When I was kid growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, I suffered, in the way most preteens do, from chronic boredom. I cured this by eating as many Now N’ Laters as I could buy with the change I found on the floor of my dad’s closet, and by casting my siblings in productions of musicals that ended in tears and disaster.
Once I’d done all of these things, it was usually only one thirty in the afternoon. With no other alternative, I was driven to physical activity. Hopping on my bike (which I pretended was a horse for much longer than I care to admit), I’d head out to the East Side’s main drag, smack in the middle of both Brown and RISD’s campuses, a place called Thayer street.
Though pretty sterilized these days, It was pretty gnarly then, a strange mixture of naive undergrads and crust-punks. Very often driving down Thayer in a car with my dad he’d look around, shake his head and make some comment about what he wouldn’t give for a fire hose. His disdain, of course, made it beyond appealing to me. I would spend hours going in and out of a series of novelty-style stores that have mostly shut down at this point or moved to other location.
It was in one of these stores that I first learned about the subculture of people who hate television. I discovered this when I spotted a able of rocks for sale, all of which which painted with the words, “KILL YOUR T.V.”
I was struck by a few things when I spied these objets d’arts. First, that I could conceivably make a career out of painting rocks and selling them. The second thing was the violence of the sentiment emblazoned there on the stone. "Kill your TV"? Really? I could understand a parental chiding -- “TV will rot your brain”. After all, I came from a house where the stuff was verboten altogether on weeknights, and the stuff we did watch was supervised.
That said, the strictures my folks put on television didn’t come from a hatred of the medium itself. Watching TV was something we did together. I have insanely fond memories of the whole passel of us sitting down to watch stuff like "SeaQuest" and "The X-Files."
In a way, the way my parents’ supervised our television intake came from a place of respect for the medium. They forbid me from watching "Married with Children," not because it was raunchy, but because, to their mind, it was of time better spent watching old britcoms. Strong words coming from folks who deemed a show featuring a talking dolphin to be high art.
To their credit, television has improved to the point that almost everyone I know would roll their eyes were they to come across a person at a party smugly declaiming that they "don’t even own a TV." With the best programming today accurately reflecting the human condition back at its viewers in a way it never has before, you don’t look smart when you say you don’t watch TV -- you look out of touch.
I will admit to being totally biased. A portion of my income is derived from recapping TV shows. As a writer, it’s been a long-game plan of mine to someday write for the small screen. Since my background is in playwriting, you’d think this wouldn’t surprise people. But there are still theatre purists I know who recoil when I expound upon the virtues of the long-running teleplay format.
We’ve still got this lingering notion after years of kinda shitty television that television is still mostly dumb -- for the thinker, the theatre’s where it’s at when it comes to worthy dramatic pursuits.
Frankly, this reaction baffles me. Because... it’s a bit elitist. We don’t live in the days of Shakespeare’s Globe anymore. Plays are expensive to see. Almost no one does. There is nothing new. Revivals as far as the eye can see, and the new work made contains the hallmark of most modern theatre -- a cunning awareness that it is a play and has an obligation to teach us something, which is condescending and gross.
I defy anyone who has seen anything written by the Davids, both Milch and Lynch, to tell me that language as art on television is dead. I’d also venture that television succeeds in presenting the life of a human in a way that the stage can’t.
What makes a play special is that, when it’s done well, we’re given a full, rich, grasp of a high-stakes moment in a person’s life. One moment. Yes, it’s usually an important one, but it’s still cursory and totally ephemeral. TV? T.V. can give you an entire life, or at the very least, enough of it so that you come away feeling like you know a person -- exhibit "The Sopranos," or "Breaking Bad." But it's not just these new-forms of T.V. that accomplish this feat -- even traditional sitcoms can do it, like "Roseanne" or "Cheers."
If TV were comprised entirely of the "Real Housewives" and "Wipeout," maybe I’d understand the disdain. But also maybe not. Because, come on, if those were the only two shows on television it probably means that their would be a crossover and I’d be lying if I said I would die to see Lisa Vanderpump and Giggy take to the obstacle course.