I spent a lot of time at the movies in high school. But not in a mall multiplex, I’ll have you know. Mine was an urbane, Left Bank-y existence. So I went to the art house theaters in Center City Philadelphia. Kidding aside, though, it actually was kind of Parisian—there’s a 97% chance I wore black and a fair amount of the films were French.
Since I loved arriving at the theater early, I had time to kill. One day, I studied my ticket stub and discovered an un-cited quote on the back: People used to go to the movies as they now watch television—not to see something but to see anything. We’re trying to select...features for those who want to see something.
There’s mostly “something” available in our seemingly endless golden age of TV. And the offerings are growing richer. So why jump ship? Why not gorge, feast, become obese on television and call it “healthy fat”? Because it’s not meant to be an entrée. It’s best kept as a side dish. Too much of something, even if it’s fantastic, is still excess.
For decades, the insidious nature of commercials was the target of anti-TV people. But ads are easily skipped or muted, making the argument against them quaint and practically obsolete.
Now, the toxic force is the unlimited nature of TV. Binge watching is insane! With enough consecutive hours, you, too, can feel you’ve become Frank Underwood and begin systematically destroying everyone in your life.
Although I used “quit” in the title, renouncing television is unlikely and unreasonable for most of us. “Reduce” is acceptable. After all, this isn’t Breaking Bad. Half measures are allowed. In fact, all habit breaking is an exercise in half measures sprinkled across time.
Instead of going cold turkey, I’m not adding any square footage to the pre-existing TV Land in my mind. Once my shows (The Americans, GOT, Silicon Valley, Homeland, Master of None) come back, I’ll see. If this is a friendly compromise for you, use it. But most people need to be more ruthless.
TV You Can Safely Eliminate
The first step is trashing your “anything” pile of shows. She’ll probably kill me for including this, but it's worth it. My mom admitted (shamelessly) to watching America’s Got Talent. Thanks to 30 Rock, though, I’ll forever consider it America's Kidz Got Singing. Specifically, she watched the ex-husband of a family friend’s daughter performed magic tricks. Surely there’s more to life than this.
Because I’m an exacting snob who only wants what’s best for you, I’ll share my television hierarchy. The lowest level is reserved for all network TV, the news, reality TV, anything unscripted, reruns, appallingly old shows, and anyone doing magic, ever.
What is it with watching reruns? Do you really want to be that person? This phenomenon always reminds me of a college roommate who, from dawn to dusk, kept Law and Order—often SVU—on for “company.” Makes sense. What’s better than allowing tales of sex crimes against our fictional peers to seep into your subconscious?
Moving on, the upper echelon is cable shows, FX, Netflix, or Amazon.
Take a magnifying glass to your habits, and ask, Am I sure I want to spend my time this way? We could all stand to lose some TV in our lives. The clearest reasons are receiving “more” time and money in exchange.
How I Got Here
Although I haven’t watched TV in about two months, I didn’t mean to stop. In a sense, I got lucky. My dad destroyed the pleasure of TV by watching the news while I visited this summer. It’s like he’s on a grail quest to transform into Wolf Blitzer, intern for him, or become his golf buddy. Maybe all three. Regardless, his motivations are beyond the scope of this post.
The point is—the news was on constantly. And he doesn’t discriminate. Oh, no. He welcomes all kinds of news: foreign, local, domestic, the length and width of the aisle. No story is too small for my dad. He must know all the things. To me, it isn’t even watching. It’s becoming livid over the unfixable. By the time I returned to L.A., I decided to maintain my momentum out of curiosity. But if you have reasonable parents, keep reading.
Tips on how to quit:
Stack the deck in your favor
- Start when your shows aren’t on. Like any diligent professional athlete you’re beginning training ahead of time, in the off-season.
You can’t just delete a habit
- This is a cut/paste action. You need to replace the TV habit with another—ideally healthier—one.
Back in college, I distinctly remember standing in a Western Massachusetts Best Buy as a friend—who’d recently broken up with her boyfriend—purchased a boxed season (or the entire series) of The O.C. on DVD.
“We’re doing this because…why?” I said.
“Because I miss Dave. So I watch this at night to avoid thinking about him.”
On a less sentimental note, when I deleted Facebook from my phone I replaced it with Pinterest. There’s a pattern forming: Dave becomes The O.C.; Facebook turns into Pinterest.
Likewise, your television obsession morphs into…the choice is yours, but I recommend it’s a.) legal, b.) edifying, and c.) not The O.C.
Winter is coming, you insist, like a member of the Stark family. Indeed, dark hours of indoor time await. But they haven’t arrived yet. So it’s time to investigate ice skating or indoor rock climbing or whatever will keep you warm and busy come November. You don’t have to go nuts on Groupon or invest in ski equipment. Just research possibilities.
Give it time
Once you step out of a river’s current, the going gets tougher. Likewise, once you quit TV, even briefly, catching up on the infinite shows whizzing by may change from a fantastical buffet to an overwhelming chore.
@@If you don’t know where to start, it’s likely you never will.@@ Make the paradox of choice work for you. Leverage your TV-free momentum and let it provide the chink in the armor needed to break you out.
Personally, the longer I go without television, the more “eh” I feel about figuring out what on earth is worth watching. When I realize it’s possible everything is exceptional or close to it, I head straight for my Kindle.
Another half measure
- Don’t eliminate all moving pictures at once. Keep movies for the time being.
So far, I haven’t noticed a big change from being TV free. I read every night instead, but that's normal for me. If I have an incredible epiphany from the experience, I’ll write a follow-up.
Even if you don't quit, at least moderate. At least watch consciously, conscientiously. Be aware of your choices, your consumption.
If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please share it on Twitter or Facebook using the "Share" button below. Or, leave a comment and tell me what you think!