"The most common characteristic of all police states is intimidation by surveillance. Citizens know they are being watched and overheard. Their mail is being examined. Their homes can be invaded." ~ Vance Packard
The Breakup With My Lover
Exclusive to STR
March 5, 2008
I was brought up to believe in the goodness of America , and that if anything bad ever happened, it was the fault of people who didn't realize how good America is. Even my church drilled it into us that the founding of our religion could not have happened anyplace else. You can make the same obvious conclusion that I did: God willed America to be the great country that it is. Therefore, everything about America must also be great: its schools, its military, its certified institutions, universities, entertainments, philosophy, 'freedoms,' etc. Then why, as a 38-year-old middle class man with a steady job and plenty of comfortable things, am I so miserable?
The journey to discover this deep-rooted unhappiness began many years ago in college, at a church-owned university, the anointed university belonging to God's anointed church, in the midst of God's anointed country; a school where people met, made friends, fell in love and got married faster than I could shower and change my anointed underwear; where my life started moving at a pace faster than to my liking; where my nascent introversion was magnified tenfold as a reaction to the strange level of happiness I encountered in other students.
I eventually traced sources of sadness down to the four sources that influenced my life the most, sources to which I hold to this day. I have listed them in order of their bearing on my psyche, for good or ill:
- My parents (I'd say some good, some bad. I figure this is how it is for everybody, when they really let themselves think about it.)
- Religion (Mostly good, but some bad.)
- Public school (What little good there was, crowded out and shouted down by mounds of bad.)
- Television (Pure poison, but feels so right!)
I could go on for quite some time about any of these (although I would probably hold off on bad-mouthing my parents in any of my writing), but for the sake of this article, I want to talk about my passionate affair with a very, very bad lover: television.
So let me start off with a little confession. I watched a lot of crap. I had virtually every season of 'Three's Company' memorized, and saw almost every episode of 'The Love Boat.' In all that time, I can count on one hand the number of times I laughed aloud at anything I saw on either of those shows, or countless others. I remember one night as a teenager, I stayed up until 6 AM just out of curiosity to see what came on after what other program.
I watched television in place of doing. I watched television in place of dreaming, thinking, talking, walking, and anything else in place of working. I watched television in place of relating.
Our first big spat, between my lover and myself, was the summer of 2000 when 'Survivor' made its first appearance. Up until this point, I had convinced myself that television was good at basically four things: delivering live news and information, sports, comedy, and various programs for shut-ins that they might otherwise never get to see in person. So-called reality television fits into none of these categories. It isn't real information, it's not a sport, it isn't funny, and if a shut-in needs to see this, he needs a pillow put over his face.
When reality television exploded and the Internet became a valid source of information, I grew tired of waiting for good shows on primetime, and started using television merely to watch reruns of old shows, reliving the glory days of my wasted teenaged life. Then one day it dawned on me. I was using television at this point to wait for 'M*A*S*H' reruns and the occasional sighting of a 'Golden Girls' episode. Why not purchase these old shows on DVD and get rid of the thing altogether? So that's what I did. I left my satellite up for a while, but called DirecTV to cancel my monthly payments. My lover and I were in for a trial separation.
What I discovered about myself and about our relationship during the separation has changed my life. Being without my lover meant that I would play these DVDs like I was looking through an old photo album, remembering better times with 'family.' It was as if I didn't have a choice, like my lover was actually dead, like I could never revive what once was. Television was simply not necessary at 40-45 dollars a month anymore. So now I save on paying one less bill, and I start my TV-viewing sessions exactly when I want to (like TiVo). Only now I'm beginning to understand something else.
Those ladies sitting around the kitchen table aren't my grandmothers. They're actresses leading separate lives from one another. They don't know me, and never will. Those doctors in that army camp that is supposedly so despairing yet still a wildly funny and inviting place, even more desirable than my own life and relationships, are just actors as well, one of whom has actually expressed some disdain for the devotion of his fans. These people are not family. These situations are implausible, entirely too witty, canned, manufactured, formulaic, and ultimately, these shows to which I am still too entirely devoted have killed something I will never recover, something I am not even aware that I had.
What was the thing that I possessed? I'm not sure, but it is hinted at with what I am learning now, since my lover walked out on me, leaving only traces of what was once there. John Taylor Gatto, an advocate of public school abolition, hints at what it might have been when he says that 'the advent of television, the new nonstop theater, offered easy laughs, effortless entertainment. Thus preoccupied, Americans failed to notice the deliberate conversion of formal education that was taking place, a transformation that would turn school into an instrument of the leviathan state.'
The deliberate conversion of school wasn't the only thing going on, though. Think about how much information, one of the four things at which I used to believe TV was best, is controlled by only a few corporations. Just look at how many of your favorite cable channels are owned by Liberty Media Corporation. For a jaw-dropper, look at who owns and operates this corporation. Now how do you feel about an instrument of information that promises hundreds of channels, sports, news, weather, 'educational,' just-for-women, children's (good God!), movies, and hardcore porn? Perhaps you feel as I do now, that you've been living with a lover and companion who's been manipulating you, even to the point of emotional abuse.
I paid devotion to my lover at the expense of the religion I used to embrace fully. And now I wonder what those ancients were doing, making engraved images and pissing off God. Could it be that they simply could not stand being alone in this world without God near them, so they came up with something that would comfort them in the here and now? Does this sound familiar to you? Is television a modern idol? Is the modern-day clamor for a president or queen the same as the ancient demand for a king?
I gave myself to my lover rather than to family and friends. Now that I live on my own, all of my childhood friends are gone, and I see how within my own family, the television has replaced meaningful conversation, in familiar rooms that didn't used to have it.
Without this poison in my mind and heart, I still wouldn't think much of public school, but even here the TV did some serious damage, as I entered into later years of involuntary public educational servitude--I mean, high school--with that much more trepidation concerning bullying or being singled out.
Television converted me long ago, and prepared me in the most unnatural way to view this world through a distorted lens, leading directly, along with public schooling, and a religion that quite frankly doesn't warn enough, to a dead-end of comfort and Not Much Else.
I am ashamed to admit it, but having said goodbye to my former love, and now considering ways to dispense with the residue of our failed relationship in those electronic photo albums I still cling to, there is not much else to my life. Thanks for nothing, babe.