Wednesday, January 17, 2007

American Idle

There have been times when I planned too much of my life around what was on television. My grandmother, at whose house I spent a lot of time, bought a copy of TV Guide every week. When I was a child, I would excitedly study the fall issue that announced the new Saturday morning cartoon lineup. (Yes, my young readers, there really was a time when Saturday morning was about the only time that cartoons were on television.) After weighing my priorities and plotting my approach, I would get up early on Saturday and watch hours and hours of cartoons. Just for the record, nothing ever beat Looney Tunes, although I also enjoyed Magilla Gorilla, Space Ghost, Yogi Bear, and Atom Ant.

When I was a young teenager, before I could drive and when I was still afraid of girls, I lived for the Friday and Saturday night shows. ABC was the place to be on Friday nights. I lived vicariously through the Brady Bunch (Marcia!), The Partridge Family (Laurie!), and Room 222 (the cute girl with bangs whose name I don’t remember!). I then imagined what adult life might be like while I watched The Odd Couple and Love American Style. Adult life has not turned out to be quite what I imagined it to be while I watched those shows, especially the latter one, thank goodness. On Saturday CBS was my network of choice; I’d spend three happy hours watching All in the Family (shocking!), Bridget Loves Bernie (romance!), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (brilliant!), The Bob Newhart Show (deadpan!), and Mission Impossible (thrilling!).

Even during my seminary years Debra and I had a regular television viewing schedule. We didn’t miss M*A*S*H, St. Elsewhere, and Hill Street Blues. Debra would sometimes force me to watch Magnum P.I. with her; she had to watch Little House on the Prairie by herself.

Things are different now. Oh, I still watch television. I watch at least some of every Atlanta Braves game I can and I do plan my life around televised Georgia Bulldog football games. Because I like old movies, Turner Classic Movies is, in my humble opinion, the most valuable and only indispensable network on television. It’s not that I don’t want to watch other things; it’s just that I’m a grown man, that I have a lot of responsibilities, and that I have a lot of things that I want to do before I die and I can’t do most of them while I’m watching television.

What got me to thinking about this was seeing the list of nominees in the television category at Monday night’s Golden Globe awards.

Here’s the list of nominees for best television series (musical or comedy) and a note on my experience with each show.
Desperate Housewives---never watched it
Entourage---never watched it
The Office---never watched it
Ugly Betty---never watched it
Weeds---never watched it

Here’s the list of nominees for best television series (drama) and a note on my experience with each show.
24---never watched it
Big Love---never watched it
Grey’s Anatomy---watched half of one episode once because my daughter Sara was watching it.
Heroes---never watched it
Lost---never watched it

Also, and I hope that some of you are sitting down when you read this, I have never watched American Idol!

Don’t misunderstand; Debra and I do watch some TV series together: CSI (because it’s interesting), Cold Case (because it’s on Sunday night and that is a time when I want to be distracted), and Law & Order (because you can watch some version of that virtually any time that you want to take an hour and watch some television). So, I have no problem with the watching of television per se.

I do get concerned, though, when I think about the fact that this nation is full of people who have watched every single episode of every show that is listed above. Where does such American idleness get us? How can mature adult people spend that much time at ease and being entertained? Usually I am more concerned about the people I know, and they are legion, who stay so busy all the time that they are terribly stressed. Such folks need to learn how to stop and take it easy. How much of a problem is it, on the other hand, that so many people who have so many skills and so many gifts and who could be doing so much good for so many people and who could be making so many positive contributions to so many difficult situations spend so much time “vegging out” in front of their televisions?

The good Lord in his grace and love gave us the possibility of Sabbath observance. We can take time to stop, to reflect, to relax, to recreate, and to worship if we only will. Many of us need more leisure time than we’re taking. But too many of us are going to the opposite extreme. It’s one thing to “veg out” occasionally; it’s another thing entirely to live, by choice, in a chronic vegetative state.

Oh, I also never watched Seinfeld.

I hope I won’t be asked to renounce my citizenship!

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