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"We walk with the darkness, the wolf at our side."
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April 27 2006

International TV Turnoff Week? No thanks! A Guardian columnist cites Buffy and David Greenwalt's Profit as examples to show why people should love their telly.

I love what he/she says about prison break. lol It's true that show is purely just to entertain yourself. You're not really supposed to care very much about the characters themselves, but the mystery and challenges that lie before them.
I think if I turned my TV off I might die. I honestly think it's somehow connected to my nervous system.
I tried going for a week without TV once. I nearly died from news deprivation. The TV shows themselves I didn't miss so much. But that was before I stumbled into the Whedonverse. Since many of my favorite shows have been cancelled, are coming to an end in May, or are not scheduled to begin again until October, I'm sure I will do without TV (except for the news) this summer, though.
My attitude about tv is generally summed up by that episode of Futurama, Bender should not be allowed on TV:

Hermes: Well, I'd say we all learned a valuable lesson about TV there.
Cubert: What was it?
Farnsworth: Uh ... that we should all take TV a little less seriously. And more importantly, turn it off once in a while.
Fry: Hear, hear!
Leela: Yeah!
Bender: Damn right!
Dwight: So, should we turn it off now?
Farnsworth: Well, uh, that depends what's on.
Fry: Nothing good.
Farnsworth: Ah, let's just keep watching.
I think they both have a point. I sometimes find myself just sitting, idly channel hopping for half an hour at a time. By the end of which i've seen 30 seconds of about 20 programmes and discovered that the God channel has moved again (possibly in a mysterious way ;). A worse waste of time it's hard to imagine.

On the other hand, great TV is every bit as valid as a good book or conversation or listening to music so i've always had a problem with people who see any TV viewing as a waste. People who spend their spare time reading 'junk' novels (and I read my fair share of pot-boilers so i'm casting no aspersions) don't strike me as gaining much over an active viewer of something like Buffy (i.e. someone who 'reads' the show and spends the time not just enjoying it but making connections, drawing conclusions and thinking about the larger issues being addressed).

And there's the other point which is, what's wrong with just being entertained and having fun ?
I don't watch all that much television anyway. My current television schedule includes one episode each per week of 24, Stargate Atlantis, Supernatural, Invasion, Dream Team and Battlestar Galactica and I'm rewatching season one of Lost on E4 as well as the Sci Fi Channel run of Angel. A grand total of 16 over the entire week.

I'm not someone who can sit and watch television just for the sake of it. The only way I'll sit and channel hop is through the music channels (well, Kerrang, Scuzz and MTV2 anyway. The actual music channels) and even that is getting rarer and rarer. If I have any spare time (something else getting very rare) I'm a lot more likely to listen to music. Much more my style.

Oh yeah, and American Idol. Especially now that rock music is being properly represented. Go Daughtry!
"...By the end of which i've seen 30 seconds of about 20 programmes and discovered that the God channel has moved again..."

Hah! Thanks for my morning laugh, Saje. And I agree with what you're saying. There are far better (worse?) wastes of time than television. Though sometimes my jaw drops open at the sheer stupidity of what I've stumbled upon (Flavor Flav has a show? With actual women???), I'd never dismiss it all with such a sweeping statement. There is precious little good out there right now, but it can be found, and sometimes just plain diversion is a blessing, regardless of quality.
The "Turn it off!" half seemed utterly stupid to me. It's like thinking that because the last few summer blockbusters you saw were crap you're going to give up on films, or that because those last few paperbacks you picked up at the airport were terrible reading must be a total waste of time.

Leaving aside all our personal favourites here, it seems to me that any medium which produces things that are as widely acclaimed by mainstream critics as The Sopranos, The Shield, or Battlestar Galactica are certainly deserves to be treated as seriously as any other, and not written-off as "The Idiot Box".

Nevertheless, one point struck me as sort of on the mark. Why do people feel the need to be constantly stimulated or entertained? The most egregious example of this phenomenon is the personal music player. I am a very serious lover of music, and it plays an important part in my life. But I have never owned a personal music player, not a Walkman, a Discman, or an iPod. I just don't feel the need to have music injected into my brain at all times. The other day I saw a young couple sitting in a cafe, holding hands, each plugged into their own iPod. They weren't even listening to the same music. I thought to myself, "Jeez, have you two ever tried talking to each other?"
dzr, I'm only speaking for myself here but I don't know if I could manage without my MP3 player. I have music on pretty much all the time (right now I'm on my second time through Seether's Disclaimer II, an absolutely brilliant cd) and that includes when I am out and about. My MP3 player is essential to my mood and sanity.

Think I'm overstating that? Try me after a day or so of no music and see how easy I am to get along with, hehe.
Primeval, well you and others like you are what I'm talking about. I believe what you say, but honestly, do you really think that's perfectly healthy? I mean, it doesn't sound that different to walking around with a bunch of psychoactive drugs in your pocket to ensure your constant mood and sanity. I'm all for the recreational use and occassional misuse of mind-altering substances -- I have a drink most nights -- but when you actually need them all the time just to cope with the world, well that's an illness.

[ edited by dzr on 2006-04-27 17:36 ]
The other day I saw a young couple sitting in a cafe, holding hands, each plugged into their own iPod. They weren't even listening to the same music. I thought to myself, "Jeez, have you two ever tried talking to each other?"

That's a bit excessive, unfortunately I know people like that, even though I love my cell phone, my ipod, my tv, and all my technology I try to never put those things over talking to people and I get VERY annoyed at people who do that to me. I can be entertained just by good conversation and often prefer it over anything else.

But I don't think my ipod is a bad thing, I live in San Francisco and walk everywhere and if I'm walking alone (and most often am) it's a great way to have a peaceful walk. Turning on my music and walking around the city is actually one of my favorite activities.

I also use music for inspiration for drawings, seriously, it helps.
Well, I think some of it's a kind of 'information underload' whereby people are used to a certain level of stimulation and so need to do something to maintain it. When I first watched CNN or BBC News 24 I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information on screen at any one time, now it feels slightly odd to watch a news programme with no tickers or scrolling displays.

Also, regarding MP3 players, I kind of see dzr's point since I know a few people who seem to use music to mediate their moods in much the same way others use coffee, tea, cigarettes or booze (not to mention the more illicit and, therefore, effective end of the spectrum ;) though I doubt they're particularly aware of doing it. One friend becomes very twitchy if he's not been to the gym for a few days (apparently the body produces something fairly similar to opiates after prolonged exercise) and though music and working out are clearly better for you than most vices, in a perfect world I suppose we wouldn't need anything external to control our moods. Course, as anyone who's even seen it from afar could tell you, it's not a perfect world ;).

I guess, like most things, if it's excessive it's not good for you by definition. Otherwise, where's the harm ?

(unless the bloody thing's turned up so loud everyone can hear the tinny 'zzzttt zzzztt zzttt' from the headphones, in which case nuclear bombardment is way too good for 'em. Maybe something with honey and ants ? ;)
nna_funk: I certainly wasn't trying to say that personal music players are an inherently bad thing, of course they're not! What I was really talking about was the apparent need of some people to be constantly entertained by something, and people permanently plugged into their music players just seemed like a good example. It's as if they thought there were two and only two states of mind, "entertained" and "unconscious".
Well, that's a pretty simplistic view. Clearly there's 'entertained', 'unconscious' and 'drunk' ;).
I listen to music a lot. I also read a lot. I go through spells of watching a lot of TV or DVDs or going to the cinema. I used to go to a lot of concerts when I was younger. I do many other things when time permits. I've even been known to engage in conversations with other people. In all of these activities I hope to be entertained, amongst other things. Quite often I will listen to music as a way of helping me to wind down and relax after a stressful day at work. However, I do not believe the enjoyment I derive from this (or anything else I do) is a sign that I am suffering from an illness.

As for the two people spotted sitting together at a cafe, apparently listening to music on their iPods, while it may not be what everyone would choose to do, were they actually doing something wrong?
Oh, I was a "No TV" snob for years. Then I found Joss and got saved.
Young people have always been jazzed by their choice of tunes (as all ages are, but we're talking younger folk, here, aren't we?). Think back to the 60's with the ever-present transistor radio plastered to the ear, or the 70's portable 8-track player with the big plastic handle. The 80's had the boom-box, the 90's - the increasingly shrinking walkman. Now we have the iPod (thank gawd!). It's all the same, just different and better technology.

Remember Joss's i-Hole? That's next! ;)
I listen to music a lot. I also read a lot. I go through spells of watching a lot of TV or DVDs or going to the cinema. I used to go to a lot of concerts when I was younger. I do many other things when time permits. I've even been known to engage in conversations with other people. In all of these activities I hope to be entertained, amongst other things. Quite often I will listen to music as a way of helping me to wind down and relax after a stressful day at work. However, I do not believe the enjoyment I derive from this (or anything else I do) is a sign that I am suffering from an illness.


Neither do I! I do all those things too. You've misunderstood what I was trying to say. There's nothing wrong (obviously) with reading, watching film and TV, listening to music. In many cases those things are virtues not vices, and in most others they're neither a virtue or a vice. And obviously there is nothing wrong with being entertained by something.

I did say that someone who needs their MP3 player permanently injecting music into their brain just to get through the day doesn't sound very different to someone who needs alcohol just to get through the day, and alcoholism is an illness. I stand by that. It doesn't strike me as a terribly controversial analogy to use (which is what it was).

I just think that there is more to life, and more to our mental lives, then always having to be entertained by something. There are other modes of mental activity. (nna_funk's drawing for example.)

And as for the couple at the cafe, no I don't think they are doing something morally wrong. It just struck me as a little sad.
dzr, you are absolutely correct. Music is a drug to me. I freely admit that. When I'm in a bad mood, when I'm stressed, when I've had a hard day, music is the one thing that I can guarantee to make all the crap go away and get me back into a positive frame of mind. It absolutely is the one thing in life that has that effect on me.

That said, what is so wrong with that being the case? There exists something that I have discovered can keep me positive and centered, no matter how bad the day might have been. Better yet, that something has absolutely no negative side effects, no matter how much you choose to use it, unlike the examples of drug and alcohol addiction that you offered.

Again, I'll admit that I absolutely need music, it is a very large part of the person that I am, but unless there is some downside that I am unaware of I honestly don't see that it is a problem. Surely the world would be a much better place if everyone could find something that was able to keep them happy and had absolutely no negative aspects whatsoever. Where is the bad in that?
I actually have a lot in common with the "turn it off" essayist. I used to watch TV all the time, and followed several series actively. But over the last few years, I've just gotten bored with it. Most TV just doesn't do anything for me, and I find I'm much happier to have the damn thing off and get some peace and quiet (and, probably not coincidentally, to get some non-TV time with my young daughter). BUT that isn't to say that I think TV is inherently evil, or inherently bad -- it just means that I don't have the energy to sift through all of the mediocre to get to the good. (And dzr, I actually have had that experience with movies -- about 5 vapid "blockbusters" too many has pretty much taken the wind out of any impulse I have to go to the movies, unless I've gotten specific recommendations from people.)

With the advent of DVD and things like Netflix and TV on iTunes, I can be safely selective in my TV viewing. If I hear that something's good and really worth checking out, I can check it out on my own time, and often find the experience better than under the "old" system of sitting through 20 minutes of commercials for 40 minutes of programming. I can follow such great shows as Galactica and Lost without distraction, and always go back to Buffy and other past greats at a whim. But I'm much happier to have the glowing box turned off most of the time.
Primeval: good point. Not only does music not have bad side effects like drugs and alcohol, it has positively good effects. I firmly believe in the life enriching properties of the arts, and I also believe that they can deepen one's understanding of the world. So I'm really not trying to say that you're doing something bad or that there's something wrong with you. Nonetheless, I have a niggling concern about what you say. Imagine someone invented a happy drug that had absolutely no harmful side effects. Then whenever someone is sad, or angry, or anxious about something they just pop a pill and they feel everything is right with the world. That doesn't sound like a good thing to me. Sadness, anger, anxiety, are an important part of our emotional range, and can be perfectly rational responses to the world. If one is angry about something, or sad, or anxious, surely one should do something to try and change whatever it is that is making one feel like that, instead of just making the feeling go away. I'm not saying you do that. But that kind of thing is what I was expressing concern about. Whenever I see people with their personal music player's headphones firmly in their ears they always look to me like they're in their own little solipsistic bubble, desperately trying to block the world out. I'm not saying that is what they are doing, or at least not all of them, but if I wanted an image of that kind of behaviour that would be it.
Oh, I was a "No TV" snob for years. Then I found Joss and got saved.


Can someone here give me an amen? I remember being in a similar position. Being a snob is hard work though. You gotta constantly remind people about how much of a snob you are, and try to turn them into snobs like yourself. It was just easier to join a cult, and push Joss onto people. Wow, now that I think on it, I haven't fundamentally changed at all!

I did say that someone who needs their MP3 player permanently injecting music into their brain just to get through the day doesn't sound very different to someone who needs alcohol just to get through the day...


That's an interesting thought. If we applied the same to television, then we might say that Will and Grace (or Friends) is the TV equivilent of bum wine. It's cheap, to the point, and snobs look down upon those who drink it. What would reality TV be on this scale? I don't know exactly, but I'm pretty sure it would kill you if you drank it.
Cranston: good point. I read the "Turn It Off!" piece as not only slagging off the mode of delivery, but what was being delivered (the shows) too. Which is why I said I thought it was a stupid thing to say. But you're right to attack the "glowing box". Like you I'm increasingly using downloads and DVDs to watch shows, and places like here to find out about what might be worth watching.

Whenever I see people with their personal music player's headphones firmly in their ears they always look to me like they're in their own little solipsistic bubble, desperately trying to block the world out.


Have you looked at the world lately? I can't blame them really. When you can have no affect on the world through your job, what else is there but to create smaller bubbles that you can change. An MP3 player is symbolic of that. It helps you fiter out all the garbage. You can get into metal, join the metal "scene," visit the metal stores, and maybe even get do some amateur welding. Other people use music that way.

Either that, or an MP3 player is just a way to listen to music.
...the TV equivilent of bum wine. It's cheap, to the point, and snobs look down upon those who drink it. What would reality TV be on this scale?

Caleb, Reality TV would also be bum wine but after the bum has already used it once ;).

(and where's the Buckfast love ?)

Cranston/dzr, I think things like Tivo and Sky+ are already changing the way people watch TV so that, ideally, it doesn't dominate their lives in the same way. We control it and schedule it around our other activities instead of vice versa. Interesting times.
dzr - Although I am a person that desperately needs a certain amount of quiet contemplation rather than outside stimulous, I look at people who are addicted to listening to music the same way I look at people who are addicted to reading books as a noraml coping mechanism for dealin gwith the world. That is why there is art and artists. Canned music makes it easier for those of us with limited instrumental musical aptitude to immerse ourselves in music. It is, though, a need that a professional musician must have in order to happily practice their instrument for hours every day. To do it well enough that people will want to have them piped into their ears at all hours of the day, they must often block out the world for a while. This is sometimes thought of as being selfish, but for some it is just necessary.

What I always find interesting in discussions like this is looking at myself in the context of the discussion. What are the ways I cope? Have I gotten new coping mechanisms recently? Do I need new coping mechanisms?
To me, the point just is, "Don't overdo anything." Anything you become addicted to, whether it's craptastic TV shows you're embarrassed to tell your friends about, or whether it's opera or classic novels you feel very superior about, is still an addiction and takes over your life if you're spending too much time doing it *coughposting on blogscough*. Just say no, kids! ;-)
dzr, the thing is that music doesn't prevent you from feeling any of the negative aspects of life. It doesn't shield you from sadness, anger, anxiety or any of the other undesirable emotions of life. It just helps you cope with them.

Rock is therapy, pure and simple. There is absolutely nothing better for easing the soul than going to a gig at the end of a long, hard week's work to make all the stress just go away. Having my MP3 player with me whenever I'm not near my cd collection just ensures that I always have that therapy to hand, if needed.

Short of actually locking yourself in a room and never having any contact with the outside world there is little or no chance of avoiding sadness, anger or anxiety. The best you can hope for is to find a way to make them go away as quickly as possible and for the release mechanism to not be harming you in any way. That is what music is able to provide for me.
TV Turn-Off lasts roughly from June to late September for me. Or at least it used to. Now HBO likes to air a lot of their programming during the summer (last year it was the final season of Six Feet Under, Entourage Season 2, and the canceled Lisa Kudrow series The Comeback) and I was also watching the Canadian mini-series Slings & Arrows. So I don't think there was a whole month where I didn't watch any TV within the past year or two. On the one hand I don't like that, but on the other hand most of HBO's programming is so worth catching first-run.

I'm thinking it's the September to May viewing that has to go. If Lost doesn't blow me away with its final few episodes next month, I'll probably be able to make good on the failed resolution I made after Season 1 to go DVD-only for it. All that needs to go is Lost, then I'll be free!

Of course, there's still TV-on-DVD (rentals, mostly) and I alternate between not watching anything for a couple weeks to a month, then tackling three shows at once the next few (one month there was Keen Eddie, Miracles, and South Park, another it was Babylon 5, Neverwhere, and the mini-series V, the next it was Oz, Samurai Jack, and The Shield). So I dunno if I'm really watching less TV some months or throughout the year overall, but it feels like less.
Primeval: I fear I'm banging on about this so much that it must sound like my personal hobby horse (and it really isn't). But your last post interested me because you said one thing I really agree with and one thing I really don't:

[...] music doesn't prevent you from feeling any of the negative aspects of life. It doesn't shield you from sadness, anger, anxiety or any of the other undesirable emotions of life. It just helps you cope with them.


I completely agree, and that is one of things I was referring to when I talked about how positive a thing music is. I'm a huge music fan. I used to be a semi-pro musician myself. Music and other art forms may very well be crucial for actually articulating to yourself what on Earth it is that you are feeling.

The best you can hope for is to find a way to make them [sadness, anger, anxiety] go away as quickly as possible and for the release mechanism to not be harming you in any way.


That I disagree with. Sometimes anger, sadness, anxiety (choose your favourite negative emotion/mood/feeling) are about something we have no control over. But more often than not, we feel those things about events that are closest to us. I might be angry about the situation in the Middle East; there are some small things I can do about that, but nothing of much consequence. But most of the time what upsets us are things going on at work, in our relationships, with our families, in our local community. Wanting that feeling to just go away, instead of facing up to the problem and trying to do something about it seems like the wrong response. It doesn't matter whether your avoidance mechanism is alcohol or music.

I sound preachy. I know it. Look, I make the same mistakes everyone else does: failing to face up to things, failing to do something when I could have done. But let's call a spade a spade and admit they're failings. Wanting bad feelings to just go away instead of acting on them is a failing. And I'm not saying you have that failing: I was responding to what you wrote, which may not have been exactly what you meant.
dzr, I think the difference in our point of views is that you seem to be assuming that "coping" and "avoiding" add up to the same end result. That because somebody has a way to deal with feeling sad, angry or whatever means that they will automatically also avoid the problem that has caused thse feelings. Not so much.

Yeah, that might be true with the likes of alcohol or drugs. The very nature of what they do to you makes dealing with life even harder in the long run and, whilst they might provide a brief escape from your life, when you return things are more than likely worse than when you left. That is where the comparison with something like music fails.

If I have a bad day at work or have an argument with a friend or loved one, I can disappear into my own little music filled bubble and calm down, returning with a fresher perspective on the issue and realising that it probably wasn't as bad as I originally thought, or at the very least come back at the problem with a more relaxed point of view.

What music does for me is not about avoidance, it's about being able to look at the world with a perspective that isn't bogged down by the negative aspects of life.

I do get what you are saying and if that was the case then I would agree that music would be no better a release than any other drug. I just think it's important to point out that dealing with negative emotion is a very different thing than avoiding the problems that caused it. One thing does not necessarily have to be connected to the other.
Well said, Primeval. I would point out that not having coping mechanisms to deal with negative emotions can lead to depression and avoidance.

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