What's on Your TV Set: Fantasy or Reality?

You've had a long day in your cubicle, your boss won't leave you alone, the coffee maker is broken, and on the way home you notice your engine is making strange noises (a new carburetor could be costly, but you don't have the funds right now because you just had to buy a new water heater), and on and on it goes. What would be therapeutic right about now? A reality show which is basically just a miserable extension of your day, or a good entertaining diversion like "Sanford & Son"?

Sure, you could take heart in the fact that your day was bad, but not as bad as those miserable saps on the reality shows. But it's not really an escape is it? It's a chance to mock or ridicule others on the TV set, or watch the judges on "American Idol" or "Dancing with the Stars" ridicule the contestants, and perhaps that makes you feel a bit better, but it simply can't be very good for you. Which brings me to my point: television can be used for good purposes, and it can also be used for bad. To be specific, I think its use falls into three categories:

1. Personal Enrichment: Keeping abreast of current affairs (news channels), learning something useful ("This Old House", "The Joy of Painting", etc.) or intellectually stimulating ("Cosmos", "The Electric Company", PBS documentaries), or watching something of artistic and cultural merit ("A Christmas Carol", "Roots", "Anne of Green Gables", etc.).

2. Diversion Entertainment: In the same way a good Stephen King novel or magazine can take your mind off things, let you relax, take your guard down, and perhaps laugh a little, so can a good sitcom or movie. Just try to be depressed after watching a good episode of "The Bob Newhart Show" or a movie like "Meatballs". Even a good scary movie can cure the ills of a typical work week.

3. Shame Enjoyment: Taking delight in other people's failures and misery via celeb watching, reality shows or the latest talking heads crusade (i.e. O.J. Simpson, Lacy Peterson, Monica Lewinsky).

I wish I could say that I primarily utilize TV for enrichment, but alas I am generally too brain dead after a long day to participate in a whole lot of mental activity. I can say, however, that I never use the TV for number 3. I think I'm better off for it, how about you?


  1. Great Blog! I would have to say that I probably dabble a little bit into all three categories. Mostly the enrichment and diversion, but my fair share of shame. I agree that these "shame" shows can a lot of times be very difficult to watch due to the ridicule that some contestants are subjected to, but I have to say that I don't believe that most viewers watch these shows to see someone fail and get drug over the coals...it just so happens to be part of the show. It's like going to see an animated movie or superhero movie with your children and being blasted with curse words and violence. You didn't ask for it, it just happened. Now, I do have to say, if your watching Jerry Springer you might be into shame enjoyment and need to take a long look in the mirror. I gave Jerry up years ago!

  2. I would say I am a 15/80/5 guy. By that I mean I watch TV about 15%of the time for enrichment, 80% to escape and 5% for the shame effect.
    Enrichment was gone for me when they stopped playing "Schoolhouse Rock". Now it is all diversion and shame. I will watch the occasional history or learning channel when I want to learn about the worlds deadliest ant, spider or snake. Or to brush up on my history of western civilization.
    Diversion TV is wonderful because it allows you to escape from reality for just a few moments by watching the old sit-coms ("Diff'rent Strokes" or "Happy Days") or dramas like "St. Elsewhere". But now, even these shows are gone, only to be replaced by - you guessed it - reality shows. I mean "Bachelorette" this, "Big Brother" that. How can I escape from reality when I am forced to watch it on TV?
    Finally, the filth and shame TV. It is instant gratification. The only way to keep your attention with this method of entertainment is for the next show to be filthier and more shameful than the next. Soon, The Truman Show will be all we have to watch.

  3. AnonymousJune 18, 2008


    Nice site. I am in the midst of trying to download half the 1st season of Gilligan's Island. Also getting Kung Fu with David Carridine in. Unfortunately in some regards I am in China now and the only TV here is the state run propaganda machine CCTV. I miss cable TV!

    Good stuff and I will be back to refresh myself with some of your retro knowledge.


  4. - sisundermoud
    Thank you for the compliment, although I will have to respectfully disagree. Maybe I am just cynical and jaded with age, but it is my belief that people watch reality TV for the shame aspect (perhaps, subconsciously). I really don't think people really cared for Lacie Peterson's family or Nicole Brown Simpson, as much as they just wanted to watch the miserable fall out of these events. Now, American Idol may be a distant cousin from Springer, but they're still related. C'mon, the ONLY reason anyone watches the Idol tryouts is to see people completely embarrass themselves.

    - Hitch
    Sorry to hear it is all diversion and shame for you these days. Alas, Generation X once met together at Conjuction Junction, and we have all gone our separate ways.

    - Bill
    I'm sitting here blogging about not being able to find good reruns on cable TV, and there you are in China wondering, I'm sure, what the hell I'm whining about. Thanks for the perspective.

    Can't go wrong with Gilligan reruns. Ginger or Mary-Ann? The eternal question.

    Thanks for the comment. Hope to see you back on here soon!