I made a mistake. A big mistake.
I was on a business trip to Boston after photographing a hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the Columbus Blue Jackets at the TD Garden in the north end of Beantown. It was midnight as I walked past the lively bar adjacent to the cozy Hyatt Place hotel I stayed for the night.
I was tired. I’ll start with that excuse.
Entering the frigid hotel room where the air conditioning had been cranking for the past six hours, I was about to do a bad thing. I should have just planned to grab my book, get under the covers alone and read myself to sleep.
But I didn’t.
Yes, you probably guessed correctly what happened next. It was the worst decision that I could have made.
I turned on the television.
In full disclosure, we hardly ever turn the television on in our house anymore. Having three young boys has made Elizabeth and I make a radical stand against the bizarre content flooding the screen. You can scoff at me. Call me an old grump. An out of touch curmudgeon. I’m cool with that.
I watched a football game with our nine-year-old son a few months back. The words erectile disfunction were mentioned more during the commercials than screen passes were thrown during the game. And if they weren’t marketing to the older men with sexual problems, someone was lying dead on a boat with bullet wounds throughout his body. How many crime scene shows can one network put on the air, anyway? Mind you, this was during a game on a Sunday afternoon.
I miss the times when the only thing marketed were soft drinks and the Budweiser clydesdales. Those were the good ol’ teeth rotting, alcoholism days. Back when things were simple.
At the hotel, I pressed the alluring red button of the remote and proceeded to spend the next two hours completely wasting the next two hours. I saw at least seventeen murders- six of them by Will Smith alone during a wild little spree he went on in some industrial park. I was surprised because I had always heard that Will was such a nice guy.
My television was a colorful dispenser of fights, cheating spouses, political vitriol, even more murders, a basketball game featuring a team from Iowa and at least four infomercials. I found refuge in the infomercial. Fortunately I didn’t get depressed enough to buy the electric razor.
Does anyone really watch this stuff? It turned out that they do.
The average American watches more that five hours of television each day, according to the March 2014 “Cross-Platform Report” released by the Nielsen media ratings company.
The average American is also overweight, in debt, depressed and anxiety ridded. At the same time, Americans are overwhelmingly polled as feeling overworked and too busy. How in the world does the average American have time to even watch five hours of television?
As a recent outsider of the boob tube world, those two hours of empty calorie consumption left me anxious, depressed and negative. My old political hangups flared again and I saw the world as a much darker place.
I had a conversation about politics with a friend recently. They were stunned that their own sibling couldn’t see how their political party was so out of touch and dangerous. The sibling felt the same way back. They both watch opposing cable news stations exclusively.
And it made me think that the higher ups at these competing networks are in a private room somewhere giving each other high fives and fist bumps behind the scenes. Sometimes I truly believe they are intentionally trying to keep everyone mad at each other. It’s good for ratings. Who’s going to keep watching if they calmly, rationally and intelligently argue both sides fairly?
But is that reality? And don’t even get me started on reality television. I’ve been around enough television production to know that hardly any of it is real, even the ones you think are.
I what do you think forty hours of television a week can do to a mind?