How Growing Up Without TV Turned Me Into a TV Junkie

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Image by Lizzy Acker
Photo: Lizzy Acker

When my mom was pregnant with me, she read the book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and decided that she didn't want her kids to grow up with TV and so we didn't. There was a short period of time when we lived at my grandma's house and were allowed Saturday cartoons while eating sugar cereal and The Cosby Show once a week, and then there were those two semesters when I was a freshman in college and my roommate had a TV set up so she could watch old episodes of Three's Company every single night, but other than that, I've historically been without an actual functioning TV set. I've always thought my parents' decision was pretty bad ass, to tell you the truth.

My childhood was well spent without days of TV. I read books, I wrote stories, I made weird art, I crashed my bike into things. But of course, in the back of my head, I always romanticized the life of the TV'ed. Just switching it on to whatever magical entertainment might await, a dream of music videos, hospital and courtroom dramas and a constant stream of reality shows. No more boring nights wondering what all your friends are doing because you'd be doing it to: watching TV.

When I recently moved into a place with free cable, it seemed like a huge waste not to let the Comcast guys put in a cable box. And once it was in, it seemed like a shame not to get a little monitor at least. I mean, what could it hurt really to finally enter the world everyone else takes for granted, at age 31?

Oh, friends. So much is the answer. So, so much.

For the first 20 seconds, there was the issue of nothing being on TV. I'm used to watching shows on Hulu Plus, Netflix, HBOGo, Showtime Anytime etc, on a small laptop. I've become accustomed to premium television with minimal commercial interruptions. So when I flipped through the channels, on say a Tuesday afternoon (I'm a freelancer, okay?), all there was was cooking shows and reruns of Law & Order. I have literally seen every episode of both SVU and Criminal Intent (I went through some dark break-up times; I'm not ashamed). For a second, I would consider turning the TV off and then...I would watch the episode of Law & Order again, saying to the TV: "Oh, come on! It's clearly the little girl." I got caught up on the Kardashians. I watched every Blazers basketball game. By which point, the issue was that I wanted to watch everything.


Like a leaky nuclear plant after an earthquake, the problem is only getting worse. Besides the Blazers and the Kardashians, there is Juan Pablo the homophobic serial kisser on The Bachelor who takes up two hours of every Monday night (I finally understand hate-watching). There is still the premium stuff I have to watch; those commitments haven't gone away. I mean, if you aren't watching True Detective and House of Cards, you might as well leave planet Earth. Plus the Olympics are on every night. I'm recapping Downton Abbey so there's that once a week. How am I supposed to make money that isn't directly related to television watching? How am I supposed to eat? Or sleep? Did you know Scandal is coming back in like a week? And there's a new House of Lies? Did you hear that Trophy Wife isn't totally terrible? Did you know you can watch all of The Walking Dead On Demand? Did you see that Bates Motel is streaming on Netflix?

There is one thing my parents, who are truly wise in a lot of ways, might have missed out on teaching me: how to watch TV with any restraint. Restraint with information has always been hard for me. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I used to get in trouble all the time for reading books while the teacher was talking. I would walk home reading books. I would stay up all night reading books. Stories are great  and I wanted to know all of them. But after awhile, I learned a valuable lesson: you can't possibly read every book. And you probably don't want to. Some books are genuinely stupid. Some books are filled with lies. Some books have ugly covers. You have to make choices.

Making choices with TV is a lot harder in some ways. When you get started on a show, even if it's something bad for America like The Bachelor, you not only get sucked into the plot, you develop a relationship with the characters. With a book, you have to work towards this relationship by using your brain to read and create the world in your imagination, but on TV, you just sit there on your couch and the whole world streams directly into your brain.

TV numbs you out, allows you to enter another world effortlessly, which is exactly what it is that drugs and alcohol do that make people addicted. So, how do you practice moderation? Or is this, like my parents thought, a cold-turkey-only situation?

I guess the final answer on that one remains to be seen. For now, I am trying to work on making choices and then sticking to them. I stopped watching Looking because the gay dudes I actually know in San Francisco in real life are much more interesting (and cuter) than the ones on HBO. I'm not allowed to rewatch any episodes of any cop drama of any kind. I'm not even going to start The Bates Motel, unless I get H1N1. I'm saying no to House of Lies and doing House of Cards instead.

Also, I'm doing more yoga and trying so hard to pick hanging out with real people over hanging out with imaginary ones. I'm acknowledging that I want to always be watching True Detective, while pointing out to myself that wouldn't actually make me happy. It's hard work but as they say, one day at a time.

What about you? How do people who grew up with TV deal with the temptation to watch every single day, all day and all night?


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