Avoiding the Cultural Hook

In the past six months (and probably since the end of the Olympics) Connie and I have not watched television properly. This is for a few main reasons, but the biggest was the conscious choice to just stop watching TV. In Texas we chose to stop watching TV whilst eating, instead eating in "silence" at the dining table to let us engage in conversation - it was excellent and made a big difference. In Aberdeen however we’d sit for two hours a night watching… well, nothing – episodes of the overly familiar Big Bang Theory, or How I Met Your Mother, or even just an episode of Grand Designs that we’d probably seen the end of. Don’t Tell the Bride. Border Patrol. Various others – this was because we didn’t have a dining table and sitting on our sofa, unable to sit opposite each other, was really rubbish. Moving to Glasgow gave us this integral part of our life back, and the TV slipped out into the oft turned on device it should have always been.

When we moved into our current home six months ago, I remarked that we should just stop watching TV all together. I blogged about ithere. And we did, deleting Netflix, disconnecting the aerial, and that was that. Instead, we’d play with Frank, go for a walk, play a game of Dice, or work out. It was actually really easy to start with, and now it’s pretty much the only way we can live. Admittedly, we got Netflix last month for the disappointing Arrested Development reunion, and will get rid of it this coming week.

This means that we are suddenly cut off from the world of TV. A world that almost everyone else is plugged into. A pal of mine has asked “What do you do?” when we aren't watching TV, and I countered it with “Well, what do you watch?”. I am not advocating anyone getting rid of it, nor is this a dubious badge of honour – instead, it’s a sudden reminder how we are suddenly cut off from a main source of pop culture.

This weekend I was helping out with my Scouts and a fellow leader was reading the Sun, and it occurred to me that not only do I not see television adverts, nor do I read about gossip, or see newspaper adverts. I don’t know anything about the current sporting events, the soaps, I don’t even know what is on television right now bar a few half-noticed post on Twitter about something called Broadchurch, a football match, and a new Apprentice series. I feel like I am suddenly less polluted, my brain is less fried, and without the drip of marketing that you can’t avoid when watching TV, my source of information is selectively curated by myself.

There is also the simple fact that I cannot watch TV any more. I can’t even watch TV series that I want to watch on TV any more – recent shows, such as Game of Thrones, are shown a day after the US and Canada airings, which is a massive improvement over the 6 weeks to a full year of my childhood. But I cannot wait a week to see another episode – the DVD boxset, or the Netflix series, or even (whisper it) the Torrent download, are the only way I can watch serialised TV shows. Using Game of Thrones as an example, Connie and I watched three episodes at a time of season three, being willing to wait three weeks between three hours of the show, as this was not only the way we actually started to watch the show (on DVD), but the only way I can enjoy it, watching a feature length version of the episodes strung together. If I am waiting a week per show, like we did for Mad Men season five, I cannot follow it and I don’t get engaged as much as I do with other shows. Connie feels the same.

This isn't a remark about the lack of attention span that a generation doesn't have, but instead a victory for the democracy of choice. I don't have to wait each week to watch an episode. Instead, I download an episode a week, save it, and then watch them in a row as a 170odd minute movie, without adverts, at my leisure. I then have three weeks to wait until the next set of episodes, which is plenty of time to mull over and discuss the plot points. A friend recently asked "What is the difference in watching one episode a week every week over three every three weeks?" which was a great question, and one I can answer as "I prefer a movie length dump of plot rather than a singular hour long dump of plot". 

Opening the centre pages of the Sun, this same Scouter pointed out a few famous people to me, of which I’d neither seen nor heard of before. I accept my chosen ignorance and count it as a blessing, because when he explained who these people were (a musician, a model, someone who dated someone, the girl from the Apprentice etc) I realised what fame has become – fuck all. Fame is now the thing you get forced to you, and these people are famous not because most people know them but that they are the ones that are forced to us the most via the basic and low-levels of the media. The words "fame" and "celebrity" are greatly mutually exclusive. 

As a list, the things I don’t do is quite specific, and I am not the normal, but similarly I am not unique. I don’t read newspapers, I don’t listen to the Radio (well, Radio 4, but that’s not the type of Radio I mean), I don’t watch TV, I don’t buy magazines. I am my own curator, my own cultural controller, and that must absolutely terrify the marketers. 

How will I ever know which beer to buy, what car to lust after, which perfume to buy at christmas, or what compilation album is being peddled that week? Well, the answer is I don't want to know these things. The beer I like is the beer I like, I drive the car I lust after, I don't buy perfume as Connie won't wear any, and compilation albums are more out-of-date in these days of iTunes and Spotify than 33.6k modem being used to load Facebook.

And all of this is absolutely fucking great and I am so glad it's possible.