Oh, telly

Probably one of my favourite non-fiction books read this year was Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good For You, where he defends so-called trashy pop culture and traces its developing complexity. (He also links this to the Flynn effect, which I am not 100% convinced about, but it’s an interesting argument.) It says, rather sensibly, that there is good TV (and there are good movies, good video games, etc) – that the form itself is not automatically the issue.

There are many writers who will proudly attest to not watching TV, who – when responding to ‘how do you find the time to write?’-type questions – will say, give up television. Stop wasting your time watching the idiot box.

There are many ways people waste time. Compulsive cleanliness. Fretting about how much they have to do, often out loud. Reading bad books. TV-watching does not automatically equal time-wasting.

I had this sense that I’d use this post to talk about the TV I’ve been loving lately – the sheer gleefulness of Glee and the fact that even though the Rocky Horror songs were appallingly bowdlerized, the way it was handled within the show was quite nifty; the zaniness of How I Met Your Mother Season 6 (and the fact it took me far too long to recognise Zoey as Cameron from House – also Kirk’s mom in the rebooted Trek, and a one-time girlfriend of Pacey in Dawson’s Creek); the sheer delight of the Big Bang Theory episode which had not only Wil Wheaton but a girly sleepover – but recently a few people have talked about TV as this thing that you switch off, that you don’t engage with, that you don’t use your imagination for. As though this was absolute fact. And. Sheesh.

Reading is not automatically an imaginative enlightening experience. It is quite possible to read a book and not enter into the imaginative world the author’s presenting to you. (Most novels that are read for English degrees are read this way, I imagine.) It is quite possible to skim, to miss parts, to get to the end of the book having a sense of what words were on the page but not much more than that.

And TV is not automatically this deadening, turn-off-your-brain experience. Ever speculated about what’s going to happen next? Noted patterns, motifs? Articulated why Season 2 isn’t as good as Season 1, or vice-versa? Ever noticed the way a storyline was handled, or a new character introduced? Ever tried to figure out who was going to get kicked off the reality show of your choice? Oh, look, engaging with the material. Would you look at that.

The text has a lot to do with it. But even a Good Book doesn’t automatically improve the reader. And TV – it’s how you respond to it, as well as what’s it’s giving you.

So give up TV in order to write more? I’m not so sure. Maybe just treat it as you do books, or other things in your life – look at what you’re getting out of the experience, whether you’re using or losing time, and then figure out something that works for you. And good TV – the stuff that takes you away, that makes you smile or laugh or cry or ache along with the characters? I kinda feel like that’s worth making time for.

About clairehennessy

Writer (mostly YA fiction), creative writing teacher, tea drinker, book junkie. View all posts by clairehennessy

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