The insight provided by Barbara Ehrenreich is probably the sort of thing nobody would ever expect to hear–to the American audience, television is superior, all-knowing, and as time-consuming as sleep. In the twenty-first century at present, television has evolved internally, externally, and culturally. There is high-definition programming that supposedly increases the experience of watching, digital video recorders that allow people to set aside time to watch their favorite shows when they please, and remote controls that probably have Easy Bake Ovens should one decide to look hard enough. This is not to say that all television is necessarily a bad experience (what with National Geographic, the History Channel, and news programming on every other station), but for the most part, it has come to exist for the sole purpose of entertainment.
Ehrenreich’s article describes life in the 1980s, but the trend of people not watching television on television for more than fifteen seconds on television (confused yet?) is a trend that has continued into this day and age. But is this occurrence actually a bad thing? Take into account what is commonly seen on TV–people cooking, playing basketball, joking with friends, referencing The Magnificent Seven in another movie. People watch these things because they are entertaining. If another person is rotting away in front of the tube the viewer himself is already stationed at, will there really be an enjoyable experience? Not hardly.
Ehrenreich’s observation is very true, there is no doubt about that. But people watch television to enjoy or inform themselves, not to watch others doing the exact same thing. To defend television from an entertainer’s standpoint–not everyone can do the same things as others. True, “couch potatoes” do just about nothing shown on TV themselves like competing on reality shows like The Apprentice or Hell’s Kitchen or performing the ridiculous stunts seen on Nitro Circus. Ehrenreich says it perfectly: “watching television is far too boring to be televised for more than a fraction of a second.”
We are Americans. We are fat, lazy people. We have fast food joints on every street corner. We have more channels on our television sets than some people have money in the bank. So why do we sit around on our fat behinds vegetating with a bag of barbecue flavored potato chips in one hand and a beer in the other? Because it is fun and because we can. We keep watching because Gordon Ramsay’s excessive shouts of “what the blank!” and “you stupid cow!” amuse us. With entertainment available in thousands of different forms, who would not want to sit around for a couple hours to have some chuckles and moments of shock and amazement? Our culture has evolved (de-evolved?) and this end result is what is accepted as the norm.
Granted, just because this unproductive lifestyle is so common does not mean it cannot be altered and controlled. Yes, we Americans have turned into starch-filled gluttons. A person’s own lack of self-control is what can make or break this habit. That idea is an entirely different argument, however. Again, Ehrenreich’s observation is startlingly accurate, but the question she presents can easily be answered by anyone willing to put their mind to use. Oh, wait. “Anyone” is a couch potato. Never mind.
In that case, television can answer the question. Why do we keep watching? Because it is as much fun as playing a board game or spending time with one’s family. But who would have thought all three could be done at once? What a clever concept. Monopoly, gossip, and American Idol all at once. That is genuine American entertainment. In real life, people cannot simply shoot someone else without there being consequences. They cannot go giant crab fishing or save some whales. On television, people can do whatever they darn well please, and that more than makes up for the sedentary lifestyle of an average (or below average, given the probability of their poor physical conditioning) human being.