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Better to be a barfly than a TV junkie.

Friday, January 30, 2004

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  • Charles Bukowski is dead, but he was a lot of fun before he died.

    Charles Bukowski is dead, but he was a lot of fun before he died.

Written by Marty Williams

Telling people that you don’t have a television produces some odd reactions. Some are embarrassed -- they think they’ve stumbled on a dark personal secret and they immediately try to change the subject; they squirm in their seats as if they’d just invited you to an orgy and you tell them you have the clap. Others are incredulous -- they can’t imagine being so contrary, so intentionally out of the loop, so inconvenienced and they spend the rest of the evening telling you why you should, why you must run out at the soonest possible moment and purchase a TV and a dish. But by far the strangest reaction to my TV-free status comes from the folks who are mildly apologetic. They confess in hushed tones that most programming is crap, that they don’t watch much – just TVO and Discovery -- or that there are “a few good movies on” but for the most part they can take it or leave it.
I very much wish I were in that last group. I’d love to be able to take TV or leave it, but I can’t. I am an addict. It takes me over; it invades my brain; and once I tune in I simply cannot not watch it. For hours. And hours. For as long as anything at all is on. I am hooked so bad that it’s not enough to simply leave it off, I must leave it elsewhere. If it’s possible to watch it, I guarantee you I would. Which is why I must leave it some place I don’t live and don’t have easy access to, some place I won’t be left alone to tremble helpless before it.
As far as addictions go, there are many that are far worse -- social conservatism, for instance. But for me there is no vice as tempting, as time-wasting, as brain-numbing and brain-dumbing as TV. I have wasted so much of my precious time on this planet sucking in the gamma rays of its nefarious charm to no good end.
I can’t say that I have learned nothing of importance on TV, that would be a lie: I’m glad to have seen things common to our culture -- sports victories, election results, natural and human-induced disasters -- and I am glad to have born witness to them through the tube. But TV pays very little dividend for the investment. The very few positive instances and examples come at too high a cost. TV extracts from us the most precious commodity humans have, namely, precious time. And it does it by the train-load. We must wade through eons upon eons of crap to arrive at a brief shinning moment of insight, intelligence, humour, or a revelation of the human condition. It is a price I am no longer willing to pay.
I would much rather spend my precious time drinking in a pub.
The dipsomania of a pub stalwart is rather like eating fresh fruits and vegetables, getting enough exercise, and sleeping soundly eight hours a night when compared to TV addiction. The time I have spent in pubs and bars have provided me with infinitely more pleasure, insight, humour and humanity than the unblinking eye ever could. Drinking with the gang is interactive and engaging – two important things that TV is decidedly not. Being a regular at a watering hole builds your sense of community too. It is a testing ground, a meeting place, a club that is open to all.
A pub is a place to fall in and out of love in exactly the way a television is not. Nobody says, while watching a sitcom, “I want to marry you and spend the rest of our days together.” Nor is TV the setting for the “it’s not me, it’s you” break up.
Nobody actually watches TV “together” -- at least not in the same way you can have dinner “together” or go on a road trip “together” or go to bed “together.” TV is inherently an isolating activity. It’s a conversation killer. Worse, it takes over the room and even if you came into it with an idea to talk or visit or share, you are soon beaten down by it.
Compare this to the pub. Drinking in a regular “everybody knows your name” establishment provides you with two great human needs: it gets you out of the house and out of your mind. The first need is important because if we don’t leave our comfortable surroundings we stagnate, and when we stagnate our inclinations harden into prejudices and our annoyances calcify into hate. At the pub you get to test out theories, are called on to explain positions, you modify your suppositions and regroup and refine your ethos. In the huzza of the bar, you learn new information, make new connections, and get to challenge and debunk false wisdom.
And as to the second need – getting out of your head – that is also an important state to achieve on occasion, no matter what the “be real” and “just say no” campaigns implore. There is some truth to the saying “in wine there is truth.” Getting our of your head allows you to explore other truths, be conscious in a different way, and be another kind of you.
I am not saying that pub-going is a panacea. Not at all. What I’m saying is that it’s better for your soul than watching TV. And I will be happy to defend this position -- and buy the first round -- anyplace with decent noise levels, convivial company, and as few televisions as possible.
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