“…The second great-seeming thing is that television looks to be an absolute godsend for a human subspecies that loves to watch people but hates to be watched itself. (Ed: Fiction Writers) For the television screen affords access only one-way. A psychic ball-check valve. We can see Them; They can’t see Us. We can relax, unobserved, as we ogle. (Ed: Fiction Writers.) I happen to believe that this is why television also appeals so much to lonely people. To voluntary shut-ins. Every lonely human I know watches way more than the average US six hours a day. (Ed: Not there yet. Do good movies count?) The lonely, like the fictive, love one-way watching. For lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness–in fact there exists today support- and social groups for persons with precisely these attributes. Lonely people get, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly. Let’s call the average US lonely person Joe Briefcase. Joe Briefcase fears and loathes the strain of the special self-consciousness which seems to afflict him only when other real human beings are around, staring, their human sense-antennae abristle. Joe B. fears how he might appear, come across, to watchers. He chooses to sit out the enormously stressful game of US appearance poker.”
“But lonely people at home, alone, still crave sights and scenes, company. Hence television. Joe can stare at Them on the screen; They remain blind to Joe. It’s almost like voyeurism. I happen to know lonely people who regard television as a veritable deus ex machiina for voyeurs. And a lot of the criticism, the really rabid criticism less leveled than sprayed at networks, advertisers and audience alike, has to do with the charge that television has turned us into a nation of of sweaty, slack-jawed voyeurs. This charge turns out to be untrue, bit it’s untrue for interesting reasons.”
“But the analogy between TV and liquor is best, I think. Because (bear with me a second) I’m afraid good old average Joe Briefcase might be a teleholic. I.e., watching TV can be malignantly addictive. It may become malignantly addictive only once a certain threshold of quantity is habitually passed, but then the same is true of Wild Turkey. And by “malignant” and “addictive” I again do not mean evil or hypnotizing. An activity is addictive if one’s relationship to it lies on that downard-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and really needing it. Many addictions, from exercising to letter-writing are pretty benign. But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as a relief from the very problems it causes. (I didn’t get this definition from any sort of authoritative source, but it seems pretty modest and commensensical.) A malignant addiction is also distinguished for spreading the problems out and in in interference patterns, creating difficulties for relationships, communities, and the addict’s very sense of self and spirit. In the abstract, some of this hyperbole might strain the analogy for you, but concrete illustrations of malignantly addictive TV-watching cycles aren’t hard to come by. If it’s true that many Americans are lonely, and it’s true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and it’s true that lonely people find in television’s 2-D images relief from their stressful reluctance to be around real human beings, then it’s also obvious that the more time spent at home alone watching TV, the less time spent in the world of real human beings, and that the less time spent in the real world, the harder it becomes not to feel inadequate to the tasks involved in being part of the world, thus fundamentally apart from it, alienated from it, solipsistic, lonely. It’s also true that to the extant one begins to view pseudo-relationships with Bud Bundy or Jane Pauley as acceptable alternatives to relationships with real people, one will have commensurately less conscious incentive even to try to connect with real 3-D persons, connections that seem pretty important to basic mental health. For Joe Briefcase, as for many addicts, the Special Treat begins to substitute for something nourishing and needed, and the original genuine hunger–less satisfied than bludgeoned–subsides to a strange objectless unease.”
“TV-watching as a malignant cycle doesn’t even require special pre-conditions like writerly self-consciousness or neuroallergic loneliness. Let’s for a second imagine Joe Briefcase as now just an average US male, relatively unlonely, adjusted, married, blessed with 2.3 apple-cheeked issue, utterly normal, home from work at 5:30, starting his average six-hour stint in front of the television. Since Joe B. is average, he’ll shrug at pollsters’ questions and answer averagely that he most often watches television to “unwind” from those elements of his day and life he finds unpleasant. “…” But would mere distraction ensure continual massive watching? Television offers way more than distraction. In a lot of ways, television purveys and enables dreams, and most of those dreams involve some sort of transcendence of average daily life. The modes or presentation that work best for TV–stuff like “action,” with shoot-outs and car wrecks, or the rapid-fire “collage” of commercials, news, and music videos, or the “hysteria” of prime-time soap and sitcom with broad gestures, high voices, too much laughter–are unsubtle in their whispers that, somewhere, life is quicker, denser, more interesting, more…well, lively than contemporary life as Joe Briefcase knows it. This might seem benign until we consider that what good old average Joe Briefcase does more than anything else in contemporary life is watch television, an activity with anyone with an average brain can see does not make for a very dense and lively life. Since television must seek to attract viewers by offering a a dreamy promise of escape from daily life, and since stats confirm that so grossly much of ordinary US life is watching TV, TV’s whispered promises must somehow undercut teleivision-watching in theory (“Joe, Joe, there’s a world where life is lively, where nobody spends six hours a day unwinding before a piece of furniture”) while reinforcing television in practice (“Joe, Joe, your best and only access to this world is TV”).