Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Why Am I Watching This?

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Why Am I Watching This?

Article excerpt

Recently I was unwinding with my boyfriend, when he turned on the reality show The Real World.

On the show, three of the roommates were feeling a little hungry and decided to make some macaroni and cheese. After they had eaten the macaroni, they loaded the dish washer and turned it on. One of them had mistakenly used dish soap, which caused the dishwasher to overflow.

After a few minutes of watching the show, I grew bored and abruptly asked my boyfriend, "Why are we watching this?" He agreed it was boring and changed it to the Bruins game, but my question continued to circulate in my head. Why were we watching it? The action being portrayed was so mundane and inconsequential that, if it took place in my actual life, I would forget it within a day. The people in it, while mildly attractive, were far from captivating. So why were we watching it? For that matter, why have I watched hours of forgettable television throughout my life?

Watching television has always been my customary pastime--not my favorite one but one that I did everyday. When I was younger, I tracked time by shows, not hours. I am one of five children, and putting Sesame Street on was the best way for my parents to keep me occupied. This is probably how televiewing became a routine activity that I engaged in when I had spare time. Every Friday night was TGIF--a two hour line-up of shows that, like most other first graders of the time, I waited for all week. Later in my childhood Saved By the Bell or Beverly Hills 90210, sparked the imaginations of my sisters and I, making our make-believe time much more saucy. We idolized the rich and beautiful California teenagers in both of these shows, and wished that someday our lives could resemble theirs.

I would like to claim that I have become a more discriminating viewer as an adult, but I am still guilty of watching the rich and beautiful California teenagers on the O.C. Even today my end of the day activity is, the majority of the time, watching the tube. Much of the time I watch episodes of syndicated shows that I have already seen many times in the past. Some of the time I make more thoughtful choices; I love HBO and think that most of the shows on there are worthy of attention. Most of the time, however, I am not entertained by what I am watching on television. This particular night was the first time I really thought about the inherent contradiction of being bored by your choice of entertainment.

I began thinking about the absence of analysis there is for most people in relation to television. The average American spends four hours a day watching television--about half the time spent either sleeping or working (www.whitedot.org). Despite the predominance of routine televiewing in people's lives, most don't consider critically the causes, nature, and consequences of watching television. Many regard it as a behavior that is undertaken only when "real" action isn't taken place. How many times have you heard someone say "I did nothing last night," only to have them clarify that nothing really meant watching TV. By deeming television as a non-activity, it is easier to dismiss the possibility that it is a dominating force in our lives. While it would have been easier to remain disengaged yet captivated by the glowing screen than to critically examine the impact of television on my life, watching TV monopolized too much of my daily routine not to take a second look.

I started to look at possible motivations that could account for dedicating so much time to an activity that, much of the time, does not provide the element of entertainment that it is used for. When I posed the question to my friends, a common response that I got from people was, "what else am going to do?" It was taken for granted that when you are left to occupy yourself, watching television is the most obvious choice of activity; yet, it is simultaneously considered a last resort. It is easy to forget that a relatively short time ago people did entertain themselves differently. …

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