Why I Don't Watch TV

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I find it awkward when someone asks, “Did you see such-and-so on TV last night?” because my wife and I have not had commercial television in the house for many years. We do have our favorite shows, but we discover them by reading or hearing about them, and then rent or buy the DVDs. The awkwardness arises because commercial TV is such a central part of most people’s lives that it is simply taken for granted. If we admit it is no part of our lives the response is sometimes congratulatory, but more often it’s bewilderment or even suspicion.

Some even have a hard time accepting that this could be so. They ask, “what about cable?” Nope. “Satellite?” Nope. “But—don’t you miss it?”

Not even a little.

I’ve gotten a lot of practice explaining why. Most people assume it’s because of the constant interruptions by advertising, or because of the quality of the programming. Certainly these are sufficient reasons for not watching. How is it that people are willing to sit still for umpteen cleverly designed sales pitches every hour? What can one possibly gain from exposing oneself to a drumbeat of messages, every one of which is intended to bubble you out of your cash and sabotage your sense of well-being? Your common sense and self-esteem are critical assets in a sometimes bumpy life; why tolerate having them constantly undermined?

But this isn’t the real reason we don’t watch. Neither is it the programs themselves. Some of them are awful, it’s true. Okay maybe most. But some are good and we do watch the best ones on DVD.

So what is our real beef with TV? It is a simple matter of dignity. When you watch commercial television, you are participating in an economic transaction. That is, something is being rendered up to someone else for cash. So, follow the money. Who pays for commercial programming? Well, it isn’t you, not really. And who provides the programming? Well, that isn’t you either. The programming is created by the network in order to get you to watch, and the advertiser pays the network according to how many people actually do watch. In brief, the advertiser is paying the network to get your eyeballs on the screen.

So, when you watch commercial television your role in the transaction should be pefectly clear: you are the product being sold.

That is not a role I wish to play in any transaction, and that is why there is no commercial television in our home.