Posted by: Kate | February 21, 2007

Massive Vowel Movements

I had a confession to make, here, in public, in front of all y’all: I watch crap TV.

This is a big step for me. Growing up, I, like many other Americans in the ’80s, lived with my parents. This sharply curtailed my TV-watching adventures, because my father has always been more of a computer guy, except when he’s ignoring the news or the live fake court shows but God forbid you change that channel, and my mother views television as the work of … well, what’s worse than the devil? Because I think she has a healthy respect for certain works of the devil. A work of Walmart, perhaps – that’s far, far worse, in her eyes.

My mom belongs to a certain class of media consumers who cannot understand the value of watching crap for crap’s sake. “Why would you want to watch so-called reality shows? They’re not even realistic! And commercial television just caters to the lazy, unstimulated brain. It doesn’t make you think!” In my mother’s perfect world, I suspect, there would be no channels but PBS, no movie theaters with stadium seating and cupholders, and no books that didn’t expand the mind and enrich the soul. She likes Art Theatre fare (faux British spelling intact), books with titles that include words like “soul” and “deep,” and no TV shows at all. She takes great pride in scoffing at television as a weakness.

And, for many years, I bought into this mindset without a backward glance. I have vague memories of watching e.r. back when it was lower-cased and featuring George and Noah, probably in the spirit of exposing me to some form of pop culture and watching cute doctors do brave things. Slowly, even that was deemed unworthy. I still watched TV by myself, late at night, but always in a mildly guilty sort of way. Like I could get away with it, but I wouldn’t do it in front of anyone else. If I was Catholic, I’d probably have brought it to confession.

Through college, I owned a television set but couldn’t afford cable, so we rented a lot of movies. When I moved to Boston to get my first (two) masters degree(s), I didn’t even bring a television along with me. Just as well, because my apartment had about 12 square feet of floor space, maybe 13. I took a snotty sort of pride in my televisionless lifestyle, and pretended not to sneer at all those people who passively relied on the boob toob for entertainment and stimulation. It’s not like I spent my non-television-watching time attending museum exhitbits and live theaters and Zen retreats; in fact, now, I can’t even remember how I spent my evenings. But it wasn’t watching TV, that’s for sure.

Then I moved in with Willem, and started joining him in the living room while he watched sports on his little 13″ TV in the corner. I tried watching a new show, Wonderland, and was brutally and mercilessly cut off when it became clear the show was too intense and realistic for prime time and got yanked. I started to feel those old guilty feelings again, like I was doing something shameful. What kind of mother was I, sitting there a few months pregnant, allowing my baby to be prenatally exposed to the mind-numbing qualities of commercial media? Even if it was A Baby Story, which was clearly educational and enriching and tear-jerky and for the sake of the baby?

Time passed, and eventually, one night, I was sitting at home while my husband was at work and my by-then-three-year-old daughter was asleep. I turned on the television, and somehow landed on Temptation Island.

And I watched it. Every single episode, all season long. With a deep, abiding fascination for the way people behave in front of a camera or ten. After a while, I got brave enough to admit to Willem that I, the mighty I, was watching a TV show.

And with even more time, I got over myself, realized that there is a place in my life for crap, for completely useless and brainless entertainment, for passive background information to flow over me while I do other things. I can’t quite sapire to be a true couch potato, because I get too jittery just sitting there – I have to DO something. I used to do crosswords, but now I knit. And I don’t have the patience for commercials, but now that we have DVR I can record far too many shows every week and zip through an hour-long show in 42 minutes. Blissfully.

As for the passive entertainment, the not-thinking… you’re darn RIGHT I’m not thinking! My brain is tired. Worn-out. Full of insanity from work, and sometimes even from my clients, and details about the kids, and a brazilian other things. I need a break, but I’m not ready to be unconscious.

So, last night, I sat and happily watched American Idol, and learned that if you’re a cute 20-something, you, too could join a singing competition in which consonants are unnecessary, and you could warble a long string of musical vowels on stage. Enunciation is superfluous! Even key, pitch and rhythm! Who cares? Just sing, and wiggle it, just a little bit.

I can’t wait for tonight’s series of vowel movements. But don’t tell my mom.


  1. My name is Sharna and I am an American Idol addict. Due to the time constraints inherent in PhD study, that and the 10pm news are the extent of my television-watching. I’m with your mom on the uselessness of TV and feel the same twitch and twinge of anxiety-ridden guilt in “just sitting there” awash in TV-dom after being conditioned for so long to always be doing something. Allowing the stupidity to wash over me like the evening tide is not “doing something.” I. Just. Can’t. Maybe if it all weren’t so asinine. –But if you can, you’re a far better woman than I. My hat’s off to you.

  2. Temptation Island started it all for me as well. We watched it with the curtains drawn, that shameful bit of drama that we wallowed in.

    I spend my non-class nights watching the tube (while knitting) – America’s Next Top Model & House get TAPED if I’m not home, for gosh sakes.

    What have I become?!

  3. I watch enough TV to feel like I’m not a SuperSnob, and not enough to feel BoobTubed. That seems like a happy medium. But my 26 year old daughter refuses to have a TV and thinks it rots your mind. She grew up on Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, so I don’t know how she got that Masters degree in Engineering with me inflicting such rot on her . . . don’t ever think you can figure out your children!

  4. Paradise Hotel…watched every episode and relished it. Joe Millionaire. America’s Next Top Model. Project Runway. Top Chef. Ahem.

    I’m right there with you, knitting away as I laugh at the “reality” of it all, and feeling smarter and smarter as the minutes tick by. DVR is a wonderful thing, is it not?

    Also, my mother thinks the tv is the devil. She only watches Antiques Roadshow and the news. How on earth did I come from that?

  5. The similarities between your experience in Boston with TV-lessness, and the amazement as to where the time goes is right where I am at now. Although not Boston, and a Masters is a stones throw away when I actually apply myself in that direction. I was hooked by Survivor, and apparently in my sick twisted melon I was still not far enough gone to warrant an appearance on TV. I was nixed the in second round of the interview process for the 3rd season. Now without cable I don’t even bother, Night job and infommercial….nerrrrr

  6. I’m a certified (certifiable?) television addict. Last night was the first time this season that I watched American Idol. I like to wait until the real singers are performing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t last night. :o)

  7. as a matter of fact (and it is fact, becuase I currently live with the lady in question) Mom does too watch american idol. not without offering her opinion on everything from the purpose of the show to the shape of the contestants ears, and she does have to say “this just totally misses me, Mary” at least once an episode. but somehow, she’s still managed to pop up in time for nearly every episode this season.

    this is especially surprising to me in light of the ‘discussion’ we had a while ago about how watching dumb tv doesn’t neccessarily make you a dumb person by default, to which she replied “well, what about people who watch child porn? what’s your excuse for them?” i didn’t think that was really the same idea, but ok. She was your mom first, Kate.

  8. Mary! You’ve poisoned our mother’s mind! I am so proud. Really, my heart just grew a little. Someday, though, I’ll have to write about how we don’t have the same mother.

    Bob, I’d have totally watched Survivor if you were on it. Which is saying a lot, because I’ve never watched a moment of it thus far.

    And I tell you all something… if Temptation Island comes back for a new season, ever, I might just have to watch it……… in REAL TIME.

  9. Unless it’s sports or naked women or violent explosions, it has no place on my must-see list.

    Give me 24 hours of Playboy bunnies playing full-contact football on a minefield in occupied territory, and I’m a happy guy.

  10. oo ooo ooo another american idol fan! wes thinks I’ve lost my mind, but I can’t help it.. Temptation Island was my gateway drug too lol. Before that I was proudly distainful of realality tv and those that watched it.. oh yeah and I knit during it too lol if only we all lived closer we could have knitting circle/american idol nights!!

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