Am I outgrowing television? Perhaps more pointedly, am I outgrowing my feeling of obligation toward television?
It feels strange to think about my obligation to television, as if an electronic device on its own can force a person to do anything, but I think my sense of duty stems more from an inward desire to have enough conversational and cultural currency with anyone I meet to be able to not only understand what in the hell they’re talking about, but relate to them too. In some ways, I am perfect as a public relations professional.
That’s why I’ve become so drawn to television criticism as opposed to television itself. You get all the intellectual candy of analyzing a piece of text without all the stupid time commitment of having to sit through hours upon hours of shows.
I used to feel guilty – like honest to God guilt – for not keeping up with whatever show had the most cultural zeitgeist at the moment. When “Mad Men” started, Kristin and I DVR’d a shitload of them where they rotted until we hastily deleted them when they inevitably took up too much space and we couldn’t fathom sitting down to pound out eight episodes of them. We’ve done the same thing recently with “The Americans.”
As a media freak such that I am, I want to be at least mostly hip and happening with the cultural dialog. I want to have opinions about “The Wire” as the best show ever. I want to contribute to the discussion about the greatness of “Breaking Bad.” I want to have meaningful insights into how “Louie” is redefining the meaning of what a true auteur is on television. I want all that.
The problem is, immersing yourself in all of that takes too fucking long.
In general, I can’t binge watch television the way some people seem to be able to. If I’m home on a weekend with nothing to do, I’ll think I want to zone out watching some great show I’ve got tiled up on the DVR, but I’ll get an episode and a half in and go, “I’m wasting my time. The fuck am I doing? I should be productive!” And then I usually go to the gym, or take up some household task that never seems to fucking end in this new place, or write an article, or call a friend, or look at porn on the internet or whatever. The frightening rate at which time shears off your life renders each day shorter than the last.
My good buddy Kyle insists I would love the show “Lost” if I sat down and immersed myself in it. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’d find it to be the greatest show ever created and worthy of all the crazy fandom that’s accompanied it. But I’m never going to do that. The prospect of sitting down for 121 hours of television – more than 5 full days of TV watching when fully tabulated – is a Sisyphean one, and seems more like a job than something undertaken for the sake of actual enjoyment.
The fact is there’s too much entertainment out there, and attempts to keep up with all of it are futile. So instead of fretting about it, I just don’t keep up with it anymore. I have roughly 100 unlistened to podcasts in my iTunes files. I’m a big Matthew Perry fan, but I just up and deleted all the unwatched episodes of “Go On” off my DVR. I banged out two books in the last couple weeks. I have 8 others sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read.
What I’ve learned is that being a completest – hell, even the attempt at completism – is a fool’s errand. You will never ever tackle everything you want to tackle, so stop trying. Just embrace what you can do, and let the rest melt away.
A few years ago I made the active decision to let all the grudges I held and all the resentment I kept inside of me to just go. I was carrying around a huge bag of rocks that was all the times I felt like I had been wronged, and instead of dwelling on it and seeking to even the score with all those motherfuckers, one day I just set the bag down and left it and have never really looked back at it.
It was amazing how good that felt. I chose to forgive unequivocally and move on, and my entire outlook changed. The world didn’t seem so ugly, so brutal, or so raw. I was never going to get payment for all those karmic debits, and now I didn’t have to. That’s fucking liberating.
I realize I’m doing this article backwards, and that I’m using this large, life-affirming epiphany to make a point about my TV-watching habits, but who’s to say doing that is fundamentally incorrect? Insight is insight, and who gives a shit where the inspiration comes from? Does that make it any less valuable? I believe no.
Because once I again let go of my sense of obligation, I became much happier. It doesn’t matter that my happiness is a result of a perceived freedom from a self-imposed edict to stay up on current pop culture. Any incremental addition to happiness is important.
We live in a time that Patton Oswalt refers to as ETEWAF, which stands for Everything That Ever Was – Available Forever. What is that? According to Oswalt in that linked Wired article, “When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted.”
That’s both incredibly liberating and terrifyingly oppressive. You have the freedom to immerse yourself in anything you want, but also so many entry points and an infinite number of texts, it can seem daunting to know where to start, and impossible to fathom finishing.
The good news is, you don’t have to. Fuck it. It’ll be there. And if you want to sample, someone is probably already fully engaged with it already, so check out their work.
We are not obligated to do anything. No one is.
And that’s a totally roundabout way of explaining why I’ve grown to enjoy TV criticism more than TV itself.