I like television. Network, PBS, cable, premium channels, streaming video, whatever. I like it for its mind-numbing as well as its mind-expanding qualities, and which program I choose depends on the state of my psyche. I know there are people who passionately believe that television in all its forms is lowering our collective IQ. And I have to admit to the loss of at least a few brain cells from watching too many HGTV shows featuring whiny 20-something couples complaining about the lack of “wow factor” in the homes they’re viewing for purchase. (And seriously, how did they get enough money to buy a $600,000 house at that stage in their lives? I want one of those jobs.) But on the other hand, I’ve learned a lot of things from my TV viewing.
For instance, thanks to more than my share of Lifetime movies, I know that if a deranged stalker kidnaps you, and wants you to put on this really beautiful red dress he bought you, and asks you to sit down to a candlelit dinner with him in the abandoned house he’s stashed you in, just say yes and tell him how nice he looks. Don’t yell and tell him he’s crazy, because you think you were in trouble before? Boy, you’re really in for it now. Just be quiet and buy yourself some time.
Or, if a psychotic killer has broken into your house, don’t run upstairs and hide in the closet. Run out the front door, get outside onto the street, and start yelling and screaming. Do not run into the bathroom, where the lock won’t hold, and all you can do is crouch in the corner and whimper. But, oh yeah, don’t forget, if you do get mixed up and do that, use the lid of the toilet tank to smash him in the head after he beats down the door.
From a million cop shows I’ve learned that if you’re the crazed killer, or are ever suspected of being one, you don’t have to go downtown when the police come to question you. Not unless they arrest you. And remember, always lawyer up, no matter how nice the cop seems to be or how innocent you are. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Thanks to a fondness for PBS, I’m pretty sure I could function in early 20th century British society—upstairs or downstairs. Though I still have a few tips to pick up about being a midwife in 1950s East London, or a detective in World War II Sussex. But I’m definitely up on my British slang enough to know when someone dodgy is taking the piss, and that I’m completely knackered after a bout of binge-watching.
I will probably never forgo my fondness for passive entertainment–if you build a couch, I will come–but I do know that there comes a time to take a break. That was brought home to me a few years ago. A friend and I were sitting on the porch swing (another favorite low energy past time). We noticed two teenagers emerge from a parked van up the street, and begin going door-to-door. We immediately linked the activity to a news story we’d both read about con artists who lure kids, often runaways with no resources, into canvassing neighborhoods collecting for fake charities. The young recruits are exploited, their pay is withheld, they’re housed in terrible conditions, but they’re too brainwashed and/or despairing to get out. We discussed whether or not we needed to intervene. Then at the same moment it hit us both. We weren’t recalling a news story. We were outlining the plot of a Law & Order episode.
Well, that did give me pause and I retreated to a place I often go. It requires slightly more engagement, but it’s even better at offering relief from present day anxieties, stress, irritations, worries, boredom or myriad other conditions, as well as scope for the imagination. There’s nothing like a good book. Not even television.