Love, February 2019: Day 2

How I learned to stop worrying and love the television

Maybe it’s because I had a large, active family. Maybe it’s because free-to-air in Australia in the 1980s wasn’t very inspiring. Or maybe it’s just because books were a way to take some time to myself in a household that was slightly short of chaos but somehow regimented too.
Either way, I never liked watching TV.

Television seemed to be something people watched just so they could talk about what they watched – not something they actually enjoyed. It was even something they seemed ashamed of, as though it was the low-rent equivalent of a superior activity like the theatre or even the cinema.
We were supposed to look down on TV watchers and, I admit, I kind of did too.

The world was a giant library of books to discover and for some reason my library, school and parents didn’t seem to worry about what I borrowed.
Seriously, when I think back on what I read at a young age – wow. Forget parental controls on the television and computer, they should have had them at my local library.
Television shows really couldn’t compete with the technicolour worlds I could build from words in my head.

But in highschool I discovered Press Gang. I still remember racing home from school. If I timed it right, I’d hit my couch just as Press Gang started. Still in uniform, bag at my feet, turning on our national broadcaster – affectionately named ‘Aunty’ – to watch the adventures of British highschool students who started their own newspaper while my Dad yelled at me from the kitchen to get changed out of my uniform. Not happening until after Press Gang, Dad. Not. Happening.

I wanted to be a journalist at this point in my life and so I loved Lynda Day to death – the badass editor who lived and breathed news and her sometimes boyfriend, the delinquent Spike. If we were speaking in modern terms, she’d be tsundere: cold (and sometimes even hostile) before gradually showing a warmer, friendlier side over time.
Although those who watched to the end might wonder when the ‘warmer, friendlier’ side was supposed to start.

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer started I found myself with a new TV show I couldn’t wait to watch each week. On too late at night for this early bird, I used to tape it on VHS and then watch it first thing in the morning, huddled under the blankets with a coffee.
Buffy was my first real televisual love, the one where I couldn’t wait for each week and the end of every season left me both utterly satiated but also wanting more.

This is not the moment I realised that television could be the ultimate art form. That came later. After another 15 years or so of consuming culture in some point. But it was the start of that realisation.

And I know this is a radical notion. Television? Not cinema, not theatre, not books, not other forms of art. Television could be the ultimate form. Yes, I said it. There have even been times in my life when I meant it.

Television: the combination of words, images and music in long-form storytelling. A kind of natural progression of epic tales that have defined us since the beginning. What movies could be if they didn’t condense a story so much. What books could be if it had access to filmic cinematography.
Books in 3D.

All the arguments and wrangling and essays we write are because of the interpretive licence given to us by television’s natural ambiguity. A book tells us what’s in a character’s mind – a television show can only hint at it. And it’s not just that the natural ambiguity leads to arguments or to us projecting ourselves onto the characters. It’s that television is more like life.

We don’t walk around with a narrator telling us what people are thinking. We are surrounded by other beings whose thoughts we must induce by their words and their actions. We naturally live in the world represented by television more than we are in the world of any other medium. Life is like a story being projected all around us but it doesn’t have a run time of 120 mins and it doesn’t have allotted seats.

Our life is long-form. Our life is episodic but also ongoing. Our life combines sights and sounds and smells. And our life involves us trying to know the people around us imperfectly. Life is also an argument about meaning in the same way a scene of television is.

What stuns me the most about how we see television culturally is that we still see it as an inferior art form, rather than what it could be – the ultimate one.

We still fill our screens with The Bachelor and Neighbours and The Real Housewives. And that’s fine – our lives still have fast food and Saturdays spent on recliners writing fan wall posts on the meaning of television.

But there is the pervasive sense that television watching is something to be ashamed of. That somehow a trip to the theatre or the museum or the art gallery is a “superior” use of our time.

But great television can teach and challenge and inspire just as much as other forms of art can. And it can do in a way that’s more analogous to how we lives our lives.

And that’s why, at this time in my life, I’ve finally learned how stop worrying and love the television.

Love, February

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