“I find television very educational,” quipped Groucho Marx. “The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book.”
On average, Canadians watch more than three hours of TV every day, according to the latest StatsCan reports (between 22.1 and 26.1 hours a week says the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting ). Americans watch about 4.5 hours a day (no reason to feel a smug sense of self-satisfaction... Canadians watch WAY too much even without the comparisons).
Canadian seniors over 65 watch more than the rest of us: men over 60 watch an average 4.5 hours a day, women over 60 watch 5.1 (one report says 23.2 hours a week for men, 26.4 for women). So much for the golden years - that's some future, waiting to die in front of a TV set.
Twenty two hours is almost a full day watching TV every week. One seventh of our life is spent watching a piece of furniture, gazing into a plastic box.
If you live to be the average age, 75-77 years, you’ll have spent a whole decade watching TV. That’s ten full years of your life sitting passively on the couch instead of having adventure, romance, exercise, or excitement. Ten lost years you will never regain. Where’s the passion or the value in that?
You sleep eight hours, you work eight hours, most of us spend 3-4 hours every day getting ready for work, eating, commuting, doing routine daily tasks… that leaves 4-5 hours of time left in your day to actually have a life outside work. Three hours of that – the majority of our free time - is wasted watching TV.
More than half of Canadians own two or more TV sets, so the box has invaded our private spaces as well: our bedrooms and our kitchens. To me, a TV set in the bedroom is the ultimate contraceptive. Who can make love while Leno is on?
Twenty percent of Canadians watch TV in bed or use TV to fall asleep. Instead of, say, having sex, or reading.
The vast majority of TV watching occurs between 6 and 11 p.m. In fact, more people watch TV between 7 and 11 p.m. than than any other time of the day - 38% of the total viewing.
Foreign - meaning mostly American - TV dominates watching patterns (69 percent of viewing versus 31 percent Canadian in 1999). The only times when Canadian TV actually fights back are the dual blips at 6 and 11 p.m. when the news is broadcast. We like Canadian news because it's non-partisan and not - as yet - merely a function of the state propaganda machine, as it has become with such corporate media outlets as Fox Media in the USA. Otherwise, as far as TV is concerned, we're slaves to American pop culture. And that's a sad comment for Canadians to make.
Canadian Media Research Inc. (CMRI) noted that "the increased availability of Canadian programs on English and French TV in Canada has not led to an increase in viewing of Canadian programs." The CRTC - Canada's media watchdog and broadcast regulatory body - noted, "the overall decline in viewing to Canadian programming... in the last 10 years has become evident in the system."
Canadians are watching more TV and less Canadian TV. Resistance is futile... the Borg are at the door!
Here's a message for those who think TV is the centre of the universe: those people on the screen are not your friends; they're not living an enviable life you can emulate; they are not in your living room or even in your city; you are not seeing a slice of their lives or looking into their kitchens and bedrooms. They are actors, paid to recite lines written by script writers in a foreign land, and when their job is over they go home to different lives. Cheers, Will and Grace, Seinfeld, Bewitched, Mary Tyler Moore, Star Trek... it's not very different from watching Shakespeare, except that the quality of the writing is a few light years lower and there are a LOT more ads to contend with. It's stage, it's theatre, it's fiction. And it's not worth wasting your life to watch.
Television is ubiquitous. There’s a TV set on in a thousand places: daycare centres, dental offices, bars and restaurants, airports, bus terminals, hospital waiting rooms, department store windows… it’s almost like we have a pathological condition that doesn’t allow us to have a quiet public space where TV doesn’t invade. But it's TV that is the sociopath, not the viewers.
And what are the popular shows? Cartoons, "reality shows" (which are, like TV wrestling, heavily scripted and choreographed, and as far from real life as Hollywood can take you), vapid sitcoms, soap operas... is it worth an hour of your life to see who comes out ahead on American Idol or Survivor? And when you're 75 or 80, will it have been worth the hundreds of hours spent watching these shows to say, "I saw the whole series... instead of having a real, active, life"?
How many times have you gone to a bar or restaurant and found the attention of one or more of your group has become fixated on the ever-present TV set, watching whatever game or sitcom is being broadcast?
Haven’t you ever wanted to turn off those darn TV sets in public spaces? To grab people’s attention from the idiot box and drag it back to the people and the conversation?
You’re not alone. There’s an entire counterculture called “culture jamming” that fights the growing presence of mass media, and tries to change its message from the bland, homogeneous corporate format to something interesting, real or relevant.
And there are those who simply want us to tune in and turn off, shutting out the constant stream of pop media. Turn the damn thing off!
TV-B-Gone ) is a tool for those of you who are simply sick and tired of having the TV pre-eminent in your cultural and social life. It’s a combination of guerilla tactics and technology that will let you control the box, instead of it controlling you.
TV-B-Gone is simply a keychain-size remote control. It can turn off (and on) most TV sets, although like any technology, it’s not infallible. It won’t harm the TV set any more that your home remote will.
If you’ve ever purchased a “universal remote” to control your multitude of devices – VCR, DVD player, TV, stereo, radio – you’re already familiar with the basic technology. Where most of the universal remotes require some human intervention to determine the appropriate codes for the devices, TV-B-Gone has a data bank of codes for a wide range of popular TV sets.
Some people will use TV-B-Gone for the nuisance value. I don’t recommend you take one into, say, a sports bar and shut down the game several dozen people are avidly watching. But in many places, TV sets are like secondhand smoke: you’re forced to endure a cultural choice over which you have no control. It’s as invasive as having someone play extremely loud rap music on his or her car stereo while parked in your driveway at midnight.
One caution: TV-B-Gone has proven effective, but some others may cause problems and even damage TV sets. I used (to my chagrin and embarrassment) another changer, TVgo, on a Sony TV at a local bar and it flipped the broadcast to Japanese characters, japanese broadcast format and - so far - has not been and cannot be fixed. The result: I owe the bar a new TV. Caveat emptor...
TV isn’t the villain, of course: it’s our passivity in allowing it so much control over our lives that’s the real problem. But TV bombards us with an incessant and repetitive stream of messages, mainly ads, and we’re willing captives.
Maybe it’s time to fight back. TV-B-Gone won’t change your personal habits, but it can help control the unwanted use of TV sets – including those in your own home.
TV isn't reality. It's entertainment, but it's addictive. Turn it off. Go for a walk. Have a life, a real, active, participatory life. Read a book. Talk. Have a glass of wine and watch the sunset. Do anything - but turn the damned TV off and start living again.