We all know them, people who smugly say, "I don't watch television." Then, when you ask them what they do at home at night, they say something about "reading" or "meditating" or some such nonsense. You will notice these types are oddly unreachable during the finals of Dancing with the Stars. These "don't watch TV," people act as if TV is little more than a stream of raw sewage spewing directly into your brain. Nova, Frontline and The Sopranos just as useless and mind numbing as Access Hollywood or Glenn Beck.
I say to such people, yeah, you're right, who needs TV? I mean, when Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the moon, a charcoal etching was good for me. Who needs to see Lee Harvey Oswald getting shot or Kobe Bryant hitting a three pointer at the buzzer, when a friend can describe it to you? "Yeah, and then this dumpy guy in a suit comes outa' nowhere and shoots Oswald!" Isn't that satisfying? Of course not. Television is our window to the world. And, like the world, there is a lot of junk, but there are also images of amazing beauty, sadness, joy, pain, everything. The full gamut of human existence. Could anything other than TV bring us the image of the young man who kept jumping in front of the tank after the Tienanmen Square massacre, and how the tank driver refused to run him over? Could the radio show us the clueless look on George W. Bush's face when he spoke?
Sometimes, just vegging out and watching some serious non-educational TV is just what the doctor ordered. A friend recently wrote on his Facebook wall, "Just spent the weekend watching a Billy the Exterminator marathon." And I wrote on his wall, "Billy the Exterminator, that's pathetic! I just watched a Pawn Stars marathon. Get a life!"
Man, are reality shows addictive! With a big enough diaper and bowl of Crackerjack, I could watch Pawn Stars until pressure sores developed on my buttocks. In Pawn Stars, people walk into a pawn shop in Las Vegas and sell their stuff. And by stuff, I mean everything from a glass sword to paper money printed by Ben Franklin. My favorite part of Pawn Stars is the disparity between the amount of money the people ask for, and the amount they actually accept. A guy brings in a musket once owned by Daniel Boone, the pawn shop guy says, "How much do you want for it?" The gun owner says, "How bout a quarter of a million dollars?" The pawn shop guy says, "How about four hundred bucks?" The gun owner says, "How bout four fifty?" The pawn shop guy says, "You got it."
American Pickers follows the exploits of two antique dealers who drive around the country in a paneled van on the hunt for collectibles. Granted, it sounds more like American Pedophiles, but no, these guys appear to be on the level. The "Pickers" stop off at the homes with conspicuous amounts of junk in the yard, and present themselves as antique "archaeologists," looking for old advertisements, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, house wares, tools, or virtually anything else than can sell for a quick profit. Often the Norman Bates-ish hoarders they encounter have the most interesting artifacts they find. And the cool thing is, there's no talk of "curing" the hoarding "illness," there's just talk like, "Hey, I'll give you twenty bucks for a car horn."
For me, the most interesting reality shows involve men going into the wild and trying to survive. Man Vs. Wild, starring former British Special Forces commando, Bear Grylls, is the Cadillac of such shows. The boyishly handsome Grylls scales cliffs, explores caves and eats things that are truly disgusting. Surviving solely on nature. He can't just load up his backpack with Ho Hos and Ding Dongs. In a typical episode you may see Bear dining on boiled slugs, maggots, his own urine, or, my personal favorite, a raw frog.
Survivorman, starring Canadian outdoors-man, Les Stroud, is sort of like Bear Grylls on Valium. Stroud too eats nasty things, like roasted scorpions, but unlike Bear, Stroud is not above calling his helicopter to rescue him early when he gets tired of being cold and hungry and away from basic cable. I'm not calling Stroud a Nancy Boy, but frankly, my 73 year old mother packing a carton of Benson and Hedges Menthol 100s and a half gallon of Chivas, could stay in the woods longer than Les Stroud.
In truth, if you don't like TV, you may just lack imagination. Which brings to mind an old Chinese proverb in which a young man moves to a new village and he visits an old wise man (this was when old people were respected for their knowledge and not just medicated and sent to a "home." Weird, huh?) and asks, "Old wise man, what are the people like in this village?" And the old wise man says, "What were the people like in the village you just came from?" And the young guy says, "They were petty and spiteful and dishonest." And the old man said, "The people are the same here." Meaning, that we see what we expect to see. Or, possibly that the old man and the young man both lived in a village fulls of dicks. But I'd rather go with that first thing.