For an hour or two every night for the past few years, I’ve been watching television on Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. I have seen some stellar writing and directing, as well as some great cliffhangers. I have enjoyed all of the Marvel programming like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I have also enjoyed Mr. Robot. And I have seen some great music videos, science documentaries and new technology videos on YouTube.
I guess I can say that this is one area of my life where I have a lot of ambivalence. TV just doesn’t hold a candle to real life for me. I’ve only been using it for downtime between work and Family, and that’s it.
And when I do watch TV, the writing has to be good enough for me to get past plot deconstruction. Ever since I read the books, The Explosive Child and Raising Human Beings, I have not been able to get past my tendency to deconstruct the plots of most television drama.
Those two books that I mentioned above were written by Dr. Ross W. Greene, a clinical psychologist with 40 years of experience working with kids. His basic premise is this:
If kids could do better they would. Challenging behavior arises when a child lacks the skills or capacity to respond adaptively to the demands of their environment.
Those two books, more than any other recent influence, have almost completely destroyed my desire to watch drama on TV, whether it be movies or TV. The reason for this is because I deconstruct the plot of most drama and action entertainment to just a few simple concepts:
- Protagonist is minding his own business.
- Antagonist does something mean or awful to protagonist.
- Slow motion melee ensues.
- Eventually, protagonist catches up with antagonist for final confrontation.
- Protagonist dispatches antagonist, usually through violence, without judge, jury or trial.
In sum, most drama and action movies to me, are not much better than watching the WWF on network TV. I just can’t help but ask myself if they could have used more negotiation, more collaboration, and maybe even a bit more courtesy in the process of dispute resolution. That’s what I think when an antagonist blows away one of his allies for failure.
There are a few shows that have writing that is good enough to suspend my disbelief. Daredevil is one of them. The Original Angel, aka, The OA, is another. I find both shows compelling in their presentation and their uncertainty, in that it’s been hard for me to predict their plot twists.
But even if I could find engagement and suspension of disbelief in any television entertainment, there is still life. And when I say that there is still life, I think of Bruce Willis in the movie Surrogates, where everyone lives their lives in a chair controlling robots, and living vicariously.
So I eschew TV when my kids are awake. I spend time with them because spending time with them builds their character. I write because I want to create rather than consume. I have been limiting my TV consumption to just an hour or two in the evenings, after the kids are asleep because there is no other time to watch. I actually don’t like watching TV in the morning because that interrupts my thinking processes as I wake up. And even then, I’m finding that TV, for all the cool stuff there could be to see, is actually pretty boring.
I tend to think of life in terms of attention. If I have spare time, I can learn anything that I want to learn. So it’s really a matter of choosing my stimulus. As an animal, I am built to adapt to stimulus. So ask myself the questions, do I want to create or consume? What do I want to expose myself to?
And if I have writers block, as sometimes I do, then I look for something to consume. TV is easy since I can be passive. Books are better. Classes even better. But the point I want to make here is this: My ambivalence to TV is rising because I’m beginning to question my choices of stimulus.
Lately, I’ve been thinking really hard about taking a writing class. If the time opens up, then that is what I should do. There are hundreds if not thousands of courses online and many of them would be reimbursable by my employer. And in those classes, I’m sure I’d network with others to find potential opportunities to write for money.
Each of us can make decisions like that. If you live in America, it doesn’t take very much money to have a comfortable lifestyle. Mr. Money Mustache has proven this in his blog articles and videos. He’s not even selling anything — no books, no DVDs, no workshops. He just has a simple message: save 64% of your gross income for 10 years and retire. He made conscious decisions about the stimulus he wants to expose himself to.
This is a very conscious way to think about life, one that I’m afraid not many of us were taught to consider. We’re not taught to practice something until we’re good at it. In school, we’re taught that practice applies to reading, writing and math, but not much beyond. At least, not when I went to school.
We are at a point in history, where most people in developed countries can make a choice in stimulus for learning and personal or professional development. The gains in productivity from technology enable us to choose the stimulus we want to allow ourselves to grow, to mature, to find some meaning to our lives.
I’d hate to see that my generation and those that follow decide to just sit and watch TV. I hope that instead, all of us can make a conscious decision about what we want to expose ourselves to for our betterment, and for a better world.