Television continuously sinking to new lows

I am beginning to watch television. Mind you, I’m not watching it for hours at a time, the kind of behavior that suggests chronic depression and loneliness, or simply a boring personality. Instead, my watching habits are limited to about 10 minutes a day, the consequence of my roommate receiving a small kitchen television as a gift. So I have an excuse: When I walk through my door, I have no choice but to stare straight at the tube. And I watch it.
I have realized, over the past few years of not watching television, that the 35 or so channels on television consist of no more than fleeting, juxtaposed images speeding by in front of you without giving you time to think; that these images represent idealized messages about the society around you, true or false; and that these images tire viewers with their complexity and utter meaninglessness: Television is not a fulfilling medium. I have written endless pages discussing these points, however, and I want to focus here on what exactly it is I see on television, now that I watch it.
What I see on television is nauseating crap, but you probably know this already. The Fox network, owned by evil megalomaniac Rupert Murdoch, thinks big business and far-right political interests should rule our lives, and much of its Fox “News” is a running advertisement to convince you of this thinking. Murdoch and his network also think you are incredibly ignorant and enjoy watching young black men get slapped around by mostly white cops (the recurring theme of Fox’s dozen or so “crime” shows).
I could continue in the same tone with standard media comment about how shows like “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” are painfully awful, but I find them a rather charming (if disgusting) tool to sit the working class down for a half hour and show them how neat selling one’s soul to capitalism can really be.
But there is far more disgusting stuff to whine about. The latest in TV depravity: “Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire?”
According to the show’s producers, there is no shortage of sad, rich people willing to get married to a perfect stranger on live television, which I found improbable at first but, at second glance, it makes perfect sense. It is ironic proof that money doesn’t buy happiness or even a steady relationship. Although this concept is standing there made flesh, the show’s contestants are too dim and too greedy to grasp it.
Who’d want to marry one of these millionaires and be trapped with them forever? If the wealth is inherited, you’d be stuck with some braying, emotionally constipated inbred named Piggy or Fruity for all eternity in some vast, under-heated house or with a glossy, vain Euro-trashy type who indulges in plastic surgery and wears pale yellow cashmere V-necks.
If it isn’t inherited, the chances are that your millionaire worked hard for that money: Wealth does not happen by osmosis. Which is fine, except that being a kind, sensitive flower doesn’t usually lead to making a fortune, whereas being a bastard does.
And although an aptitude for bastardness is no bad thing in small amounts — at any rate, it’s preferable to being a weeping doormat — cozying up to one who’s so good at it that he or she has gotten rich in the process wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities.
Winning a millionaire mate on trash TV would also be spectacularly unwholesome. But if you watch TV, you know that’s a trend. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing: If you’re suddenly despondent over your unfulfilling, strangely vapid lifestyle, at least take consolation that it’s fashionable.
There is a line in an episode of the cable series “Sex and the City” — a distant relative of “Ally McBeal,” except these babes would claw our winsome lawyer friend to death and then devour her — that inverts Edith Wharton and asserts that we are all living in “the age of un-innocence.” This episode kicks off with the worrisome observation that nobody has breakfast at Tiffany’s any more, and that nobody has affairs to remember (mercifully, nobody forgets a good film title).
Are these women with sharp minds and sharper fingernails getting nostalgic for wholesomeness? For a society of un-innocents, we are touchingly and increasingly preoccupied with sweetly old-fashioned notions of love and, especially, marriage. Are we getting this from being socialized to marry at an early age, from worry about the threat of a lonely life without companionship, or from worry that the forlorn existence of a middle-aged man like television’s Frasier Crane — floating from date to date, as it were — might await us?
Hopes for wedded bliss portrayed on television might be misleading. Several byproducts of marriage disturb me greatly: children, for instance. On a recent talk show, I witnessed what even the most jaded TV watcher is supposed to gasp at. Talk about un-innocence: Here comes Cody, age two, staring blankly at the audience. He drinks juice from a bottle and wears pajamas. Cody spends 10 hours a day playing computer games on his Nintendo console. His favorite game is GoldenEye, which is aimed at 15-year-olds. “Die!” he shouts, shooting down conspicuously Russian and Asian enemies. Cody’s mother, Tammy, 33, and not technically retarded, says Nintendo gives her poor child “something to do.”
Are you offended yet? I was, and I haven’t even seen the worst TV has to offer. I should say I can learn things from watching it, though, if I am careful. Now more than ever, for the good of the world, I will try not to have children. And if I do, I will not let them near a Nintendo. My children will read, they will think, they will play with toys, they will play outdoors with their friends and hopefully they will never watch much television.
Noah Dvorak is a Daily columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]