Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


I have to tell you, I have completely given up watching TV these days.

To put it more accurately, I have completely given up trying to find anything on TV worth the effort of watching it. People think watching TV is easy, all you have to do is turn it on, sit back and play around with a few buttons. This is completely wrong. Actually, you need either the patience of a saint of the encylopedic knowledge of an astrophysicist in order to find anything fractionally interesting or entertaining. You can flick channels for hours, but every time you do that there are minutes of observation to be done before you can tell what is actually on, including waiting through commercials. You can look up the TV guide, which is work, and unless you know the shows already won't help tell you if they are any good, so you can read reviews of shows, and then you need to know which reviewers are half-sensible, so, more research work.

Even with the best possible research, you can still get to the end of a show (this also applies to movies) and it can be a great big letdown, maybe the conclusion makes no sense or there are stupid bigoted ideas that cause you to reinterpret the entire thing and realise it was terrible, and then you have wasted your time.

Of course, if you like watching other people suffering, or if you are obssessed with food, or something similar, then it is easy. TV satisfies people's material obssessions quite well. But if that doesn't get boring after quite a short time too, there is something wrong with you. I spent some time a while back watching all the DIY and cookery shows, but then I finished watching them because there wasn't anything new to see. Cook books are much better, plus you can take them in the kitchen and follow the instructions at your own leisure. Same with gardening, home decorating etc books. And if I absolutely have to know what is going on the world I would rather read it on the internet than watch hundreds of people on TV weeping and protesting and so on, which is distressing and does not teach me anything.

I have been watching one DVD only, lately, and it is a sci-fi series called "Farscape". A small minority of the episodes are extremely duff, and they occasionally have completely excruciating (but not explicit) romantic scenes, but on the whole it is very good and very meaningful. The episode I saw the other night was absolutely brilliant, all about how metaphorically blind people crave the thing they do not understand, and will lie, steal and exploit others in order to get what they don't know how to achieve for themselves. Yet they never do get it, they just get closer to it, and crave it all the more, causing ever-increasing trouble until they are stopped. And at the same time, they only get away with this for as long as the people being exploited fail to trust their own good moral instincts, and allow them to get away with it. And this episode contained some of the funniest drama I have ever seen in my life, I was literally crying with laughter. Some of this comes from knowing the characters well, probably, as I have seen every episode in order from the beginning.

But I have also seen some terrible movies in the last year, and I take it personally when this happens. The idea that you can "just switch off" unpleasantness is false. When you start watching a dramatic work, you enter into a deal with the makers of it. You trust them to tell you something useful, good and/or entertaining. And sometimes all they do is trick you into getting involved with their convincing, sympathetic characters, before murdering them in gross ways for no morally comprehensible reason whatever. I think this is exploitation of the audience. Quite a lot of films exploit the audience, and if the audience doesn't mind then that is just depressing. There comes a time in some movies when one just wants to join in the murder of the totally appalling lead characters, or when one wants to take revenge against the author for their meaningless exploitative suffering. The energy that some people put into proving that the world is a pointless, arbitrary, death-driven place is evil and disgusting. We would not want to go and see a movie that turns out halfway through to be secretly arguing that the Nazis were right. We rely on the judgement of the moviemakers, audience and reviewers who have gone before us to make sure that doesn't happen to us. But it does happen, and when it happens we generally just accept the evil worldview as another version of truth.

I am sure there are some good things on American TV. I just don't have a long or boring enough life to want to invest the necessary effort in locating them. Please do not suggest the Tivo: all my favourite shows of the past, I happened upon by accident. That is the joy of British TV, where there are only four channels worth watching, it is very easy to spot something new and good and the quality is very high, there is probably one show most days of the week that I would want to watch. Which is about half of one per cent of the entire terrestrial TV output. Massive.


At 3:49 PM, Blogger gcotharn said...

We are in the midst of "summer rerun season," when TV viewership is down across the board - as (especially northern state) Americans are largely out of doors in the evenings - enjoying the summer weather. Not that the rest of the year will neccessarily provide worthwhile TV fare, but things will get better in the Fall.

This time of year, if I feel like TV, I always check The History Channel and The Discovery Channel. They frequently have interesting shows. As for drama, in Ft. Worth we can check out free DVD's and Videos from the Public Library. I'll bet Austin is the same.

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Robert said...

TRy "Rescue Me". Karen and I think it's the best show on TV. By far. It's the only show that is about blue collar masculinity--without any apologies. Denis Leary and the supporring cast are brilliant. Great writing. We can't get enough of it. Basically, it's the only thing we watch.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I'd second that. Having been in Florida for three weeks now it has been one my greatest joys that I can watch Rescue Me ahead of my muckers in the UK.


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