Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's Your Guilty Pleasure on Television?

I spent much of my life completely ambivalent about television. I mean, when I was a kid I spent Saturday mornings watching cartoons with Adam and Mary, but I was never obsessed with TV like so many people are. There were so many good books to read, know what I mean?

I was student teaching when the 9/11 attacks happened (I swear this connects to the topic at hand). My class was in the library starting a project when the librarian started having hysterics and screaming, "They're bombing the White House!" I do not do well in emergency situations, and this was of course the ultimate emergency situation. When I finally got home, my stepdad was watching the news. For the first time ever, he was not able to reassure me that I was safe, that my world was going to be okay. He was the bravest person I've ever met, and he just sat on the couch watching the news unfold, his eyes glued to the TV screen. I sat with him trying to keep my anxiety attack under control; strange as this sounds, the talking heads on the screen were reassuring to me. They were people, alive and scared and knocked to their knees, just like me. I watched the news almost obsessively after that. I slept with the cable news channel on, finding what comfort I could from staying on top of the "breaking news alerts", for over a year.

As a result, television lost its repugnancy for me. I slowly but surely branched out from the news and eventually learned to sleep without the television on, but I had become used to the TV as a means of relaxation, of coping with stress. I found that not all television was mindless drivel, that there was some stuff on the boob tube that could actually make me think and help me learn.

I'm not going to pretend that I watch all educational television, although I spend a disproportionate amount of time on the History Channel, National Geographic, Discovery (I adore Shark Week), and PBS (I think "Antiques Roadshow" is amazing). I never got into reality TV--I'm one of the few people I know that have never seen a single episode of either "Survivor" or "American Idol" or anything in between. Nope, I found my niche with the crime/drama/detective/courtroom shows. I enjoy the "Law and Order" shows, the "CSI" shows, things like that.

My ultimate guilty pleasure on television, though, is "NCIS", a show about Naval investigators. There are always twists that leave me guessing until the very end, the characters are incredibly rich (despite the outward shallowness of some of them), and the show does not take the easy road like many seem to. The line between good guy and bad guy blurs, the lead character deals with stress by building boats and drinking bourbon in his basement in a manner both tragically sad and eminently real, and the show sends the message that there is a place in the world for everyone to succeed. For some reason, watching an episode of "NCIS" gives me a level of pleasure that, in the past, I've only experienced when in the grip of an unbelievably good book.

So what are your thoughts on television? What is/are your favorite show(s)? Why? What role does television play in your life? Do you think there's a point of too much TV-watching? I worry as a teacher that my students spend too much time watching television (and playing video games, but don't even get me started on the V.G. word). What do you think?