Television, the drug of the nation, part 1

In many respects and to many people, I am a weirdo.  I don’t conform to their norms, I’m different to them, and so this confuses them, even threatens them.  I chose to not do certain things, or I’m just not interested in certain things that they find essential to living and part of being a real man.

In no particular order, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t have any interest in cars or mechanics, don’t have any interest in DIY or gardening, or any game or sport that involves balls.  Not even the odd shaped balls.  And I don’t watch much television.

As a man, this leaves me out on a limb unable to join in with 95% of man-conversations.  To those who don’t know or ‘get’ who I am, this can make me appear detached, remote, awkward, outside, and, well, weird.  Yes, I can feign interest, and talk on an extremely superficial level, but pretty soon I’m lost in any, say, football related conversation.  That’s a little problematic with me now living in an area where football, and passionately supporting either Liverpool or Everton, is obligatory by law.

I’ve never smoked, and have never desired to.  I also find the smell of cigarettes makes me cough, especially when it’s on people’s clothes or their breath. Sometimes astray-breath makes me gag! This of course has excluded me from the rituals of standing outside in the cold and rain slagging off people, or networking over and above the official networking that should be going on in the work place.  In London, with less and less people smoking, I was slowly becoming one of the new ‘norms’ and the smokers were the lepers.  It’s different up north, and smoking is the norm here. Once again I’m in the ‘weirdo’ minority.

I don’t ‘get’ drinking to get drunk.  I never have.  Not drinking alcohol is something that people just don’t understand.  When I decline alcohol or go for soft drink options, people think I’m, well, a weirdo.  The awkward conversation always starts with a scathing, “What? Don’t you drink? What, never?” as if I’ve just announced I have a very contagious dose of Black Death and I’m instantly infecting everybody within 5 metres of me, and an assumption that if I’m not today’s designated driver, then I’m a recovering alcoholic.  Being a recovering alcoholic, which obviously I’m not, is apparently far more comprehensible than somebody just not liking the taste or the affect of alcohol and enjoying staying sober/straight.

I don’t really have any personal issues about other people drinking or smoking or drugging themselves up to the eyeballs.  If that’s how they feel they have to live life, and as long as by doing it they are not putting anybody else in danger (like not drunk/drugged driving), then it’s nothing to do with me.

On a personal level with alcohol and drugs, I find I just don’t need them and they get in the way.  They stop me being me, stop me being alive, observational, creative, happy.   I have no desire to simulate and experience Altzheimer’s Disease or dementia, and I don’t need anything to supposedly release my inhibitions or make me think I’m superman.  I already know I’m superman and I have no inhibitions.

Watching very drunk people is fascinating.  It’s also relatively pointless having any sensible conversation with them because they remember absolutely nothing.  Also, they all simultaneously get to a point where they are drugged up by the alcohol enough to have short-term memory loss, so sit or stand there having the same 5 to 10 minute conversation over and over again for 2 or 3 hours, all blissfully unaware that that’s what they are actually doing, and all blissfully unaware than they won’t really remember it the next morning.

Indeed, the next morning ritual is an essential part of going out and getting drunk.  Moaning about hang-overs or telling not very funny stories about how this happened or that happened or slapping each other on the back and comparing how ‘wasted’ each person was, is compulsory.  No post-mortem means it wasn’t a proper night out.

So, you see, that’s one of the conversations I can’t really join in with either.  I remember everything that happened and I never get a hang-over.  Put that in the pot of not being able to talk about football, and wow I’m dismissed as a square, a nerd, a geek, a weirdo.  That is until people get to actually know me and how I roll!

Another thing I do, or rather don’t do, is have the telly on much.  This of course excludes me from conversations about any of the soaps or X Factor or whatever obligatory Saturday night viewing everybody talks about in the office on Monday.

Yes, my TV sits there along with Sky+ and it’s all big and beautiful and High Definition and costing me a small fortune each month in TV licence and Sky fees, but I don’t use it that much.  I do have other TVs, older ones, smaller ones, but they are just sitting in the spare room alongside other discarded but not thrown out electrical goods.  In other words, we are just a one TV family.  There isn’t one in the bedroom or kitchen, or bathroom, or anywhere but the living room.

Watching TV to us is special.  We don’t just have it on.  We switch it on to watch something, which we give a near 100% attention to, and then we switch it off.  The only exception might be when deciding to ‘anorak’ by flicking around or leaving a rolling news channel on.  The items we want to watch are usually automagically pre-recorded, so we rarely watch anything live.  The TV is never left on just spewing out whatever happens to be on.  There may be quite a few days passing before the TV is actually switched on again.

We do things in our house.  We talk, we have fun, we play, we make food, we eat, we spend time together. TV consumption is a very small part of that, and life is far too precious to waste zonked out staring at a screen with one’s brain switched off when we have each other.

The TV is never on when we have visitors.  To me, that would be rude.  A bit like if I just sat there reading a book rather than engaging with a visitor.

However, we have family members who we can’t call between certain hours.  It interrupts their main TV watching (all the soaps, usually), and they either talk in a staggered and distracted way, or talk about the pretend family they are watching in preference to talking about the real dramas in their real family’s life.  At times they’ll even be angry that their soap has been interrupted by a phone call.

In a lot of cases, when visiting people, the TV is never switched off.  In most cases the sound is not even turned down, so any conversation is in raised voices trying to compete, and usually during the boring bits or commercial break, and never includes actual eye contact.  Eyes rarely leave the TV screen.  A conversation that would have taken 20 minutes with the TV off takes 2 to 3 hours with it on and it constantly interrupting or killing anybody’s train of thought.  Indeed, all too often whatever’s on TV takes over and becomes the topic of conversation.

When they actually lift themselves off their sofas and head to the kitchen to make a cuppa, there’s a little TV in the kitchen they put on even when the adverts are on, to make sure they don’t miss anything.

So, compared to people being drunk, stoned, smoking, football obsessed, or any of the other things I don’t do that they think makes me a weirdo, I actually find TV obsession seriously irritating and annoying.  It is not a social device, it is anti-social.  It’s the worst drug of the lot, and people don’t even realise how addicted they are to it, and how it excludes them from real life.

Could you exist in a life without your TV? Really, could you switch it off? Could you? Could you? Well, could you? Seriously, could you?

“Television, the drug of the Nation, Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation…”

– Disposable heroes of hiphoprisy (Michael Franti)