So I Watch Bad TV. Why Do You Care?

People who cannot distinguish between taste and intelligence bug me. There are people in my life who say things like, “I really have to question your intelligence if you enjoy ____.” Sometimes people say stuff like that in jest. That’s cool. Sometimes, people say stuff like that and mean it. Not cool.

As you may know, I earned my degree in radio, television, and film studies. (That all goes together – it’s not a triple major or anything.) During my senior year, I took some awesome 400-level media studies courses. There’s one in particular that I will never forget.

The prof was one of those cool-hippie types. She wore all natural fibers and carried a hippie-looking bag and had crazy product-free hippie hair and stuff. In short, she’s exactly the kind of person that, on first glance, you might expect to eschew television and movies as “low culture” or “for the idiot masses.” She was also a professor who liked to hold classes in a circle, and I always liked that. Anyway.

On the first day of class, we dragged our desks into the circle and sat there, waiting for her to get things going. Most often in my small high-level discussions, the quarter would begin with the get-to-know-you session – who you are, your hometown, your concentration, et cetera. Laura was different, though. In addition to all the standard stuff, she asked us to confess our guilty television pleasures.

And it was awesome. Initially, people were hesitant to make the confession. But it got better and better as the hipster kids, in their thrift store tees and their black-rimmed glasses and their streaked hair, admitted their secret obsessions – mostly reality TV and talk shows, with some other stuff thrown in. Survivor. Jerry Springer. Big Brother. Maury Povich. Cops. The Real World. Wheel of Fortune. Dawson’s Creek. Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. The list went on and on.

Lancelot Link, incidentally, was not my pick, but I laughed the hardest when it was confessed. I totally loved that show when I was younger (it was in syndication then). If any of you remember it, you’ve just got to speak up.

Being cool and snobby is a big part of studying film. I was never very good at it – black-rimmed glasses looked awful on me, and I didn’t have much interest in aloofly smoking outside the studio building. But I tried to be cool in my way, just like everyone else tried to be cool. It was completely and totally wonderful to confess our bad TV vices in a room full of cool kids, and we really bonded over it.

We learned an important lesson, too – intelligent people sometimes enjoy bad television. That’s kind of the entire premise of Television Without Pity. From the FAQ:

Our mandate is, more or less, to give people a place to revel in their guilty televisual pleasures. In most cases, we have a complex love/hate relationship with the show, and this site is a way for us to work through those feelings.

I’m a smart girl, and you know what? I love Survivor. I get seriously grouchy when I have to work on Thursday nights. I love American Idol, and I’m not ashamed that I own Kelly Clarkson’s CD, because the girl can SING, and it shouldn’t matter what it took to find that out. I have been known to watch Springer. I have been known to watch Cops with my dad. I usually think The Planet’s Funniest Animals is pretty damn funny, even if the host is a cheeseball of suck. I have been known, on occasion, to watch the end of a NASCAR race, and even to root for a driver. I could go on and on.

Despite all that? I’m intelligent. I’m articulate. I’m fairly well-read. I take showers and wear clean clothes. I watch subtitled films and would rather die than watch a foreign film dubbed. I can write thirty-page papers on Freudian theory’s role in Scorsese’s filmmaking. And I watch bad TV, and I am capable of and actually get a kick out of criticizing the hell out of some of this stuff, even as I’m enjoying it.

Refusal to own a television doesn’t make you better or smarter than anyone else. It means that either your interests lie elsewhere, or that you’re trying to make some sort of statement about the kind of person you are by refusing to own a TV. Yes, I agree it’s unhealthy to do nothing but watch television, but I believe that one can strike a balance. That same professor mentioned earlier asserted that it’s as bad to ignore a medium as it is to be consumed by one, and I have to say I agree with her completely.

I think the evolution of the relationship between and popular views on film and television is fascinating, by the way, and worth another entry. But for now, I’ll close by saying this:

Your allegedly highbrow tastes in entertainment do not make you a smarter person. My occasional lowbrow tastes in entertainment do not make me an idiot, just like wearing sexy heels won’t make me a Cosmo girl.

You don’t have to take your TV to the dump to earn your place in the intelligence elite. I’m just sayin’.

Comments 16

  • beyond that, can' t we just accept one another' s televisual preferences? for example, most television bores the snot out of me. i' ll try to watch it, but wind up doing something else instead. however, the apprentice and charmed are two of my absolute favorites, and i' ll sit down to watch everytime. sometimes i don' t always get through the episodes, but that' s just me and my tv style. i also love pbs … pbs is the only network i will sit and watch without having a particular show in mind. but shoot, i' m not about to push my teevee watching style onto other people.

  • good point. I actually spend a lot of my TV time simultaneously working on something else, too. I've done it since I was a kid – back then, I used to color or draw or read or write while something was on. I have a short attention span anyway.

  • well said.

  • Amen, sistah. I enjoy a good Discovery Channel documentary as much as the next gal in glasses, but I believe I've written about 5th Wheel and Elimidate in my diary enough for people to figure out that it's no passing fancy. And I don't see the problem with requesting off work for the finale of The Apprentice.

  • Points nicely made.

  • People who judge intelligence are lacking it … if we all were the same what a boring world it would be. That being said, I was an A-Team watcher :) I also have been in the audience of Jerry Springer (scariest thing!!!) I watch documentaries yet I love stupid stuff like the Swan. Variety IS intelligence!

  • (“I think the evolution of the relationship between _______ and…”)

    Next: People standing up for those who prefer Locke despite the heckles from Kantians.

  • I'm additcted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer **cry**

  • I don't watch television… or actually, I try not to watch television. I haven't watched television regularly since I graduated from undergrad in May 2001. Not because I want to come off as a smarter more involved person, but because I'm easily addicted. If given the chance I could watch television forever, regardless of what's on. And not television… everything. Books, food, the internet… everything., and I don't know if that makes me a better person, but I certainly have a lot of free time… to sit at the computer… hrrm.That said… my guilty pleasure is Infomercials.

  • i'd just like to point out that there is no shame at all in watching NASCAR races because they are cool.

  • i don't where the huff and puff came from but i'm glad it came. the misperception that you marvellously articluated about has for long, long time been a pet peeve of mine. right up there with people who stop in the right hand lane at a red light with no intention of turning. bastards.

  • I am the former. I don't own a TV because I would never watch it. My interests definitely lie elsewhere. I have a DVD player on my computer and own a whopping half-dozen DVDs, and have never watched one of them. When I lived with my best friend, I watched TV. When I go to visit her, I watch TV. When I go out to the farm I watch Lawrence Welk on PBS with my folks (about the only thing that comes in at the farm, and, hey, he was a local!). It's more a social thing with me, I guess. If I'm alone, I'd rather read. So many books, so little time!

  • I can't watch reality TV…it scares me to know positively that there are that many stupid people walking around the planet…but King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and I love those Planet of the Apes movies!

  • oh yeah! the simpsons, i forgot about them. ( how?? ) love love love that show. and animaniacs when they used to be on. come on, miss. information? come on!

  • “I agree it's unhealthy to do nothing but watch television, but I believe that one can strike a balance.”

    How successful are you in establishing and maintaining a healthy balance, i.e., including the workout schedule you feel is appropriate?

  • I have a much harder time balancing work and everything else than I do balancing television and everything else.

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