Neighbors: Why She Doesn't Watch TV

Oct 17, 2007

There’s a woman I know who agreed to share her thoughts on the state of television today, but only on condition of anonymity, since she doesn’t care to field questions on the subject in the future.

An English teacher whose family roots go back to the 1930s in the Poplar Bluff area, this woman claims to have loved television growing up. At dinnertime, her family would “gather around the set to watch The Lucy Show” and other programs of the day. Gunsmoke, Barnaby Jones, and The Carol Burnett Show were favorites. When she names All in the Family as a beloved program, I point up its often-controversial subject matter. “Look, we didn’t feel like only Sesame Street counted as good t.v. Mom felt like Archie Bunker was smart, funny, responsible t.v., and I agree”.

Back in the 1970s, she says, “People weren’t snatching eyeballs from their sockets on the cop shows. They weren’t studying blood-spatter patterns in college dorm rooms”. When reminded that there is clearly a booming market for the kind of drama to which she refers, she responds, “I know, I’m just not in it. I mean, I never learned how to enjoy these kinds of images with family and friends”.

Specifically, what put her off television for good? “It was a lot of things, really,” she says. Among them: increasingly graphic scenes of violence and sexuality; crude language; “endless and annoying” ads; flashy promotions disrupting programming; news anchors reporting one story as other stories march across the lower screen—along with stock quotes. “Who can focus?” she asks.

“When I realized that they’d taken away the buffer of quality family programming almost totally in favor of something different…Well, basically what you have left are the people who see life in some really ugly, self-serving ways, but who use really hot music to share that with you.” She asserts that the other group with the most impact on modern television consists of those “who want to get you into a half-nelson to separate you from your money, or keep you bound to their station”.

What does she do when most people are watching television? “I call family in other states and catch up with them. I read, I cook, I go out, I work on community stuff. I listen to music. It’s all pretty ordinary, really, but I like it all right.”

In an attempt at evenhandedness I ask whether there aren’t at least a few programs geared toward adults and toward families that defy the current trend. Her answer gives me pause.

“I’m sure there are. But there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to go wading through the swamp to get to them. Life really is too short.”