Monday, November 5, 2012

My Aversion to Television

Maybe the title of this post is a little inaccurate. 'Aversion' makes it sound like I just cannot bear to watch TV. That's not true. I like TV, but I don't feel the need to always be watching something, in the way I watch five to seven movies per week (tame compared to some film buffs), and must always have a book going. I'm just not naturally attracted to television as a medium. I have several reasons for this, which I will detail below.

1. If you get sick of a show halfway through the series, you have to keep watching

A few years ago, I watched the first four seasons of the British Skins. I watched the first episode of season five, and I just didn't like the new cast at all. So, I stopped watching. Something similar happened with Supernatural. With that program, I didn't even tune in from the beginning. I started watching the series halfway through the first season, and watched until the end of the second series (if my memory serves me correct). When you decide to watch a television show, you're taking a gamble, and because some shows stretch on for plenty of seasons, it can be a big gamble. Of course, with a show like The Simpsons, it's different. You can pick any episode (except maybe for Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part Two) and enjoy it as its own thing. The narrative arcs aren't as developed there. But with many other shows, what happens on a weekly basis could potentially change the whole outlook for the series. You have to watch every episode, in order, to fully delight in what the program has to offer. If you suddenly get bored of a show and don't want to watch it anymore, then all the viewing that went before becomes obsolete. You watched those episodes expecting the show to build to a crescendo, but the writing suddenly became stale and now you're left with a bad taste in your mouth. You wasted your time. With a film, if you get bored of it 45 minutes in, you know you only have to sit through another 45 minutes before you're free (I use a 90-minute film as an example). In that time, you can play a game on your phone or do something else to pass the time.

2. Fandoms and the pressure to conform

Not a day goes by when something related to Doctor Who doesn't flash up on my Tumblr dashboard. Of course, there's nothing wrong with fans of a show expressing their devotion to the program, but it is annoying when you have to measure your worth as a fan of a TV show by comparing your devotion to other fans. With television, subcultures emerge based on particular shows. Doctor Who devotees are Whovians; Star Trek fans are notoriously known as Trekkies. There are more, but those are the first two that came to my head. Let's say you watch Doctor Who and you like it enough to keep watching, but don't love it to the point of obsession. You may feel as though you're not worthy enough to continue watching the show, as you look around you and see fans drowning themselves in merchandise and dropping the show's jargon into everyday conversation. That's one of my main criticisms of television. Liking something is not good enough. If you watch a TV show, you have to love it. If you don't love it, you may as well not call yourself a fan at all. And yes, I know fandoms exist around films as well (most notably Star Wars), but because films and their sequels exist as single entities and seldom evolve, it's easier to get away with just liking them. When a TV show undergoes changes (such as a new Doctor in Doctor Who), you're expected to grapple with these changes and have debates with other fans. With film, you have debates about the meaning of everything, or whether the actors were cast in appropriate roles. And these dialogues are more private than those related to TV shows. The pressure to conform also involves watching things that are current. Last night, I began watching The Inbetweeners (UK). I chose that out of all the shows in the world because the premise naturally resonated with me. Many television elitists would scoff at me and say "Um, you realise that show's no longer running? Why don't you watch something that's still on air like Breaking Bad?" Well, I don't want to watch Breaking Bad because the crime genre generally bores me. Is that a superficial reason? Perhaps. I don't doubt it is a great show. I can't remember the last time a show created this much buzz. It's just that my viewing sensibilities clash with what Breaking Bad is all about. On a side note, here's my general rule: If I'm going to watch a TV series, I prefer something light and comedic, with a spot of drama to spice things up. With film, I like light stuff and dark stuff, but the dark stuff makes for more absorbing viewing. 

3. The amount of time required

One of my favourite TV shows of all time is Fawlty Towers. Some of the funniest stuff I've ever seen or heard. But I don't only like it because of its humour. I like it because there were only 12 episodes produced. Each episode runs for approximately half an hour, which means the entire series runs for about six hours. You could easily watch them all in a day (although I suggest savouring them over a week). Let's face it. It's daunting to start watching a new show when you know how long it will take you. Some people may juggle their time between TV shows. They may watch an episode of The Office in the morning, and an episode of Homeland at night. Personally, I can't do that. I can only devote myself to one TV series at a time. It's the same with books—I like to emotionally invest in one at a time. That's why I would never watch something like The West Wing. Yes, Aaron Sorkin is supposedly a god of writing, but I have practically zero interest in political dramas, and it would take me two and a half months to get through if I were to watch two episodes per day (there are 156 episodes in total). And I realise people can watch five or more episodes in a row. Many people enjoy TV marathons. I don't. Watching two consecutive episodes of The Simpsons is enough to make me get restless. I have the same issue with film. I can only watch two movies per day, and they must be hours apart. There are two reasons behind this: 1. I get sore if I sit for too long, and 2. I need time to reflect on what I have just seen. I can't just finish watching something and go straight onto something else. I like to think about what happened, and what the writer's intentions were. So, you see, I can get through five culturally important films in a week, while it would take me just over a week on average to get through one season of a TV series. 

Now you know my main reasons for shying away from television. There are some more, like how I find cliffhangers annoying, or how you can feel the full emotional impact of a film in the time it takes to watch it, but must wait till the end of a season to feel some catharsis from a TV show. I won't go into those. The three I explained above are the main ones. I should note that 'TV' as it is used in this post refers to works of fiction. I am far more lenient when it comes to game shows, documentary programs (Louis Theroux, for example) or comedic non-fiction (excuse the vague label; think The Chaser and Lawrence Leung). I can consume them far more rapidly, and I find them oddly immersive. I can assure you that I am loving The Inbetweeners so far. Sure, I'm only two episodes in, but this is right down my alley. As for the next show I'll watch, I can't guarantee what it will be. I'm thinking Parks and Recreation because of the amount of people who rave about it. It's a comedic series, so I'll probably like it. I'll end with a TV series recommendation of my own. The show is Black Mirror. This British series only contains three episodes (although a second season has been announced). Each episode deals with a different cast, setting and reality. It is absolutely remarkable and like nothing I've seen before. It's best to know as little about it as possible when you watch it, so this is where I stop.    

No comments:

Post a Comment