Killing An Elephant Street level

| 23 May 2016 | 02:39

On 9/11 my best friend in Cleveland, where I used to live, called me here between 8:30 and 9:00 like he often did. After a few minutes of our usual easy chatter, as he was getting off the phone to take his dog out, he said some plane just went into the World Trade Center. He was seeing it right then on his TV. When he hung up, I didn’t turn on my TV to see what was going on. I didn’t have a TV.

When I watch the TV I find myself noticing my feet on the ottoman in front of me or the books and magazines on the table. But then I’ve never had a giant TV. Maybe that was my problem.

I eventually got a TV. After a few years. For sports mostly. And partly to be like everyone else. When I was a kid I got comic books to be like the other kids, even though I didn’t care about comic books.

I can’t watch Ken Burns documentaries. I don’t like that there’s music. The strong images he finds and the strong voice-overs are powerful enough. The companion book with all the great photographs doesn’t have music. The music softens it all. Makes it like a progressive church service.

This morning the cable guy came from a different company than I’d used for TV and internet and installed just the internet. No more TV other than what I can watch on my laptop from a friend’s streaming service which he gave me the password to. The cable guy said internet-only was the fastest-growing request from their customers.

We talk about the proliferation of people with their damn iPhones. Are they/we on them 60 hours a week? No, but we watch our televisions that much. TV is the elephant in the room. We are addicted to its lights. We stay up late to look at all the lights we can fit in our day.

“Statisticians report that television is watched over six hours a day in the average American household. I don’t know any fiction writers who live in average American households. I suspect Louise Erdrich might. Actually I have never seen an average American household. Except on TV.”

-- David Foster Wallace, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments”

In college in the late 60s while a war was going on and revolution was being talked about and sung about, the TV lounge would fill up with guys watching “Batman.”

My TV that’s been disconnected looks as lifeless as a Mac Classic.

“Every hour of television that a person watches after the age of 25, the researchers concluded, potentially snips 22 minutes off of the viewer’s life span.”

-- Gretchen Reynolds, health and fitness writer, The New York Times

You’d have thought Morley Safer had lost a leg in Vietnam the way they went on about him.

When I didn’t have a TV in my then-East Village apartment, someone told me that the musician I could sometimes hear practicing across the courtyard was the lead guy in a legendary band called Television.

I never saw ‘The Wire’ or ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Breaking Bad’.

I tried to get into ‘Silicon Valley’ on HBO and I liked the first two episodes and I felt like one of the guys. Then it lost me.

My parents kept the little cabinet doors closed on our big console TV. They’d open them once in a while for the news or a few shows they liked. It was never just on.

Radio has always been way more important to me. To you too, maybe.

My twin grandchildren in second grade have a TV in the living room of their apartment that’s as big as a Rothko painting.

The list of that day’s televised games in the morning sports page is more exciting than the games when they actually come on. Football and English soccer the exceptions.

I look forward to the TV being dark in the room. I can sit wherever I want to now.

“TV families and your own are hard to tell apart, except yours isn’t interrupted every six minutes by commercials and theirs don’t get bogged down into nothingness, a state where nothing happens, no skit, no zany visitors, no outburst on the laugh track, nothing at all but boredom and a lost feeling, especially when you get up in the morning and the moon is still shining and men are making noisy bets on the first tee.”

-- John Updike, “Rabbit at Rest”