What? Am I actually advocating for TV?
Don’t panic. I haven’t gone to the dark side.
Television is a part of our lives. If you are like me, you don’t actually watch much television, but you probably consume at least some of the television culture via DVR or streaming services.
We all have different criteria for choosing what we watch. Some people I know choose their shows by the reputation of a director, producer or actor in the show. Some want to stay in touch with what is popular. Some choose by character or genre. Some like stories, others like reality TV, some like variety shows or comedy.
And there is a variety of ways to consume TV products too. Bingeing is fashionable – a whole weekend devoted to one season, story arc or show. Some like to stick to the traditional one-dose-per-week. Some prefer to watch TV on their own schedule and others are OK watching by the schedule set by the stations.
Any way you consume TV, my suggestion to you is to pay attention. Who are you inviting into your living room? Are the characters people you want to hang out with? Remember that we are the average of the 10 people we spend most time with! A good friend suggested an acclaimed show to me, but when I watched an episode I realized that I didn’t like the characters. They seemed shallow and too dark for me. I didn’t want them in my home.
Is the show you’re watching taking place in a world that you want to be part of? I have one friend who loves Downton Abbey because she admires the world in which everyone is waking up and trying to better themselves even through tremendous changes in their society.. Another friend cannot watch Downton Abbey because all she can see is the oppression of the working class; she can’t find anything at all to like in the “upstairs” world.
Pay attention to your body. How does it feel as you watch your shows? Are you relaxed, laughing, enjoying yourself? Or are you unpleasantly tense, agitated, and maybe eating mindlessly?
Pay attention to your emotions? Do you feel despair, like my friend watching Downton Abbey? Or do you feel solidarity with the characters? Are you rooting for the main characters or “loving to hate” them? Aside from dying to see what happens next, which is a carefully crafted manipulation that most shows intentionally promote, how do you feel when the show is over? Uplifted? Scared? Sad? Is this the way you want to feel?
Pay attention to your thoughts as you watch and after your shows. And pay attention to your dreams. We subliminally pick up the underlying values and perspective of the characters in TV shows – just like we subliminally picked up the underlying values and perspective of our parents, family, tribe, culture and species as infants. Your primitive mind does not know that the shows you are watching are not real. My great-grandmother, who grew up before TV, used to think of the soap opera characters she saw on TV as her friends. She wanted to take food over to them when they were suffering, wanted to write them letters when they were celebrating. Yes, we are certainly, on the conscious level more sophisticated than my great-grandmother, but our reptilian brains are not.
After an evening of television viewing, who are you taking to bed with you? Is this what you want?
Does this seem like I’m taking TV too seriously? Does it seem like this is too much work, just for a pastime? Does it seem like all this paying attention will ruin your ritual of relaxation? Don’t you have the right to just check out and veg in front of the TV?
It depends upon what you want out of life.
The human species has been sleep walking through life, uncritically admitting any entertainment that passes before our eyes and co-incidentally creating some hefty challenges that we could have avoided if we had been more wakeful: environmental destruction, run-away power of financial institutions and corrupt government, to name a few.
Now we are at a turning point. Mindless consumption of TV is a symptom of the general state of sleepiness that we have been living. Many people want to wake up, be more mindful, to think of the consequences of their actions on future generations. This can start with paying attention to our television habits and preferences.
Gandhi purportedly said that we should strive to “be the change we want to see in the world.” If we are that change, who would we be hanging out with in the evenings? Who would be going to bed with us to interact with us in our dreams? What kinds of thoughts would we be allowing to run in our heads? What kind of feelings would we be emanating out into the world? What kind of TV programming would we be supporting by our viewership?
It all starts with individuals making strong, pro-active choices about the world we want to create, applying our energy, money and time to strengthen the components of a world that works better for everyone than the one we have fallen into through mindless consumption. You can start today by paying attention to your television.