On Not Having a Television

Living a modern plural life can be hard: so many books to read, so many CDs to listen to, so much art to see; not to mention all of one’s own creative projects. Something has to give. With me, that something was TV.

Do not get me wrong, I am a TV child: without its education and guidance I would be nothing. As a baby, my parents used to sit me on a potty and leave me in front of the TV all day. TV never neglected me, it gave me knowledge of the intrigues and tensions I thought inherent in adult life. People on TV lived extraordinary lives and my disappointment, as I was coaxed away from the screen by inquisitive hormones, was complete. Later, however, I realised that life wasn’t the problem – life was interesting, apparently – it was TV’s skewered reality that was the problem.

That is, I no longer wanted to see smiling faces, cretinous opinions and canned laughter. Luckily, I have never had cable or it would have happened long ago (they say there is more, I say it is diluted). Before you protest, I know that there are good things on occasionally, but the brain rot of the empty screen or molestation by adverts was too much: it had to go. No, not thrown out the window to lie in the street like so many on the council estate near where I live, but up into the loft.

The living room was rearranged so that it wasn’t dominated by its conspicuous absence. Hours previously wasted were freed up to write this website. Like the smoker who quits a 20-a-day habit waiting for the money saved to make them feel richer, you can’t just expect the time saved to just materialise: it can still be squandered (internet, radio, gardening) so that you finish the day without achieving a thing. Moreover, you do become, fractionally, part of the underground, you do not live under the same delusions as everyone else; you are apart.

None of which changes the fact that I have access to a laptop that plays DVDs. Meaning that I could watch the first series of Six Feet Under – the series that everyone is talking about – and, when I talk about it to others, I do feel the rush of warm emotion that the outsider gets when he is (temporarily) part of a community.

This feeling was also experienced when watching the show itself. Early on in the first season, David and Keith are seen watching Oz, the classic nineties prison drama and the last thing on TV that I got excited about. It was a special moment for me, a torch being passed on. Early Oz, when every episode was close to the bone and visceral (visceral TV, imagine that!), was worth staying up past 1 am to watch. One got withdrawal symptoms and never wanted it to end. Each episode was largely self-contained with series undercurrents providing the occasional thrill of recognition. Six Feet Under is about relationships, so does not have the kind of action of Oz, but you sense within both sets of characters the same quiet desperation.

Six Feet Under is exemplary TV. It touches all of the right buttons. It makes you loyal to characters and it makes you laugh. You may even think, for a little time, about your own life. The only thing that lets it down is the fact that it is TV: the drug of the nation, the moronifier, and the place where light entertainment means the death of art.

As I write this, the third season is going out on E4. I haven’t yet seen the second. Do I feel as though I’m missing out: No. But then, I wouldn’t.

Neil Scott | Autumn 2003