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03 May 2007

What are your TV discussion thoughts? I grew up in a house where we weren't allowed to watch tv. We watched plenty on the sly, but it was always vaguely illicit.[More:]I watch plenty of TV now, although still more movies and DVDs of shows.

Anyway, yesterday I was at a small party and folks started to talk about TV shows that they watched. It was a general conversation. It made me a little bit uncomfortable, and I realized that, to me, talking about TV shows seems kind of gauche, as if it isn't really an appropriate topic of conversation.

It's not a big thing, and I'm sure that this is a foible of mine, a holdover from the way TV was frowned upon in my mother's house (I had a girlfriend who thought it was really bad to watch TV during the day, clearly something her mother had impressed on her to get her ass off the couch), but I was wondering what other people thought.
Yeah, I have the same thing, omiewise. I was allowed to watch tv, but I never did that much. Now, I watch maybe an hour or two a week, excluding when I can watch the Orioles on NYC tv.

But yeah, talking about it? I have a good friend who loves to watch tv and he will talk about it all the time. And I'm always vaguely embarrassed for him when we're in a group, like he's revealing himself to be some cultural wasteland (he's not). I have to consciously tell myself to stop thinking that way.
posted by gaspode 03 May | 12:16
We watched it all the time in my house. I used to watcha lot more, but since I got into the internet, my hours of viewing have decreased considerably. But I still like TV.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 12:20
I suppose that, except

1- how much money people make (crass)

2- the progress of mutual acquaintances' mortal illnesses (ghastly)

I have very few taboo subjects when it comes to dinner party conversations
posted by matteo 03 May | 12:24
I was a broadcast engineer for several years. One commercial station I worked for had a geographically favored transmitter site, and operated transmitters for the city educational stations and for various microwave repeater sites from that point. When I worked transmitter shifts, I'd be operating 2 television stations, 3 FM stations and half a dozen microwave links for mid-distance cable systems feeds. So I've been paid to watch TV for thousands of hours in my life, and I have had both worse and better gigs, since.

Bottom line: I don't mind talking about TV, at union scale. It's not getting paid decently to discuss it that I find irksome.
posted by paulsc 03 May | 12:25
I was a big couch potato as a kid, but now that I'm all grown up I watch only a couple of hours a week (and most of that is the Discovery channel, so it's good for me - right?). I tend to feel the same way about talking about TV and especially video games. On the other hand, talking about other media always seems to be ok - nobody looks like a boor talking about books or music.
posted by backseatpilot 03 May | 12:25
(and I watched a lot of cartoons, and Starsky & Hutch as a kid, not much else, there was very little on TV anyway. I did go a lot to the movies though, with my grandfather and later alone)
posted by matteo 03 May | 12:26
There was TV in our household growing up, but it was not a very important pastime. As kids we played outside almost all the time, and then too we were more radio listeners (a habit I still have today). I remember watching M*A*S*H* and 60 Minutes and Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings, growing up, but we weren't glued to it, and really preferred to be outside with our friends than inside our small house.

I now have TV at home, and do watch it a couple evenings a week to relax, but I don't tune into anything regularly and it's mostly turned off, used as a DVD monitor. But even though it was never a taboo pastime in my house, I agree, I always feel awkward when it's a discussion topic. It makes me feel strangely odd - there is a whole world of people out there who know what's happening on Lost or American Idol, and I'm not one of them.

If there is a show I like and have seen, which there occasionally is, I'm liable to talk about it because it's kind of rare and I'm excited about the discovery - as witnessed by my recent threads here on two awesome American Experience shows I caught. I also got into the first season of Project Runway somehow and enjoyed talking to people about how surprisingly interesting it was.

I think, at parties, it falls into the same category as talking about bands and music, or movies, or authors. It becomes just another social currency. Some people will be familiar with the topic, others won't.

I get the same awkward feeling when people are naming long lists of bands or artists that they know in common, trading observations or judgements, and it's just not a genre I know about or have interest in. Same with movies - I'm not very into movies unless they're old, so I'm definitely out of the loop when they get discussed.

Still, there is something especailly boring about TV discussions. Sometimes I want to say Why are we talking about TV characters? Those aren't real people. They aren't going to come to your funeral. I think it really comes down to the fact that watching TV is a very common experience for most people - I haven't seen any statistics lately, but people watch some startling amount of hours a day, on average. Some folks just have it on all the time when they're home. For many people it's by far the biggest use of their leisure time. So it's relatviely safe for them to assume that most people can participate in a conversation about it. It's an easy place to start.

But it's also partly an inherently 'party' problem. My favorite things to talk about are places and travel, ideas, history, social observations, creative plans or schemes, food, ridiculous true-life stories, and politics. My favorite parties include people who enjoy getting into those topics. But not every party features that kind of conversation. I'm sure there are people who love movies and indie rock who would feel left out and bored by the conversation at my parties.

So I don't think it's just you or purely a result of having a TV-less childhood. It's just a question of how into TV the partygoers are.
posted by Miko 03 May | 12:33
and I watched a lot of cartoons, and Starsky & Hutch as a kid,

This explains your long-held dream of being an anvil-toting pimp.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 12:41
My Dad couldn't stand the fact that I came home and watched cartoons everyday after school, so he made me participate in sports against my will all through junior high and high school. I chose cross country, track, and wrestling as these seemed to be the least team-oriented sports available. Now, as an adult, I hate rigorous physical activity of any kind and love T.V. Way to go Dad!

I don't seem to watch any of the shows that people talk about constantly here at work (Gray's Anatomy, Heroes, The Office) so I just tend to tune out when these endless conversations occur. In fact, I tend to tune out when ANY conversations occur. I guess I'm just good at tuning out in general (another thing that drove my Dad crazy during lecture time).

**Changes channel**
posted by Otis 03 May | 12:42
I don't watch much TV except for American Idol. It's great conversation fodder for fellow fanatics. OTOH I have never watched Lost, but my husband got suckered into it after viewing the first season's DVDs.
posted by bunnyfire 03 May | 12:52
We were talking about this the other day a party. Talking about talking about teevee shows, that is.

I think for the most part, I've enjoyed some of the hyperanalytical conversations that I've had with at parties over the years. Over the top comparisons of the plot setups and contrivances of "Gilligan's Island" to Sartre's Huis Clos, as well as the undercurrent of taboo sexuality on the "Brady Bunch", white patriarchal domination on "Bewitched". But, that's pretty much it.

As for current shows like "Lost", "American Idol", "Heroes", etc. I'll guess that they are not totally unredeemable, but who's got the time to watch this stuff anyway? When I get home from work and finished eating, I'm just about up for the previous night's Daily Show and half the Colbert Show, then I pass out.
posted by psmealey 03 May | 12:52
I didn't watch much television as a kid, and I didn't start watching TV until I was around 11 or 12 years old. Even then it was rare. I had a show or two I liked to watch. Miami Vice and Remington Steele come to mind. Around this time I also had a very small color television in my bedroom. It was tiny and portable. At one time I think my dad used it to watch the game at work, or on his boat and he gave it to me. I remember lying in bed watching Chico and the Man and Barney Miller when the rest of the house was asleep.

I've never been faithful to a particular show, except for maybe Miami Vice, The Cosby Show and Style with Elsa Klensch.

I watch very little TV nowadays. I'm a fan of HBO. I like The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Extras. Rome too, but that's over.

If I'm watching TV, I'm probably watching a movie.

Television frequently comes up as a topic when I'm with friends. I don't have much to add to the conversation. I don't watch 24, Grey's Anatomy, House, Lost, Dancing with the Stars, etc. Sometimes I wish I did. I feel out of the loop.
posted by LoriFLA 03 May | 12:56
I think my discomfort with real-life conversations about tv shows is that they tend to be boring. I love analyzing tv shows in the same way one would with books -- Is the writing good? Are the characters consistent? What messages are being sent? How does the camerawork influence how we interpret the content? etc. etc. etc. -- but the problem is that most tv shows are not good enough to stand up to that kind of analysis.

So, with crap shows, you can get into the cultural studies side of it, analyzing the messages these shows are unintentionally sending (I find this approach fruitful for discussing gender-role indoctrination through the WB (yes, I know it doesn't exist anymore)), or you pull back and stay superficial. Which can be fluffy fun; I don't think it's much different from discussing sports or the weather or food most of the time.

I really do hate it when people talk about tv characters as if they were real people, however. Or sit there summarizing plots. But again, it's mostly because I find it boring, rather than some inherent aspect of the tv-ness of it.
posted by occhiblu 03 May | 12:56
Over the top comparisons of the plot setups and contrivances of "Gilligan's Island" to Sartre's Huis Clos,

and of course Ginger vs. Mary Ann or (shudder) Mrs. Howell.

(I kid but TV is a huge part of pop culture and pop culture is our lingua franca. I remember one time I was on the subway and they were pulling into my stop and ten feet short they stopped and announced 'due to debris on the track we are being delayed for 10 minutes. please be patient.' From somewhere deep in the train car I heard a wabbity voice say 'what a way to run a railroad!' which made my day. And sometimes I like watching TVLand with IMDB open so that I can find weird facts and parellels about the old shows or movies I'm watching. But I'll concede that I'm weird.)
posted by jonmc 03 May | 12:59
also, TV (like movies, sports and music) are surefire conversation starters in a bar and since I'd much rather have someone to talk to while I drink, I don't find it gauche at all.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 13:08
At home, we have a TV but no cable, and for some reason when we moved, reception went from iffy to nonexistent. Neither of us cares much about catching broadcast TV, preferring to rent or buy an entire season or series and watch it repeatedly.

My partner works at a videostore and writes their weekly newsletter, to which I contribute, so we're nerdily conversant not only with our own favorite shows but with some of those that customers favor. There's some overlap of those categories, of course.

I like to dissect the nuances of plot, character, and motif just as I would with a film, a book, or a painting, but I also enjoy plain ole geekery over the pleasure of the entertainment.

I do get lost when people start in on the intricacies of hot reality shows, but even then it can be fun to watch how people use a common experience as a social arena: for forging connections, for oneupsmanship, for expressing morals and mores.

on preview: jonmc, I don't find the imdb thing weird at all. But then, I'm a raging geek.
posted by Elsa 03 May | 13:13
(elsa, sometimes I'll find an IMDB entry for somebody dead and click on the link for the year they died and browse through that years parade of stiffs. That's geeky and fucking morbid.)
posted by jonmc 03 May | 13:15
HA! That is geeky and fucking morbid, and I'm surprised I never thought of it. Sounds enlightening, in a gruesome way.
posted by Elsa 03 May | 13:20
When I watch TV shows it's on DVD, usually years after they aired, and I have to admit I often wish I could talk about them with someone.
posted by small_ruminant 03 May | 13:24
Well, it's a fun prism to view cultural history through, pop culture, and things like IMDB are a neat tool for that, and like I said, I'm an unabashed fan of pop culture anyways.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 13:24
(I watch them with imbd open, too)
posted by small_ruminant 03 May | 13:25
careful s_r, that can lead to moments like this.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 13:32
Speaking to the original question: sometimes TV talk in a group leaves me feeling isolated, when everyone knows who's who on ANTM (an acronym I couldn't decode for some time) or American Idol, but no more excluded than one might feel when the group talks about cooking, or infertility, or Shakespeare, or whatever.

Sometimes I reign in my talk, lest I come off as that weird breed, the TV snob. Trust me, I like dreck as well as finely wrought entertainment, but I'm much more likely to discuss the more carefully crafted stuff because, well, there's more fodder for in=depth critique or discussion.

If, rather than a discussion of the show itself, we're talking about popular reaction or underlying ideology, I think more shows fit into the spectrum of discussion. Do. Not. Get. Me. Started. on Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.
posted by Elsa 03 May | 13:35
I'm actually convinced that Master on Jeannie was gay. I mean c'mon, he's got a woman who will do literally anything he wants and he never gets kinky. Then again, a gay dude could simply say 'make yourself into a dude,' and do the same thing. There's an idea for a gay porn flick right there: I Dream Of Gene. Or if your a literature geek: I Dream Of Genet.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 13:39
*wants to know what Elsa thinks about Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie, but that would be talking about TV in a thread about whether it's gauche to talk about TV*
posted by Miko 03 May | 13:43
ah, to hell with it, MIko. We are gauche. Let's revel in our gauchity.

posted by jonmc 03 May | 13:45
I somehow absorbed the idea that it was gauche to talk about a certain kind of tv growing up. It bothers me that I sometimes flinch at that and I think I overcompensate. ie. "Fuuuuuuuuuuuck dude, did you see when that guy on that survival show pissed on his shirt and wrapped it around his head to stay cool in the desert?" to which my wife says "What the hell are you talking about you daffy asshole?"
posted by Divine_Wino 03 May | 13:46
I bought a genuine Gauchity handbag on the street for only $48!

But seriously - it's an example of what occhiblu and elsa were mentioning - that analyzing/deconstructing TV shows can be as interesting a pastime as it is with any narrative. Although there are certain really tired conversations that really don't make it to a level you could call 'analysis' and which I hope never to hear again. That category includes any of the logical inconsistencies of Gilligan's Island and also any ranking of the attractiveness of its denizens.
posted by Miko 03 May | 13:51
I just wish TVLand would start playing Get Smart reruns again. I was at a music/movies store at a mall last weekend and there weren't any DVD's either. Damn shame, because that show was laugh out loud funny.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 13:55
What about the state the Simpsons live in? The Fonz getting VD? The sexual orientation of the male cast members on Full House?
posted by box 03 May | 13:56
Or whether Miss Kitty was a crypto-madam? The true nature of Sgt. O'Rourke and Corporal Agarn's relationship on F Troop? (Speaking of F Troop, there was an episode of that show where Milton Berle played a medicine man who spoke a distinct Yiddish inflection. Does this mean the Hakawi were the Lost Tribe of Israel? Makes you think.)

posted by jonmc 03 May | 14:00
One weird thing about TV discussions (which box just reminded me by mentioning the Simpsons) is that they often turn into re-creations or live performances of dialogue from the show. Especially with verbally witty shows like The Simpsons, people don't talk about the show so much as they inhabit it, or wear it, almost as an identity.

It shudderingly reminds me of the friends I had in high school that could talk for days without ever venturing into territory that wasn't part of some Python script.

Perhaps there's some fear of actual conversation at work there - it's easier to recite than to think of new topics? Perhaps there's wanting to borrow the glory of the show's creators and actors by embodying it yourself? Perhaps it's just wanting to enjoy something funny again, right now?
posted by Miko 03 May | 14:02
careful s_r, that can lead to moments like this.

Ooo I was at least that bad when I recently watched Miami Vice Seasons 1 & 2.
posted by small_ruminant 03 May | 14:13
wants to know what Elsa thinks about Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie, but that would be talking about TV in a thread about whether it's gauche to talk about TV*

Miko, I'm gauche like the frickin' Rive Gauche! I'm the gauchest with the mostest. I'm a gauch-o riding across the pampas.

Let me sum it up by quoting something I included in an intentionally nerdy review of Bell, Book, and Candle a few weeks ago: [spoiler!] "A subset of the audience will find itself musing about the theme of unusual power rendering women unfit for domestic love (c.f. "Bewitched," "I Dream of Jeannie," I Married a Witch) and, hey, what more do you want from an evening’s entertainment than a whole lotta schtick and a post-feminist deconstruction?"
posted by Elsa 03 May | 14:23
Conversations about TV often strike as easy-way-out conversations -- i.e., no one's really that eager to talk about TV shows, but no one feels motivated or capable enough to come up with something better to talk about. It's one step above "so, how about this weather we're having?"

Which can be ok or crass, depending on the context. A group of friends passing the time with one another -- great. A more intimate setting -- probably not so great.

FWIW, I'm so out of step with popular culture that I never have any idea what people are talking about when they're discussing contemporary TV shows, bands, movies, or sports (always been out of the loop in that one). I've really turned into an old fuddy-duddy that way.

That said, I do enjoy vegging out in front of StumbleUpon video once in awhile.

Now get off my lawn, you TV-watching good-for-nothings.
posted by treepour 03 May | 14:40
This explains your long-held dream of being an anvil-toting pimp.

you actually read my mind.

but enough with my childhood. the problem I have now with TV, is I never really manage to watch a show for more than, say half a season, they bore me so quickly. I try to watch a few episodes of the new shows everybody's talking about at the moment -- say, Lost two years ago, Desperate Housewives Three years ago and so forth -- but they just lose me so fast. Studio 60? I lasted 1.5 episodes. 24 irked me from, literally, Day 1 -- it's written by peoploe who read a lot of Nietzsche as kids without getting it and they still haven't gotten over him.
I still watch CSI Miami because as some of you know I have a Caruso fetish. I loved him in NYPD Blue too, he totally whaled on Bobby Simone, the comparison was just embarassing (and I liked the actor in LA Law, mind you)

I loved Boomtown though, it's a shame it got canned.

I never liked the Martin Sheen as President story because with him in that role it was just too much of a liberal wet dream, it was just too improbable.

I still watch Magnum PI and Starsky & Hutch reruns.
posted by matteo 03 May | 16:24
Sheen does look really Presidential, though.

The reason mid-60's TV like Green Acres, Gilligans Island is so fun to watch is that it didn't have any pretensions to be anything but mindless fun, so it became really good at being minless fun.

More ambitious shows like in the 70's were more problematic, M*A*S*H and All In The Family hold up because the writing and acting was so good and the people behind it knew how to use sheer entertainment value to keep from becoming too preachy. (And Carroll O'Connors acring did the amazing trick of making an ignorant bigot seem almost sympathetic in a demented way).

I watch Grey's Anatomy sometimes because Sara Ramirez is so gorgeous but the characters are so strenuously 'deep' and 'serious' that I want to puch them all in the face.

The HBO shows like The Wire and Deadwood, I'm liking, for the writing and acting and for the refreshing moral complexity and sense of futility.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 20:06
Also, I can take or leave Caruso, and I usuaully can't stand Jim Carrey, but a few weeks ago on Letterman, Carrey did an impersonation of Caruso as a spelling teacher that had me doubled over in hysterics.
posted by jonmc 03 May | 20:11
We were too poor for TV. We finally got one when I was 13, so I felt I missed out on a lot of Television. Maybe this is why I watch so much now. I'm mad for it, and could quite happily watch TV for the whole weekend.

At the moment, I'm watching South Park, Dr Who and Heroes. I love these shows.

I can't really understand Sopranos though. Why do people like that show.
posted by seanyboy 04 May | 03:19
The jeans I used to pay || Alarm++ 7.05