I don’t watch much television. In fact, I don’t even have cable teevee (haven’t since 1997), which apparently is an unAmerican thing to do. (In fact, two G-men were here last night grilling me about who won this year’s American Idol. I was unable to answer. But the charges of conspiracy were dropped when I showed them that I had Secret Agent in my DVD collection.)
But when talking to some folks yesterday, I was surprised to learn that basic cable today costs $55 a month. Basic cable. Not your snazzy HBO or Skinemax. Not even the Playboy Channel. Apparently, if you want to become an HGTV junkie in our great land, contemplating the landscaping options for the palatial home you’ll never own, it’s going to cost you. As much as a really solid evening out for two.
Fifty-five George Washingtons! That’s more than my DSL bill. That’s more than my phone bill. That’s more than my electric bill. That’s six movies at a theatre. That’s two hardbacks. And if you were to save that over the course of the year, that would be $660.
What kills me is that Ray Bradbury couldn’t have been more on the money with his short story, “The Pedestrian,” where a man was arrested simply for taking a stroll while the other obedient citizens were loving their television. Today, television-addicted Americans are arrested for having the temerity to take photos of a bridge or a subway — in other words, they are being reprimanded for documenting the world that they live in.
It is reported that, on average, Americans watch more than 4 hours a day. So let’s say that Joe Sixpack goes to work an eight hour day, and that he gets eight hours of sleep. Of the remaining eight hours he has to devote to leisure, let’s say that one hour is devoted to commuting, another hour is perhaps devoted to eating and preparing his meals, and a good half of that time involves getting hooked into the new fire. Because they’ll need something to talk about around the office water cooler. Which leaves two hours for showering, preparing for work, catching up with friends, getting drunk, and fucking like minks to make the time go by faster. Never mind that at four hours a day, a 65 year old will have spent nine years of her life in front of the tube.
Granted, we can all agree that everyone is entitled to slack time, to escapism, and to catching a second wind. But we should be extremely concerned with these statistics. Because if Joe Sixpack devoted that time to reading a book, then he might become self-taught in the machinations of the world. Or he might discover the many ways in which he’s being screwed over. Or he could volunteer somewhere and help someone in need.
In his book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, Robert Shipler suggests, “Cable is no longer considered a luxury by low-income families that pinch and sacrifice to have it. So much of modern American culture now comes through television that the poor would be further marginalized without the broad access that cable provides. Besides, it’s relatively cheap entertainment.”
Right. Because we all know that Jane Sixpack is going out of her way to watch a hard-hitting documentary on the disparity between the rich and the poor. We all know that Jane Sixpack is pining for the art house film instead of Meet the Fockers. We all know that Jane is getting the bejesus scared out of her watching FOX News.
Television is worse than comfort food. It is the uncontrolled wilderbeast that encourages the passive. It reinforces the troubling notion that life should be easy and effortless. It suggests to the common people that if they are not living in glamorous excess (rather than the glamour that comes from within one’s own integrity) that they are failures.
Shipler should be ashamed of himself for letting televison off too easily in his otherwise fine book. It is interesting that despite his faithful reporting and his determination to explore the issue from all sides, one won’t find either “books” or “libraries” in his index.