It is after midnight. In the space of five minutes I have watched snippets of CNN, Comedy Central, Bravo, TCM, AMC, E!, and Style, a visual collage of televised culture, the ecstatic dance of 500 channels. But then I remember that TV-Turnoff Week has officially begun, and I've already blown it. This bodes ill for my success. I take certain measures to ensure that I won't backslide tomorrow, and at 1:30 a.m., I fitfully fall asleep, wondering why Craig Kilborn's new show is on so inconveniently late.
Day 1 (Thursday, April 22)
Day 1 of my "TV-Freedom" begins. (I've unplugged all of the televisions in the house.) But rather than writing a chapter of my long-delayed novel, I run downstairs, consult the "Green Section," and redline all the shows I will be missing, offering up a prayer that this week there will be no airings of my secret, perverse obsession figure skating.
My first night without you
Tonight, the new episode of "The Tom Green Show" is on, and belying all demographic calculus to the contrary, a 32-year-old, black woman really enjoys this show. A moral question of staggering proportions that must be dealt with by all TV-Free Week participants arises To Tape or Not to Tape? but by 9:50 p.m. I am too tired figure out which VCR tapes are blank and which preserve Great Moments in Figure Skating.
Even though I know that this is National TV-Turnoff Week and that there are millions, if not tens of other people not watching TV, I feel lonely and disconnected. I am entirely convinced that there are many Exciting And Important Things happening on TV right now, and that I am missing out on all of them. I try to imagine billions of people who are falling asleep right now, not to the flickering light of TV but to the soft light of the moon.
As soon as I wake up I'm dying to watch CNN to learn any new scrap of information about "The School Shooting" or "The Crisis in Kosovo." These tragedies have devolved into fictional miniseries whose "characters" loom mythologically large in my imagination.
Needing reinforcements, I grab the National TV-Turnoff Week brochure, which reminds me that by the age of 65, the average person will have spent eight full years watching television. I turn to the newspapers for any pertinent reports. The crumply, ink-scented paper under my fingers evokes a sense memory the first thing I ever learned how to read was a newspaper.
Day 3: A Slight Relapse
I'm sitting in the kitchen with my mother chatting about Pamela Anderson Lee's boobs and the lesbian kiss on "Party of Five," and I suddenly recoil we have been watching "Entertainment Tonight," and I hadn't even realized it.
My brief relapse is like a snort of something illegal heady, fleeting, and really stupid.
It's Sunday night I will be missing "The Simpsons." Big Time. And I wanted to see Michael Moore's new show, "The Awful Truth." Instead, I turn on NPR and laugh hysterically while two brothers from Boston snort and chortle and mock the silly people who call in with their car problems. I should be more radio-savvy. I should listen to "Car Talk" every week.
I am starting to resent those TV-Free people. Cynically, I wonder what their investment is in promoting less TV viewing. I consult the brochure. One of the revelations I am supposed to be having is the discovery of "how marvelous the real world is."
I eagerly scour newspaper articles for evidence of the marvelousness of the real world. I am disappointed.
Others do not sympathize with my withdrawal symptoms (trying to turn on the radio with the TV remote, a general air of distractibility and confusion). The naturally TV-Free mother of one of my music students says, quite eloquently, "I just don't like TV!" Such protestations are completely alien to me. I nod in agreement, but secretly I'm thinking, "But I'll bet you haven't seen 'Emergency Vets' on Animal Planet!!"
Perhaps I don't miss television. Perhaps what I really miss is the flickering glow of the fire around which my Neolithic ancestors used to gather at the end of the day, huddling closer and ever closer to ward off the unnamed animal fears. Watching reports about Kosovo and Columbine High makes me feel like the danger is "out there" somewhere, beyond the light of the electronic fire.
Day 8: The Final Day!
I'm reading March's "Vanity Fair" when I realize that The Experiment is over. A quotation by the righteously curmudgeonly Noam Chomsky pops out at me: "The goal of the powers that be is to reduce the social unit to you and your TV." This is a notion which will never appear on television. If taking a break from TV has allowed this one tiny, weedlike subversive idea to enter my consciousness, perhaps it was worth it.
"The Matrix" depicts a world in which humans are literally plugged into a giant network, and unmoving, they receive a transmitted fantasy which allows them to believe they are living a full and rich life. In this Dystopia, the ultimate act of defiance is to unplug yourself and to stop dreaming.
The metaphor is not lost on me.
So, do I go back to my former channel surfing ways? Do I resume my addiction to E's "Fashion Emergency," hosted by the heroically large-sized model Emme? Will I ever get over my fascination with "Talk Soup's" John Henson and his strange gray streak of hair? Will I renew my insane concern with whether or not John Stewart will triumph as the new host of "The Daily Show?"
Am I utterly unrepentant, unreformed, unrehabilitated?
I can't address that right now, because "Burden of Proof" is on.
Beth Almore is a graduate of Brown University's M.F.A. in Writing program.
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