’t spent enough time this week crafting illusions of my own.
Since listening to the podcast of This American Life on Monday (Dark Prince of Technology, how much do I love doing everything on my schedule?!), I’ve rested easy in the knowledge that I only watch about 10 hours of TV a week, just a third of the average American viewer’s 29. And what do I watch? Lately it’s Ricky Gervais in Extras, Jason Lee in My Name is Earl, David Boreanaz in Bones, the aforementioned Battlestar and Rome, plus Boston Legal and House. I was watching Veronica Mars and Studio 60, desperately hoping they would get great (or back to great in the case of the former). I kept a wary eye on Lost and I can’t help but keep tabs on Grey’s Anatomy. As lineups shift I’m checking out The Black Donnelleys and The Riches, though I have yet to be terribly impressed with either. The Sarah Silverman Program on the other hand…ooooh, baby!
I seem to have missed out on Heroes entirely. “Save the cheerleader, save the world!” How did such a saucy slogan slip past me? Here’s a shock: I’m not watching 24 at all, a show that was one of my prime motivations for getting the TV hooked up in the first place. It turns out I like watching a whole season in one weekend. My affair with Jack Bauer loses something stretched out week to week, my affection spread thin amongst my other objects of desire. (Yes, Seeley Booth, I’m talking about you.)
The biggest thing I’m missing that I thought I’d be getting is the news. I used to listen to Morning and Weekend Edition every day back when I worked regular hours and I read some of the New York Times online at the office. I also read Salon and the New Yorker, which regularly analyze and/or satirize the news after the fact. What with CNN and the BBC Worldwide at my disposal, I thought I’d be able to speak intelligently about one or two things that go on in the world, you know, separate and apart from my arena of illusions. Wait for it! You know it’s coming, those of you alive to the media and all of its punishing glory. There is no news. Not anymore. There is posturing and politicizing and punditry and infotainment and Anna Nicole’s baby daddy updates, but there isn’t really any news.
And so I watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Am I a bleeding heart liberal appalled by the machinations of this administration and the go-along-to-get-along mentality of the mob that put it in power? YES! But even if I were a conservative, I’d watch it anyway. Because it’s funny…smart funny…and usually gracefully unapologetic for its glaring bias. And if I were a conservative I’d have to admit that none of my guys pull that off, so I’d have to watch the only guy who does.
I TiVo and tune in and while not every day is magic, the show reliably elicits my holler of an out loud laugh. So my roommate was a little taken aback to see me, intense of face, glued to the screen this morning as I watched last night’s broadcast. John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, was the guest. And he wasn’t hawking anything. It wasn’t a photo op. He was there to debate Stewart about, among other things, the firings at the Justice Department and the Bush administration’s closed constituency in general. They were just arguing…and not in the Fox News fashion of challenging the often absent enemy’s political position in an attempt to dumb down an issue to the point where it’s easier for a viewer to surrender to the message than think for himself…they were listening to each other and responding with thoughtful, conflicting opinions about how the democratic process should work.
I can’t remember when I’ve seen anything like it in the real world and, you know, not on The West Wing. I was squirmy with excitement. Bolton was saying things in just the way I wanted him to so I could happily continue to disagree with him and I wanted Stewart to say just the right things to challenge him. At one point Bolton defended Bush’s politicization of the legislative branch by arguing that it’s the prerogative of the elected party to stack the deck…to only appoint and keep officials in government who agree with their agenda…that they owe this representation to the people who elected them. And Stewart responds agilely, but I find myself yelling at the TV, “But you’re not only governing the people who elected you, you’re governing me! I need you to think about me!”
And while the scene I just set reminds you that, yes, I am a total dork, I want you to see that I’m yelling at the TV in a manner that is significant. I’m an American hungry for intelligent debate. And the only place I’m getting it is on a parody news program on Comedy Central. But, hell, I’m just so happy I’m getting it!