Southern Views

Is it me, or has this “reality TV” thing gone just a bit too far? Seriously, how long can a nation be held on the edge of its collective seat, waiting to see who is voted off the island or who will get the boot from “the Donald”? Do we really care who will win the Amazing Race or who Snooki’s next hook-up will be? There have got to be better entertainment options and a better cultural legacy to leave our children than “You’re fired!

I benefited greatly from living in a non-traditional, intergenerational family. My wife and I shared our home with her 91-year-old mother until her recent passing. As children of the ‘60s, we often listened in wonderment to momma’s tales of growing up in southern Wisconsin in a rural diary farming community. She certainly knew what it was to put in a hard days work. If anyone longed for some good, involved entertainment it was her.

It seems that in momma’s generation, people actually engaged in their own lives. They knew their neighbors and were plugged into the community in which they lived. Quilting parties with the neighbors, board games with the kids, and old-fashioned conversation provided diversion, as well as something we could all benefit from today – stronger personal relationships with family and friends.

I know, I know. By now you’re saying: “That was then, this is now! The pace of life is just too fast and I need mindless escapist entertainment.” I still argue that we can do better than “The tribe has spoken.”

Why do we derive so much pleasure from the collective voyeuristic zeitgeist of schadenfreude that is reality television?I think it is because it is easier to unplug and disengage from our own tsuris than it is to actually break the grip of television, the opiate in our lives.

According to TV Free America, 70% of daycare providers in this country use television as part of their “care.” It seems our children are carefully taught. A.C. Nielsen research shows that the average American spends four hours per day watching television. That’s 28 hours per week, or two full months nonstop per year. By the time we’re 65, we’ll have spent nine entire mind numbing years in front of the television.

That reality is frightening, especially when you think what we could be doing with that time.

The books we could be reading, the discussions with our kids and spouses we could be having. The theater and symphony we could be enjoying. The gardens we could be tending. The meals we could be preparing by scratch and savoring with our families, instead of ones delivered in boxes.

There is an alternative reality that awaits each and every one of us if only we would expend the energy to break free from the grip of the cathode ray tube (or LCD, or plasma screen…). The very same technology that opens up a world of education, information, and entertainment is, paradoxically, one that can also serve to deaden our senses. All too often, television allows us to abdicate our reason. It can make decisions for us, but will do so only if we surrender to its hypnosis.

Television in and of itself isn’t evil. No one ever died form participating or watching Real World. American Idol is a guilty pleasure to which more than a few grand thinkers have succumbed. And who among us wouldn’t want to Dance with the Stars?

But let’s not spend our own life’s currency in bearing passive witness to those we’ll never know. Unplugging even for a few hours a week may prove to be the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Taking back precious time in our life from the tube might just pay bigger dividends than any Apprentice-ship ever could.

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Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.