Idiocracy Now

My experience with new year’s resolutions has been generally unsatisfactory.  With me … and with almost everyone I know … resolutions are prescriptions for self-induced stress, ultimate failure, and consequent depression.  They suck.

That’s not to say I haven’t made deals with myself and stuck to them: I successfully quit smoking years ago and more recently gave up alcohol.  These were hard things to do, but I’d reached the point where I genuinely wanted to reform myself.  To my mind that takes these accomplishments out of the realm of living up to new year’s resolutions, which usually involve telling yourself you’re going to quit doing something you aren’t quite ready to quit doing … like eating, or flipping off idiot drivers.

I think it’s best to have life resolutions instead: long-term goals, always there to strive toward.  Mine is to be kinder, more understanding, and helpful toward others.  I probably do about as well at that as anyone (which is to say not very well) but I have the rest of my life to live up it, not just the 11 ½ months remaining in 2012.

Still, here’s a new year’s resolution I believe I can accomplish: no more TV.  By “no more,” I mean no longer watching regularly scheduled commercial programming on major network or cable channels, including what passes for news.  For now I’m carving out exceptions for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central, and Justified on FX.  I’ll continue to watch TCM and one or two other cable channels that show movies without commercials.  Of course I must also make a distinction between watching TV programs and using the TV to watch movies I choose to rent from Netflix.

I mean, have you paid attention to what’s on TV lately?  I can’t vouch for the numbers at this link, but I do believe the amount of time set aside for commercials has grown incrementally year by year, stealthily enough that we haven’t noticed how huge it’s become.  We’re getting close to a 50/50 ratio of advertising to programming.

The programming that’s left?  TV’s always been aimed at the lowest common denominator, but I’m convinced the bar’s never been lower than it is today.  Reality TV is this close to real-life Hunger Games, and drama shows (including the “good ones”: Harry’s Law, the Good Wife, House, etc) are all cut to the episodic three-stories-in-one CSI pattern.  Sitcoms?  Where are today’s Frasiers and Seinfelds?  With the departure of Steven Carell from The Office, nowhere, that’s where.

Network news?  A few minutes’ worth of headline coverage, followed by political stenography, sports, celebrity chitchat, and YouTube clips.  Cable news?  The only cable personality I could stand was Rachel Maddow, but now I can’t bear to watch even her show, devoted as it is to breathless insider coverage of the meaningless GOP presidential candidate race (someone let me know when the GOP has its convention and picks a candidate to run against Obama, okay?) and so infested with commercials one may as well watch the Home Shopping Network.  A vast wasteland indeed.

Last year I set up a reading area in the master bedroom.  This year, when the TV’s on in the family room I’ll be back in the book nook, putting my no-TV resolution into practice.  I’ll do my best to stick to it.  I know I’ll be a happier person if I do, and a happier person is a person better able to be kinder, more understanding, and helpful toward others.

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