Why I no longer watch television
By Parson Thru
Or listen to the radio or read newspapers.
Television is a subterfuge. Nothing on TV is real. The medium and the need to meet viewing targets demand it. It is a victim of its funding model. Drama has become entertainment and entertainment is a fix, synthesised to a known formula. The formula understands what will hook a viewer and keep them goggle-eyed and dumb-struck in front of a screen to sit for hours, passive and on receive to absorb whatever the real message is day after day after day.
News is no longer news, but voyeurism played out on a never-ending loop. Political reporting is nothing of the sort, merely the provision of “opportunities” for media-smart political machines to gain air-time, or the airing of gossip about political personalities (the “personality” is a television creation), manufacturing them, manipulating them and destroying them on a never-ending conveyor of “newsworthy” stories selected at daily editorial meetings.
The politicians themselves are products of the editorial and proprietal system, carefully selected from within a domesticated and castrated political species. Real politics are regarded as tedious or extreme and denied air-time. Trying to educate viewers and get them to think would only lose them to competing – more entertainment-driven – channels.
Perhaps all this is because the advanced democracies – which share very similar media models – have attained societal paradise, where there is little left to do but gossip, grumble and gorge oneself. The rot has set in – the arteries are clogged with democratised TV programming.
Radio is little more than another formula, cleverly designed, honed over many years to deliver a primary message that goes almost unnoticed by listeners. It is hooked into their mainline on a looped feed into the hypothalamus, carried like malaria in the flow of popular music and shallow bonhomie, providing what a lazy mind craves and what sponsors desire. It falls over itself to be amusing. Pushing an endless parade of disposable motor-mouth presenters in front of microphones to spout unbroken consumable patter for listeners to fade in – fade out, switch on – switch off and not miss anything of importance.
Music radio is falling victim to choice. The ability to carry around and listen to a library of music that the BBC might previously have housed in an entire building is a modern luxury that tends to over-face my appetite. So I listen only to what I choose to hear, trying to understand and play the music that matters to me. The learning, practicing and playing of instruments is where I spend much of my spare time. I pick up new music as I hear it and am receptive to it.
Earnest presenters of “serious” talk radio spill the beans and attempt to put egg on the faces of newsworthy figures over breakfast, taking the luxury of three hours to cover what might be said in thirty minutes. More gossip. Storms in breakfast tea-cups. Admittedly, I run the risk of missing occasional points of interest that appear, like rare orchids, for intrepid collectors willing to put in the effort. If I had more time or gave myself less to do, I would probably listen to the World Service.
As for newspapers, anything urgent finds its way through by word-of-mouth or as a free-good held up in a railway carriage. If the world is ending, someone will tell me. If it is ending imminently, the papers will have already gone to press. Gossip and sport are gravitating their way to being presented on the back-side of adverts in the free morning papers.
“Serious” news and comment are increasingly a veneer on the pages of swollen dailies more interested in selling holidays, goods and services to their carefully surveyed readership. That is where the real money is made. For entertainment, they pedal “personalities” from politics, sport or – eating of itself – the media.
Books, on the other hand… A book demands commitment and concentration, but rewards its reader with the depth and richness of shared human experience. It is digested on a mental level that requires removal from all of the above. Many busy people claim never to have read a book (probably a novel or other work of literature) as they drive for success in their lives. I’m not sure that I could tell you what success means for me. But our shelves are full, despite a cull last summer, and yet I still buy. Why is there so little time?
So the television and radio remain silent. I don’t buy newspapers. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m not. In the end, it comes down to the opportunity cost of switching them on or buying them. Not just now, thanks.
Postscript: I suppose I am also trying to shift the balance from consumption towards production. I realise that it is a balance, but I have so much that I want to say and do, and switching into passive mode each evening or weekend isn't going to achieve that. I do read in any spare time that I am not playing guitar or, more recently, banjo. I have picked up Spanish again in a small way and have just begun researching the history of 20th Century Spain. As with everything, the causes of my withdrawal from mass media channels (life?) are complex and I am only really toying with them here.
Thanks for reading.