So, I had an appointment with the doctor after work today, and was sitting in the waiting room for a while, reading my book (re-reading Amsterdam by Ian McEwan). The other women sitting there seemed pretty content watching TMZ – one of the many trashy Hollywood gossip shows on TV – so I just tuned out and read my book. The Simpsons came on after the gossip show, and everyone seemed pretty happy watching that, too. Having seen that particular episode umpteen times, I continued to read my book.

Another patient walked into the office and sat down. After 30 seconds of staring at the TV and sighing and huffing and flipping through the pages of People magazine with audible irritation, she stood up and proclaimed, “I can’t watch this. Does anyone mind if I change the channel? I come here to get away from my kids and I don’t want to be watching this cartoon crap.” (Oh, insert thick stereotypical NJ accent).

Everyone else nodded in apathy, and I didn’t care at that point, so I said, “Go ahead.” This was folly, but it wouldn’t have been socially acceptable to say, “NO – I’m really enjoying this while I’m reading my book” or “Well, it depends entirely upon what you’re going to change it to.”

The latter was what I really REALLY should’ve thought about. But I had my book, so whatever.

She got the remote and instantly punched in the numbers of her desired channel (premeditated -I should’ve known). She popped right over to The Insider, yet another Hollywood gossip show. This show started off with random crap about Jennifer Aniston appearing on Oprah and saying she’s proud of Brad Pitt and feels good about turning 40. OK, fine. Innocuous. Then it turns to the American Idol “shocker.” That shocker is the suicide of an obsessed Paula Abdul fan (also named Paula). The family members spoke out about this young woman’s death, and I’m sure they had meaningful things to say in remembrance of their loved one, but this was chunked down and boiled down to sounding something like this:

Paula’s mother: “She was my daughter and she was not that kind of person.”
Paula’s cousin: “She was my cousin and I loved her. She was Paula, you know?”

That commanded about 5 seconds of airtime – the “correspondant” then cut to footage of various American Idol personalities looking somber (whether it was in relation to this woman’s death was not apparent, but I’m guessing it was just footage of them not caring about anything in particular) and commented, “It’s not apparent how this will affect the judges on Idol, but we’ll find out when the new season premieres on January 13th.

I was more than a bit disgusted.

After the commercial break, they dove into the exciting story of a Houston housewife who has already had 10 breast augmentations bringing her most recently from a 38FFF bra size to a 38KKK. She had to go to Brazil to get that done since they wouldn’t perform the surgery here in the good old US of A. Now, a plastic surgeon with a reality show of his own (at least, I think he’s one of the doctors featured on Dr. 90210) has made it his personal mission to dissuade her from leaving the country to get yet ANOTHER augmentation mere months after this most recent one. She really wants to get up to a 38MMM. He told her that her breast tissue is too thin to support larger implants and that they will tear through her flesh and drop to the floor. He showed her video of her last augmentation surgery. After groaning over the grossness, she decided that she still wants the surgery because she wants to have the largest breasts in the world.

The woman in the waiting room at the doctor’s office – the one who didn’t want to watch The Simpsons because it’s apparently nothing but a dumb cartoon for kids – commented about the Houston housewife, in complete sincerity – “Poor thing!”

Commercial break. The Insider returns with a “shocking revelation” in “the case” of the Houston housewife and her enormous breasts. She’s pregnant.

This is why I really don’t watch TV anymore. When I do, though, I’m more than happy to catch an episode of The Simpsons or Family Guy. Why? Well, for one, they’re chock-full of cultural references and pretty brilliant social commentary and parody if you actually watch and pay attention. Tonight’s experience, however, reminded me that some people don’t want to watch TV so that they might occasionally think or laugh at our culture or, ultimately, themselves. They like to watch to pull themselves away from all thought and to be manipulated, for someone to put on a show for them and give them something very simple to respond to. No complexity, thanks. Good / bad, happy / sad, normal / freak.

It reminds me of the future of TV in the movie version of Fahrenheit 451 where Montag’s wife is tranquilized by her pills and the soothing voices of her “friends” on TV. Though that was more of a statement on how TV destroyed the desire for intellectual pursuits (namely, reading) by  providing a substitute for both intellectual exercise and social interaction by tricking people into believing that they had an active role in what happened on the screen – the TV characters spoonfeeding them questions to which the answers were fairly obvious or completely inconsequential (“where would you seat so-and-so at dinner” or something like that, if I recall correctly).

Ugh. Then I went and talked to the doctor, got my concerns and crap out on the table, managed not to cry the whole time, and left feeling just a little bit better yet than I have these last few nights.

The end.

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