The Television Experience

There are things that I will watch on television but will never, never rent. This is not, necessarily, a "high culture" versus a "low culture" thing. It isn't that I only rent sophisticated movies/television shows. (I rent a ton of Star Trek and other sci-fi shows, for example. And I keep waiting for Scarecrow and Mrs. King to come out on DVD so I can rent it through Netflix.) Rather the criteria has more to do with the time I am willing to admit (to myself) that I will spend doing something. And this is one reason why television is so wonderful and why, I think, commercial television will never disappear.

I will not, for instance, rent Seinfeld. Or Friends. Or Hallmark movies. Or movies like Legally Blond. I look at them in the library, and I just can't bring myself to say, "I'm actually going to set aside time during my day to watch this stuff." But if it is on T.V., that's okay, that's different. It isn't planned. Besides I'm eating dinner or reading articles for school or going over grades at the same time. I'm multi-tasking. The T.V. is just background.

The "I'm going to pretend that I don't actually watch this stuff" isn't the only factor. I never rent CSI: Las Vegas, although I'm an assiduous CSI watcher. I love House, but I never rent House or tape it. For me, CSI and House encapsulate the television experience. Separate the shows from that experience and they simply aren't the same. I taped House once and ended up watching the commercials anyway (not on purpose; I forgot I was watching it on tape, but it indicates how important the television experience is). It isn't necessarily that I like commercials, although I do like some, but that the experience of watching ten minutes of plot with three minutes of break (in which I can read, correct a paper, vacuum) is part of the whole television experience. It's like those nineteenth century plays which including Dancing Barbers and vaudeville acts between Hamlet's soliquoy and his death. Without the interruptions, it's just some two-bit plot with music. With the interruptions, it becomes TELEVISION, an hour of plot and previews and commercials and music and commentary and news excerpts. And really, there's a big difference.


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