My wife and I just finished season seven of Game of Thrones – we watched it all in two months. I justified that to myself by thinking, “Well, there’s only 10 episodes per season, and I didn’t even watch the first season.” As I joined in with my wife for the second season, I found myself wondering if it was actually good or if there was a spell where the magic formula of HBO combined with the lore of George R. R. Martin’s books along with a heavy dose of advertising “made” it good. When I reported to others I had finally watched it, I was surprised by how many had already seen it. It was as if the rest of the world has been waiting for me to catch up before winter comes. I’ve never had HBO and assumed, that most everyone didn’t either. We did a trial of it through a streaming service because that was the only service that had the final ”50 Shades of Gray” movie [maybe I’ll write an explanation about that another time]; later, while trying to make the most of the trial, GoT came into play and we decided to “cut back” by getting rid of one streaming service and replacing it with HBO.
The Home Box Office experience has been puzzling to me. I’ve watched several of the buzzworthy shows from the last few years and have been intrigued by them. At this point, though, I don’t have a reason to keep watching. These forays into entertainment have been engaging, but more so, it’s reinvigorated this debate in my head about the idea of consumption versus creation. We’re swimming in a sea of entertainment and stimuli. Need a jolt? Pull out your phone and consume what Facebook and Instagram serve up to you through all your “friends”. Our default action has become lying in bed watching Netflix or pulling out our phones at the first sign of dullness. Processing episode after episode of season after season or scrolling through update after update, picture after picture. Our conversations start with, “Have you seen…?”
Our culture is in consume now mode and there has never been a time throughout history when we’ve had this much content to consume. There are so many enlightening and educational or dumb and irrelevant things delivered to us in a variety of buffets. The plethora of content is staggering1. The dominance of these mediums is so dominant, it is the only thing we see any more. It begs the question: why should I surrender to this tidal wave of indulgence?
I partake in this stream of ever-flowing information, entertainment, statuses, and time-wasting, but at a certain point I become restless. I fidget in my bed or on my couch. I need something more. I do not want simple entertainment. I want to create. To produce. To develop something for the entertained because I don’t like the way it feels to be the audience and never the entertainer. That strikes an interesting chord in me: is entertainment wrong? Is it wrong to consume? My immediate impulse says no. Creative production is meant for consumption – and it’s been that way long before there were TVs, radio, and electricity. The great composers of the past, performing their music for the masses. The great artists drawing, painting, or sculpting for the dispersion to the public. The thespians conducting their staged acts for the enjoyment of the audience. So, no, it’s not wrong to entertain yourself. Life as we know it, has a certain emptiness to it that we cannot always fill by ourselves. These entertainments help fill those intervals in our lives.
But I want to know, for myself, what is it that happens after an hour or two of entertainment in front of my TV? And does it happen to anyone else? Do all those consumers find the urge and desire to create rather than fire hydrant entire seasons of Lie to Me and Queer Eye? Do they find themselves coming up with ideas and plans of what it is they want to do? Do they see themselves as one with their name scrolling by on the credits that last two seconds before the next episode is auto-played? Or are they content to be the consumer? Lounging in beds, couches, parlors, bars, and doctor’s waiting rooms, staring deeply into the abyss of blue and green light washing over their faces as they indulge?
I only know my own experience. And more important is how I’ve handled my own experience. I’m from the generation in between; I’m not Gen X and I’m not a Millennial. They try to lump me in with those dastardly kids, but I’m not one of them, instead growing up analog and transitioning into a digital adulthood. But I remember, as a child, being an outlier from my friends. We didn’t have cable, but we would watch TV [what TV we could get from the scrubby rabbit ear antennae from my old man’s small 11” TV]. After school cartoons, Star Trek on Saturdays2. Sometimes college football in the garage when he’d pull the TV out there while he was working. And we had movies – VHS tapes from Feature Films for Families: safe, “family-friendly” forays like the Butter Cream Gang or Rigoletto. We watched TV, but our lives didn’t center around it. Instead, we were outside, or playing games, or finding other sources of entertainment. Often that entertainment revolved around games of fantasy and imagination.
I’d be remiss if I singled out television in a way that makes me sound like the old man waving his cane at the clouds. Entertainment has its value! Entertainment brings pleasure, joy, and happiness. It can also bring sadness, despair, and fear. That is part of the beauty of entertainment – a creator taking your hand through the valleys and mountain of feelings they want you to feel as they share their creation. There is nothing wrong in subjecting yourself to Avengers: Endgame as a form of entertainment. It is good to consume a creator’s work. I want to use the, “There’s a fine line…” idiom, but, really, it’s not: it’s a big fat line of over-indulgence. Seriously, 70 hours of Game of Thrones in 2 months? If you’d told my parents that stat in the 90’s, my old man’s little 11” television would have blown up in a way that caused our entire house to careen to the moon.
That is part of the beauty of entertainment – a creator taking your hand through the valleys and mountain of feelings they want you to feel as they share their creation.
It’s not just the consumption – it’s the lack of creation. I do believe that every single person has the capability to create something that brings real emotion to the rest of humankind. If only we’d practice it. But instead, we’re there, on the couch, reclining in bed, feeling bad for ourselves while the talents of our creations rest underneath the sand of our consumption. Isn’t it enough? When will we have consumed enough that we’ll be ready to dig ourselves out and contribute fully?
The awful thing is, most of us are stuck in jobs doing pointless work for the man just so we can make a buck (while he makes a million). We spend our energy on that, expending what good will toward our creativity we could have mustered up. Then, if you’re like me, you’re left dragging yourself out of bed at 5 in the morning so you can spend 20 minutes injecting some good words into your soul with a book and then trying to spew a few of your own words onto a page for 30 minutes before getting ready for work. You spend all day at work, come home and play with your kids, run them to activities, eat some dinner, put them to bed, and find time for 20 minutes with your wife before passing out in bed and doing it all over again the next day.
My mode of consumption has transitioned in the last few weeks to books. And they’re so good – so enriching, so entertaining, and engulfing. They feel remarkably more legitimate as a medium for entertainment. And why? Because I’m not staring at a television screen? In terms of entertainment, they’re not that different. One you must manually flip pages [or if you’ve given yourself to the digital revolution, press a button or swipe your finger]. You can waste your life reading books just as well as you can watching television.
I recently finished a book by Michael Harris called, “The End of Absence.” It’s about reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of connection, with the central premise that we’ve lost the ability to truly connect because of technology. But surprisingly, he doesn’t suggest the answer is in shutting the door on technology and going back to our cave man days of lighting fires with sticks3. Instead, as any wise person might say when looking at the current culture we live in, he suggests we practice prudence and awareness of how we’re engaging with our environment. He doesn’t say we should abandon our phones and televisions, but instead become aware of how much they’re engaging our time and learning to practice habits that better reflect presence than indulgence.
I set out wanting to explore the differences between consumers and creators, yet I’m left with the unnerving [also: beautiful] idea that we’re all creators who are consuming too much. My judgment of the situation is harsh because of myself. I see laziness in myself and I want to eradicate it, thus: EVERYONE MUST BURN THEIR TELEVISION.
There have been thousands of people before me, decrying the foulness of advancements in technology. It’s not technology that is bad – it’s us. It’s our inability to control ourselves. It’s our inability to fulfill one of our innermost desires: producing the creative elements inside of us. Why? Because it’s hard work, that’s why. It’s difficult to write a script that’s any good. It takes time to get good at drawing beautiful landscapes and faces and hands (God, the hands!). It takes hours every day to become a truly talented musician. And the alternative is so easy – just flip on the television. The only thing difficult about that is finding something you want to watch on Netflix – that only takes 45 minutes.
I keep imagining what my life would be like if I persisted
in producing the creations in my head rather than zoning out on my phone for 20
minutes once or twice an hour. I’m experimenting with myself – leaving my phone
in places outside of my pocket, out of sight, and out of reach. But the next,
biggest step, is sitting down and carving out time to focus on the creative
work inside of you. Then, slowly, but surely, slogging your way through drawing
it out of yourself and seeing what happens.
Can you still watch TV? Sure – but please stop watching reality TV. That’s garbage.