12 August 2006

TV Land

When I took on this apartment sublet I had the choice of whether to take over the cable TV bills or have the thing shut off. Although I haven't had cable since I lived in the Marin County suburbs in 1980, largely because I'm a cheapskate and thought it was too expensive, and although I still think it's way too expensive, I left it on anyway because there was no way I was going to miss the World Cup. Had I stayed in London I could have watched the whole thing for free on the BBC, but life is full of tradeoffs; a monthly Travelcard costs roughly $150 compared with $76 for a New York Metrocard, so right there I've already saved enough to pay the cable bill.

Once the World Cup ended, though, I began to wonder what the point of keeping the cable turned on was. I seldom looked at the TV except to check the weather on New York 1 and to watch the re-broadcast of last year's Premiership matches on the Fox Soccer Channel. I was seldom home in the evenings, and when I did get home I was usually too tired to sit up for long anyway. Plus when I did try flicking through the channels just to see what was on, I was doubly overwhelmed: first by the sheer number of choices - even if most of it was garbage, there's always bound to be something capable of sustaining my interest for a few minutes - and second because the constant commercial interruptions make it almost impossible to stick to a single program for a long (I've noticed, by the way, that the so-called "non-commercial" PBS stations are usually the worst offenders in this regard). I've become spoiled by the complete absence of commercials on the BBC, and even on ITV and Channel Four, where advertising is allowed, it's strictly regulated as to length and scheduling, so it's easy to avoid.

So when I do watch TV, as I've been doing this week since Tuesday's 20+ miles of walking left me feeling too lethargic to go out prowling the streets at night, I find myself trying to watch about five different things at once. I imagine this is what most Americans do, at least those who aren't semi-comatose and don't have the Tivo technology enabling them to skip the adverts, but I'm just guessing. What does bewilder me is how so many Americans I know manage to find time to watch dozens of shows that I have never seen, and watch them assiduously enough to discuss them in great detail. These are people with full-time jobs, mind you; as near as I can tell, one could devote all one's waking hours to watching TV and still not see anywhere near everything that's on offer.

Of course there are those hyperkinetic individuals like Kendra who download all their programs and then watch them at something like 140% of normal speed, while simultaneously playing video games, reading email and talking on the telephone, but I don't think most people operate like that. As for me, I've managed to while away most of tonight flipping back and forth between an evening-long Green Day marathon on Fuse and a weekend-long marathon of DeGrassi: The Next Generation on, um, some other channel nearby. It's the first time I've ever seen this version of DeGrassi, and I have only the vaguest memory of seeing a couple of the original episodes back in whenever it was; it's also the first time I've seen Green Day's Bullet In A Bible, which I'm thinking has to be one of the best concert films ever made. It was followed by interviews with a whole bunch of bands I've never heard of talking about how they listened to Dookie when they were in third grade which in turn caused them to grow up to be punk rockers. So they claim, anyway.

It's all a bit mind-boggling, this universe of unwatched TV at my beck and call. I've never been an anti-TV snob (well, except for brief intervals during my most militant hippie and punk years), but I never found much time to watch it. And not being in America for much of the last 10 years left me even more out of the loop when it comes to the sitcoms and dramas that "everyone" is familiar with. I find myself wondering whether I should set aside several months in which I familiarize myself with what must be hundreds of Seinfeld and Simpsons episodes that I've never seen. And if this would result in my feeling more a part of American society, or if it would turn my brain to complete and utter mush. Probably both, now that I think about it.

6 comments:

Patrick said...

Is Crystal forcing you to watch DeGrassi as part of the sublet agreement?

Larry Livermore said...

There will be an extensive written quiz upon her return, I've been told.

Joe III said...

I've waited for this for so long.

crystal said...

YES!! the N is what that channel is called. and in LA it is a pay channel! the HORROR. the absolute horror. i am glad to have you keeping up with it for me.

Chadd Derkins said...

Larry, can you believe that JT got Liberty pregnant???

Larry Livermore said...

I found this somewhat shocking, yes, but what I really can not believe is that so many people out there are familiar with this show. I thought I had stumbled across something so obscure that it wouldn't even have developed a cult following.