Is it possible to be both a television snob and a television junkie? Why start a column with a question so obviously loaded? Can we just get on with it and stop asking questions?
I am, undeniably, a television junkie. Have been since the first flickering black & white box came into my life when I was but a wee lad. My fascination wandered into hypnotic obsession and beta-state mesmerization and caused my parents no end of grief. They were, even though they didn’t express it too often, certain I would grow up to be a shiftless layabout due largely to my ability to sit for hours doing absolutely nothing but staring at ever-changing light.
It gives them no succor in their twilight years to know how right they were… if for the wrong reasons. I can’t blame my shiftlessness or layabout ways on television. Skiing’s to blame for that. And while I became addicted to the pastime too late in life and with stunningly insufficient prowess to become a ‘professional’ athlete, I’ve tried to make the most out of a disreputable lifestyle by eking out the credentials to, in moments of overreaching, call myself a ski writer. It excuses if not explains a lot, carrying with it a whiff of education and a hint of work ethic.
I don’t think I could pull off the same trick with television though. Even when I read some writer’s very reasoned, even learned analysis of something on the small screen, I’m suspect. What fully-functioning grown-up would really be a TV critic? I mean it’s one thing to subject yourself to a 120-foot hill in Minnesota to write a ski story about it with the hope that if you do, your editor will send you someplace better; it’s another thing altogether to sit through a couple of hours of Survivor and then add insult to injury by gamely trying to write something highbrow about it in the hope you’ll, what? Get to write something about a better reality(sic) show? In the first instance you can have fun on snow, if only in 30-second intervals. In the second… pass the novocaine.
But I like television a lot. I like the soothing light it casts in a darkened room. I like the immediacy and disjointed reality of channel surfing. I like the gratifying surprise when I finally stumble across something interesting and unexpected. I like the unbridled nostalgia when everything goes black & white and I realize I’m into timeless and ancient mode with a particularly good and surprising episode of The Twilight Zone . And I’m learning to really enjoy the ancillary inactivity of dropping off to sleep on the sofa, finger glued to the channel-up button, the TV doing endless laps while I snooze in blissful REM until the remote slips from my hand and I’m rudely awakened by an ad for Country Classics, Volume 27.