It's TV, not eternal damnation in Hell
// Jonty Davies

How often do you hear someone say that they don't watch television? You hear it all the time, peppered with varying faux-intellectual reasoning. It's one of the many ubiquitous things that people are condescendingly proud of.

Honestly, I don't buy it. Except, of course, with this one French chick in Barcelona – she was so cool that she didn't watch TV, didn't drink, didn't listen to music and, dead serious, didn't have sex (a lifestyle choice was not for lack of attractiveness). All she did was chain-smoke Gauloise cigarettes and look forlornly out the window, muttering nihilistic profundities. She was awesome. So, if you're not a chaste French existentialist, get over yourself.

TV, like film, music, and paintings of the High Renaissance, is simply a medium of artistic expression. It's a unique one, too, in that it takes place in a long-form style. Any good story will be replete with good characters, and TV's drawn-out format allows for a more comprehensive acquaintance with those characters. A good movie is very capable of drawing clear character portraits, but 90 minutes is little time to welcome a new figure into your life and grow with them – learning from their mistakes, mourning their misfortunes, and sharing in their triumphs.

To illustrate, consider the greatest show ever made: The Simpsons. From 1989 to 1999, Matt Groening's satirical sitcom changed the game for what a cartoon could be. It was hilarious, sentimental, and intelligent. The Simpson clan became a surrogate family for all of us; a reflection of our universal pathos.

Back before television, Charles Dickens would entertain the masses by releasing long-form stories in segmented publications. That format eventually found its way onto the emerging format of radio and in turn to television.

Think of the cultural phenomenon of Seinfeld; the visceral drama of Oz; the real-time mafia antics of The Sopranos; the brilliant silliness of Monty Python; and the charming insanity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These are all legitimate contributions to the global artistic canon and they could only exist in one form. (Have you seen The Simpsons Movie or worse, Buffy?)

Yet still you hear people say that there's nothing good on TV. You hear it all the time, vindicated by gawking and obvious references. Of course bad art is produced: every medium and genre is saturated with dreadful contributions. In fact, for every work that pushes forward the very foundations of quality, there are countless others actively trying to destroy progress.

Take, for example, the modern world of reality TV. Millions watch the cast members of Jersey Shore publicly humiliate themselves, justifying it with unfounded voyeurism and self-importance. Feeling better about yourself by reeling in the flaws of others is no way to enhance your own personal value. It's a quick fix solution, like eating a candy bar when you're hungry – fast, easy and detrimental overall.

However, using reality TV to prove that TV as a medium is bad carries the same gravitas as saying, “There's no such thing as good music. Just look at that shitty Nickelback song!” or, “Nobody has ever made a good film. Battlefield Earth exists!”

One of the true gripes with television comes down to advertising. Apart from constantly interrupting your favorite show, advertising shapes what you get to watch. Television is a huge revenue circuit, and its revenue is built on advertising. With global revenue to the tune of $377.5 billion, one could see that advertisers have considerable investment in what you see on TV. Thus, they have great sway with programmers.

Advertisers naturally advertise with programming that plays to their market share (i.e., Polly Pocket ads showing up during the Rugrats commercial break) but with so much financial claim, advertising and advertisers begin to control the programming itself. Financial sway allows for parties of interest to dictate programming that will encourage viewership and marketable direction. Even more, those creating shows are inclined to build around the commercial breaks, rather than vice-versa.

In recent years, however, new outlets have provided opportunity to by-pass such realities. Countless internet sites offer entire series free of traditional advertising breaks, and even more reliably, Netflix has got your back big time.

Before dismissing the entire medium of television as a plague destined to ruin thoughtful civilization, look at its positive offerings and learn to be wary of its negative ones. You might just tune into something great. If you dedicate yourself to a fulfilling enterprise, the time you wasted is not wasted time.

//Jonty Davies, web editor
//Graphics by Britta Bachus

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