I wish I watched more TV.
Fact is, I’m usually late to the party: I started Lost several seasons in. I began Six Feet Under when it was, well, already six feet under. I binged Breaking Bad just in time to watch the last season (worth it). And forged through Game of Thrones from a standstill last summer. Same with Walking Dead the previous spring.
Why? I got tired of being left out of the cultural conversation. Loathed when someone would turn to me in the midst of making a point and say, “You watch Game of Thrones?” and my “no,” threw the brakes on. And it wasn’t just conversations “about” the shows, but situations, moments, characters, that people would refer to, make jokes about, and I was like, there’s no reason I can’t know about this.
Say what you will, but TV (even more so than movies today) are our cultural touchstones. Once I knew these shows, these characters, my conversations with people changed; I had more to draw on in terms of cultural fodder, language, and references. It’s like I had added words to my vocabulary and became more culturally fluent.
Now, I have some friends, some good friends, who say, “Oh, I don’t watch TV”—they just swear it off completely, like recreational drug or gluten.
One of them says that the most fascinating people she knows do not watch TV; ergo, to be a fascinating person or fascinating life, don’t watch TV.
Meh. Not sure about that. I don’t see how I’m more interesting by not being exposed to fascinating stories and complex characters. I’d like to think I’m a more noble person post-Jon Snow. Think books are better? Books were first. Books still matter. But these are the stories and characters that populate our landscape now most widely, just as Pip or Odysseus or Jane Eyre were in another time (and, actually, still today in classrooms everywhere). Those are stories; these are stories.
I get it: Life is not to be lived staring blankly at a screen as we slowly take on the shape of our living room sofas. But are any of us really doing that? I’m not.
I have to actively make time for TV. I beat back my ever-creeping workload with a stick, to defend that precious window to watch another episode of Bloodline or House of Cards. In an era when we share and share—our opinions, our insights, our take on this or that, why would we want to limit the things we can talk about? I’m just mad I haven’t seen more.
One of the brightest people I know said to me the other night that he doesn’t feel one bit bad about dosing Silicon Valley.
“It get me thinking about stuff, exposes me to ideas and scenarios that I probably will not encounter during my average day,” he says. “When I watch an episode, my brain is buzzing for hours after.”
You only live once; it’s true. And yet, you have one life (that we know of). Watching TV gives us a trapdoor into other lives, worlds, situations—in fact, it’s a way to live other lives, and share in that experience without having lived it yourself. It transports you to another way of thinking and seeing, which is critical to being creative, insightful, aware.
As for whether TV alone “turns your brain to mush?” Meh. TV can’t make you something you’re not, and chances are, if that’s your problem, your brain was already mush. It’s how you use your brain that matters, regardless of what you’re consuming. Purposeful, intentional viewing can open more windows in your head.
My writing mentor, Suzanne Kingsbury is a novelist and all-around literary arts person who coaches authors and reads for a living. And she has zero shame about watching TV. In fact, she says if you want to be a writer, you better start watching. Narrative, drama, character development? It’s all there. Become a student of it.
Look, there’s only so many smarty pants business books you can read. We come from storytelling—it’s the oldest form of communication we have. It’s where we have learned about risk and reward, good and evil, love and betrayal—long before anyone wrote anything down.
There is nothing new under the sun. But there are endless ways to tell those stories, to cast that light, in ways that heighten our awareness, deepen empathy. Great TV can teach us far more about ourselves than our own lives may give us the chance to learn.
P.S. If you not only want to watch it, but to BE ON TV, then you’re going to want this free course I created with my friend, TV producer Paula Rizzo. It’s called “How to Be a Media Magnet.” It’s not up forever, so get it now.
Or, just text “BEONTV” to 44222.