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TV meets DTV: another chapter in the American television romance

February 23, 2009
tags: , ,

by keito

What is it about that tubby black Zenith in my living room that encourages me to rearrange my (real) evening schedule around my (fake) TV one?

It’s easy to see why I might choose to forgo vital but intensely boring tasks such as laundry, but it is less clear why I and others around me make requests that our social arrangements be worked around our favorite shows (just last night I heard my sister leave a phone message that said, only half joking, “Call me back, but not on Wednesday night-that’s Lost night, and nobody calls on Lost night!”).  So what is it about television, then, that elevates it to nearly the same status as our nearest and dearest friends?

As I write this, some TV stations have already switched to digital broadcasting (as of February 17th, 2009), per the national mandate that we all must honor our beloved TV by viewing it in better quality.  Other stations, according to the DTV Transition site dtv.gov, will make the switch between March 14th and June 12th, since the original deadline was problematic and many viewers, particularly the elderly, would not be prepared.

And while I’m mentioning dtv.gov, I’d like to emphasize that even our government has a site dedicated to TV, and is apparently very concerned that we might be viewing our news and favorite shows in inferior broadcast quality.  Come on, now!

TV, that old American pastime, has been good to me, however.  It keeps me company in an empty house, spices up a menial task (like folding that long neglected load of laundry), and even comforts me when I’m sick.  Save households that are strictly anti-television, I like to think every child has had the experience of languishing in front of a TV, feverish but mesmerized, if not by the programming then by that special, sallow glow it gives off.

Hell, when I was a kid I even set my alarm for 3:30 in the morning on several Saturdays just so I could watch one of my favorite cartoons (does anybody know what ever happened to G-Force?).  I didn’t even think to question such behavior until, oh, now.

Say what you will about TV, but some of it (some of it) is even educational and really worth watching.  If not for a special on Ireland that aired on the History Channel, I never would have aced the essay portion of a statewide global history exam in high school.  The essay question asked for descriptions of two countries with distinctive geographic features (such as mountains, islands, what have you) and how their history was influenced by said feature; easy enough if you read the portion in your history book on the island nation of Japan, and even easier if the good folks at the History Channel have given you a comprehensive lesson on Hibernia.

So TV has been a good and faithful friend to me, as you can see, though I have not always been likewise.  And that’s the really mystifying part: when I lived in a dorm for a year and had no television, I didn’t miss it.  Not in the slightest.  In fact, I enjoyed not having to rush home to find out what was in the hatch on Lost (to be fair I later caught up on that stuff with the blessedly commercial-free DVDs).  I had plenty of other things to do, like scoffing at all those silly people who were still slaves to their TVs.

TV, however, is therapeutic for many.  Studies have shown that laughter just might be the best medicine; I remember reading years ago about one in which shows that made patients laugh were put on the televisions in their hospital rooms.  The patients who received this “treatment” recovered faster or reported feeling less pain.  In October ’08, in fact, a man credited Ellen Degeneres with aiding his recovery from a near-fatal car accident through her show: the nurses put it on for him every day (he was incapable of moving to use the remote himself), and it was the one hour of the day in which he could laugh and escape from the pain and worry with which he was always dealing.

Call it a national pastime of escapism, then, but television also has a habit of uniting its viewers, whether at the office water cooler, in Facebook groups or through a popular show or TV personality’s inspirational words and actions.  Recent years have seen an outpouring of charitable works on TV, from the ongoing efforts of figures like Oprah to shows that seek to change people’s lives for the better, doing something for them that they otherwise could never do (think shows like Extreme Makeover, Home Edition).  Television’s got a brain and a libido, depending on what you choose to watch, but it’s also, undeniably, got a heart.  And isn’t that how a lot of Americans would wish to have themselves described?

The downside (and oh, there always is one): sometimes the escapism TV provides is a serious addiction.  A page on csun.edu (California State University) supplementing a teaching book by Norman Herr, Ph.D., suggests that our fascination with TV is sometimes another form of substance abuse.  The site reads:

“Millions of Americans are so hooked on television that they fit the criteria for substance abuse as defined in the official psychiatric manual…Heavy TV viewers exhibit five dependency symptoms-two more than necessary to arrive at a clinical diagnosis of substance abuse.  These include: 1) using TV as a sedative; 2) indiscriminate viewing; 2) feeling loss of control while viewing; 4) feeling angry with oneself for watching too much; 5) inability to stop watching; and 6) feeling miserable when kept from watching.”

While I see that TV can have negative consequences and is not the be-all and end-all (and sometimes I just want a little silence!), I recognize the value of the laughter and entertainment which television provides, and the place in the general American culture it holds as a result.  I have a friend who often says that everything is bad for you unless in moderation.  So too with you, TV, my good and inanimate friend.

Although it’s probably worth noting that if it weren’t for the DTV switchover, I’d still be watching my television with rabbit ears (yes, I know, even my grandparents had cable).  Sometimes simple is best, and it probably discourages addictive watching behaviors if channel two is in an eternal snowstorm.  DTV may look better (I had no idea some of my usual TV shows had such vivid colors!), but now I have to wait for a signal? Sheesh!  I love TV, but not that much.

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3 Comments
  1. February 23, 2009 2:32 pm

    Notice how many tech knowledgeable people are low-tech at home in some way? Kind of funny really.

    I could never get into Lost for some reason. BSG, Burn Notice, Monk, Psyche, and the Mentalist are mainstays on my DVR.

    While you are commenting on the countless hours infront of the idiot-box, toss in the countless hours infront of the x-box.

  2. Julienne permalink
    February 24, 2009 2:20 pm

    “…per the national mandate that we all must honor our beloved TV by viewing it in better quality.” Absolutely brilliant. So true.

  3. February 26, 2009 5:48 pm

    I’d just like to add that I was trying to watch the Oscars with my family Sunday night, when my DTV signal CUT OUT IN MID-SONG.

    My DTV signal only comes in at 60% strength on a good day. Sure, it’s better quality, but if your signal goes you’re stuck looking at a blank screen instead of just a fuzzy one.

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