Kill Your TV, Twenty Years Later

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Today I read yet another article about cord cutting, and how the business model for cable TV in the United States is changing. The idea that one must pay for many channels in which one has no interest in order to get the few one does. The cable companies are, they say, fighting a long rearguard action which they will eventually lose, if they don’t change.

Or so the story goes.

I have been a huge enemy of television in America, as has long been known to my family, friends, and students.

If technology disrupts the television industry and nearly destroys it the same as technology did to the music business over a decade ago, I will stand up and applaud.

I had a huge “Kill your TV” banner strung across the first iteration of my personal webpage. And I have not mellowed in that viewpoint over time.

In fact, a sales rep from Time Warner called me about five years ago with a “special offer” when I was particularly tired one evening with a newborn at home. As they did seemingly about once a month, Time Warner wanted to offer me a “bargain” where they would “bundle” the Internet service I already paid for with a cable TV offering for the same price. They would essentially give me cable TV for free for six months, hoping that I would love it so much that later on I would keep paying for it at the regular price afterwards.

I asked the representative if they were recording the phone message. He said they were.  Then I let him have it:

“I think television is a giant conspiracy to make my country dumb! I will not have it in my house!”

I yelled this into the phone and then slammed the receiver down.

Soon after that we got rid of our landline and currently suffer no more telemarketers. Time Warner still sends me offers of free cable TV access in my monthly bill for the Internet service I do pay them for. No thank you. It is not really about the money. It is about the principle of the thing.

I have encouraged many around me to “cut the cord” and use their freed up funds for better purposes (like joining my tennis club). I have been gratified to see more and more Americans, especially younger one, joining me in turning their back on TV-land.

It has been  a long time in coming.

When I was in my early-20s in the late 1980s, I took my crappy old black and white TV out to the desert and blew it up with a shotgun. I fulled it so full of pellet holes it was almost unrecognizable. I left that battered TV out near the Lytle Creek Shooting Range, near San Bernadino, with all the other shot up couches and refrigerators in the desert there. Killing my TV was almost a religious exercise. A purification rite.

And for many years that was all she wrote.

Then I got married in 2003 at 36 years of age. Two of my good friends thought it would be hilarious to buy my wife and I a television as a wedding gift. “That will show Rich!” they must have laughed to themselves.  So my wife and I decided to have a TV but with no cable access. It was the bargain we made with each other. We would hook up a DVD player to the television and subscribe to Netflix. We would watch movies on our DVD player. But no cable TV. No three hundred channels of bread and circuses.

And so it went for many years.

But Netflix started having so many TV shows streaming online that over time it began to look a little like “TV.” The lines between traditional cable service and Netflix subscriptions had begun to blur. Maria would sometimes watch entire seasons of TV shows, even though we did not have traditional “TV.” Did this mean we still didn’t have “TV”?

But we never watched commercials. Ever. I don’t think a commercial has ever come on the screen of our television set. The only commercial advertisements my daughters have ever seen is when we have stayed in hotels and watched TV there. Or maybe when we were visiting someone else’s house.

I too got sucked in to online viewing of video, to some degree. I learned how to watch tennis matches online through Tennis Channel Plus and TennisTV. There were hours and hours of tennis I could watch this way. In fact, the only tennis I could not watch was Wilmbledon and the US Open, and I would just go to a friend’s house and watch the men’s finals of those matches.

Sports is the one thing that cable still has. My dad will never get rid of cable because of the live sports. And the Fox News Network. The money he does pay for cable is a trifling compared to the value it gives him. And for that reason many Americans will probably never “cut the chord.” They will pay hundreds of dollars per month for so many channels they will never watch, in the name of the few they watch daily. They are used to the system as it is. They don’t mind.

Alcohol and sports. It must be like half our economy.

Add pop music, movies, and the rest of the entertainment business and you have most of our economy, it would seem. And the advertising of it all. Our capitalist circus.

All the stuff I refuse to pay any attention to, if I can help it.

And all this tennis I was watching? Hours and hours dedicated to watching matches…. this precious time I will never get back?


Who are you, Richard? What are you doing? And why?

Enough watching tennis.

In the precious few hours I have at night when my children are finally asleep, I am going to read books and write essays. I am going to use my time well. Continue to work out in my garage gym. Post to my webpage. Plow through serious reading.

Maybe I will watch a few highlights from tennis matches. Watch the US Open with Dan and Wimbledon with Jim. But move back to what I used to do a lot more of before I took up tennis again four years ago: reading and thinking. Dial the tennis viewing way, way back. Make watching video of any sort a small part of my life.

And you, my esteemed reader, will know if I live up to this promise or not.

If you see few or no posts to my webpage, you can call me out for being a hypocrite. “Turn off your TV and make stuff! Start writing!” you can message to me. Where are your posts?

To be a passive consumer. Sitting on my ass and just staring at the video stream on the screen, taking in the media. Hour after hour. The hypnotic lights dancing on the screen.

To be an active producer. Thinking and re-thinking and reading and writing on paper or screen, producing my own media. Hour after hour. The prefrontal cortex activated.

The latter, please. Not the former.

So help me, God.

P.S. Some have argued back in the 1990s that the fact that I had never seen a whole Seinfeld or Friends episode made me unsociable/unAmerican, unable to talk to my peers around the water cooler at work. Not watching the Super Bowl in decades. Having no idea who is the latest singer/celebrity. Or rap star. Or fashion trend.

There are many like me. And we are as American as anyone else.

And when we are both seventy years of age and looking at the Big Exit, we can compare lives and decide who used their precious, limited time better.

P.P.S. Maybe this ire towards the entertainment industry is because I have lived in or around Los Angeles for so many years, and Hollywood and “the business” plays so outsized a role in the economy and psyche of Los Angeles. Yuck.

P.P.P.S. It has also been argued to me that many Americans have stressful lives and are barely hanging in there. They deserve to relax and be “entertained” in the evening after the day’s long labor is over. A comedy sitcom, a favorite show, and then a few belly laughs. I respond that some creative endeavor or active effort IS relaxing. It is also more salubrious, in the long run. It isn’t a chore. It should not be looked upon as such.

P.P.P.P.S. Some athletes have argued with me that they watch sports so as to learn and improve in their own sporting efforts. They watch the world’s best play the sport, so they can aspire to imitate them. I hear that. So if you actually play the sport you are watching, you get a partial pass. But if you watch so much it gets in the way of your own athletic improvement, you don’t. And if your body is moldering as usual on the couch in magnificent inactivity while you watch others sweat and strengthen their bodies in a sporting endeavor, then you get no pass at all.