Cable Soothes the Savage Beast

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.


  1. TV has a unique tendency to suck up time and attention. Nothing is like it, neither reading nor drinking, not even reading blogs, which is a form of reading. When I moved out on my own decades ago, the easiest thing to do was not to get a set, since entropy is such a powerful thing on its own, why supply it with tools? Now that I’m middle-aged and have young kids, I have an even more serious reason to keep tv out of the house. TV now, even more so than when I was a kid, applies a constant high-pressure wash of consumer culture, both in commercials and the shows. People sometimes forget how much latitude we have to create the culture we live in. When I do watch tv I’m always amazed at how vulgar it all is. Who would want that bilge in their house all day? A big part of it is the incessant demand creation for crap. Poverty is relative to the general level of affluence you live in. America’s poor are well-off on a global scale, and people I know often criticize the poor for their irrational choices (buying expensive, highly-processed foods, for example, rather than cheap, wholesome stuff closer down to the farm than the extruder), but that irrationality comes in through mother’s milk, tv. Tv is more than cheap entertainment, it is a continual brainwash that your own life is not good enough. On a basic level, the real cost of being poor is getting inferior health care and bad schooling, but the effect of tv is a inexorable self-sabatoging discontent.

  2. 2, 7, 5, 4, 8 she watched she said
    All added up to zero
    And nothing in her head

    — pe on my brain this week, i guess —

  3. Eight hours of sleep? Who are you kidding? Six is generous, and you know it. TV cuts into sleeping (and sex– cable TV is a great contraceptive!).

    Note also that it’s not four hours spent sitting still in front of the TV– that’s four hours spent with the TV on. Sometimes that’s “I’m at the gym and the TV is on,” but usually it’s actual watching while doing something else.

    Like, I know a guy who has a TV set up outside his bathroom, and a button that reverses the image so he can watch it in the mirror while he shaves. Background noise.

    So, I think it’s not as bad as all that. I think that although people are watching too much tv, and cutting into their sleep to do it, they’re also leaving the TV on so much they just ignore it as background noise.

  4. TV is wonderful! What else do you think these people are going to do without it? Read? Agitate? Get together and form a more beautiful society, with equal justice, civil rights, balloons for everyone and pony rides for all?

    If this were truly a repressive government, they would *lower* the cost of cable TV, to capture as many eyeballs as possible and render them passive and eagerly awaiting the next new trend. TV for all!

  5. I’m hoping my accountant will be able to write off my cable bill thanks to the Bravo gig.

    This is the first time I’ve ever had cable as an adult, and we almost never watch tv. But without it, there’d be no reception for even broadcast pap like America’s Next Top Model, laughing at which, I’ll admit it, is the only thing making life among southern sorority sisters tolerable some days.

    Also, I get to see snow alerts for CAAF’s mountain aerie on one of our shared local affiliates.

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