For several days a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were unable to get a remote control to work with our ancient TV. Unwilling to spring for a new TV, and addicted to certain shows, we forced ourselves to sit through seemingly endless commercials that sought to brainwash us into buying products and services we had no desire to have. I like to think I have more-than-usual self control, but I discovered quite the opposite: that I am just as willing as anyone to let the life get sucked out of me, 20 minutes per hour, for at least two hours a day.
When I think seriously about what I’m watching the rest of the time, which more often than not includes total lies about the way the world works (especially the supernatural ones, which often violate the laws of physics as well as logic), it becomes clear that this time is hardly better spent. My only consolation in these lucid moments is that at least I know the difference between what’s real and what my somnolent mind wants to believe; I’m not sure about other people. Considering that many of the ads are about other shows, including the news -- which is barely what I used to call “news” -- everything I’m watching really is designed to get me to consume more commercials, which will either influence my buying decisions or increasingly keep me from personally controlling what I do with the rest of with my life.
One of the supernatural fantasies that is gaining more airtime involves vampires. These fantasies expose and attempt to reconcile some fundamental dichotomies: good and evil, mortality and immortality, weakness and strength. The costs and benefits of having any of these things are exposed in simplistic form by the conflicts between various characters who are either human (the first element of each pair) or vampire (the second element). Things get really interesting when characters find themselves between the two states. To the extent that those who watch these stories are inclined to examine the real issues, the fiction is useful. If all the watchers get is a cheap thrill that doesn’t translate into internal reflection, then the time is worse than wasted, because it leaves them with a fake view of the world that could result in real harm.
Superficially at least, it’s easy to compare the corporations who sponsor and create the drivel on TV (and in its close cousin, the movies) and the fictional vampires that populate it. Both promise their victims a better life, and deliver instead a meaningless existence devoted to creating more victims who have only the appearance of life. The solution in reality as in fiction is the presence of light: knowledge gained from being awake, rather than an artificial dream state found in the dark of sleep.
Years ago, I chose to stop watching TV more than an hour or two a week, and filled the resulting free time with reading. That time corresponded with my own Great Awakening, when I questioned everything in my life and found new meaning in the answers to the questions. Now I find myself back in a similar position, but I now believe I understand the mechanism better that has led me back. The mechanism has to do with the fact that I simply don’t have enough energy left at the end of a typically long work day to do what I really want -- write creatively and help to create a better world -- this must wait until the weekend, when I have recharged my mental batteries.
What I really need, which I’ve known all along, is a different job. When I was unemployed and writing my own material sometimes up to 10 hours a day, I watched a lot less TV. While not the best economic option, something similar may be the best psychological option, as a way to keep the real vampires at bay.