Making the Case for TV

(Originally ran on September 20th, 2002 as "Students should watch 30 hours of TV per week")

Last week I was walking across the quad, searching for a hammock I had misplaced, when I came upon my good friend and mentor Dr. Venison Skidmore. He was sitting cross-legged, pulling up fistfuls of grass and sobbing while a small radio at his side played Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’ on continuous loop.

"What’s bothering you, sir?" I inquired.

"These kids," he muttered, "these ungrateful kids. I just don’t know if I can put up with it anymore, Dave."

"My name’s Josh," I replied patiently, "but what exactly is the problem?"

Dr. Skidmore pulled up another fistful of grass and threw it back down in disgust. "Yesterday I went to lunch with my Brother’s niece."

"Wouldn’t that be your daughter, sir?"

Dr. Skidmore looked thoughtful for a moment. "Unbelievable. It’s even worse than I thought. I kept wondering why she insisted on calling me ‘Father.’ I thought for sure she would remember that I gave up on my dream of becoming a priest years ago."

I suddenly remembered that I had left the hammock in Brigham City, and felt constrained to leave my distraught mentor. But as I turned to leave, he grabbed my arm.

"Wait, Tom," he pleaded, "I need your help on this. My daughter, I don’t think she’s watching television anymore."

I knew that my mentor needed help in his time of crisis. I turned back to him as he released his grip and began pulling grass again. "What makes you think that, sir?"

"I asked her what she thought of ‘the Simpsons’ the other night, and she said that she doesn’t watch television anymore." He said simply.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, sir," I said, "but she’s not alone. I’ve talked to a lot of people that don’t watch television anymore. They’re kind of proud of it, actually."

"Those ungrateful fools," growled Dr. Skidmore, "what kind of society do we live in when people can take such a panacea of knowledge and intellectual stimulation and toss it aside like a discarded happy meal?"

"It’s hard to imagine, sir. But I know that a lot of students around here just don’t have the time."

"Time?" the Doctor asked incredulously, "people don’t watch television because they happen to have a few free hours. You have to make time to watch television! You have to make it a priority."

"But how can they justify it? Especially when their professors are already making huge demands on their time? These students have papers to write, essays to compose, careers to forge! What could TV offer them to compensate for academic failure?"

There was an eerie pause as Dr. Skidmore froze. Not a sound was heard on the quad as the entire campus awaited his wrath.

"Larry, I should smack you into next semester, you loathsome parody of a human being," Dr. Skidmore hissed, "Can you really have forgotten what TV has done for your life? Where would you be without ‘The A-Team’, ‘Jeopardy,’ or Tattoo from ‘Fantasy Island?’ How would your childhood have felt without ‘G.I. Joe’, ‘The Simpsons,’ or ‘Saturday Night Live?’ Sure, today’s reality programming is a bunch of crap, and maybe MTV doesn’t even show music videos anymore, but can you honestly say that your life hasn’t been enriched by your vicarious relationship with Regis Philbin? Can you really feel at peace without taking a piddly little thirty to thirty-five hours a week in front of the tube? I didn’t think so." He threw a fistful of grass in my face and spat on the ground.

Dr. Skidmore looked me right in the eye. "You remember when I was being ousted by the CIA for shadowing Richard Simmons? You remember when they were trumping up all of those bogus accusations, about wasting federal money and being an avid golfer? How do you think I got past the pain? Was it loyal friendship? The support of loved ones? No sir! It was ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous!’"

I stared at the ground. "You’re right sir, you’re so right. Maybe we should all be a little more grateful for what the networks have given us. But it’s just so hard to see past the filth to the hidden gold. I think that’s what the kids take pride in, rejecting the garbadge."

"And well they should," said the good doctor, "Sally Jesse Raphael can eat my shorts. But the day I turn my back on PBS and VH1 is the day they stick my cold, hard corpse in a pine box."