This essay came about because of a terrible commercial I’ve been seeing lately on various TV and internet sites. In it, a certain A-list Hollywood actor walks around a city, and as he does, scenes such as those that appear in various types of films erupt around him. He explains that if you get so-and-so brand of subscription television service, you will never have to be without something to watch because you can access it on your TV, computer, smart phone, or whatever else you have that picks up an internet signal. And whenever I watch this ridiculous commercial, I’m thinking: What the hell? Is this what modern life has come to – that the goal of our endeavors is to anesthetize ourselves against reality 24/7? Is that really what we want?
I’m not a purist; I watch films and television too. But I watch them in a balanced way. I usually watch an episode of an old TV show off Netflix or Amazon Prime while I’m eating lunch and again when I’m eating dinner. That’s it with the TV watching during the week. On the weekends, I usually watch movies with my teen son on Friday and Saturday evenings. Sometimes on Sundays as well. That’s it. I can’t imagine a constant barrage of so-called entertainment hitting me all the time wherever I go. It would be a nightmare, not a benediction. It would leave me no time to think.
I’m a writer. I write for a living. Sometimes it’s a struggle financially, but that’s the way it goes. The point is: I work at my desk at home, and so every day, seven days a week, I force myself, whether I feel like it or not, to get outside and take a walk of at least a mile and a half or two miles. That’s besides the thrice-weekly exercise routine that I do in the house. Sometimes I’m tired or I think I don’t have time for that walk but I do it anyway. As I walk, I don’t listen to music with headphones or watch things on my smart phone (actually, I don’t own a smart phone – just a rudimentary one that receives and sends calls and text). I walk through the neighborhood alert to the sights and sounds around me. Fortunately we live in a fairly quiet residential area, and so the input is positive: soft rain falling or warm sun shining, birds chirping, the wind rustling in the bushes and trees, green lawns, flamboyant sprays of flowers, towering evergreens. As I walk, I drink in these stimuli with my senses. These walks feed my spirit. I can’t imagine voluntarily cutting myself off from experiencing what’s happening around me.
For a more extreme example, I think back to the time I spent on the road traveling through Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent back in the 1970s. There was no internet, let alone smart phones. The only way I had to keep in touch with friends and relatives back in the States was those little folding pieces of paper called aerograms. They only had room for a short note – no photos, no videos. For entertainment, I carried a book. Can you imagine if I had had a smart phone and kept my nose in it instead of paying attention to the exotic landscapes and cultures around me? What would have been the point of going?
People need time to think, to observe, to contemplate, to absorb. They shouldn’t be sucking in canned entertainment all the time or they’re going to grow warped and distorted, some sort of parody of the phony image that all these programs attempt to imbue.
That’s why I object to this commercial. It summarizes one of the worst aspects of American culture. When people eat too much food, they have all sorts of health problems. Similarly, when they consume too much popular entertainment, they have problems of the mind and spirit. They are less able to think for themselves and make important life decisions.
You don’t have to have so-called entertainment with you wherever you go, just as you don’t always have to carry snacks when you go out. Sometimes, yes. Not always. It reminds me of the passage from Ecclesiastes that Pete Seeger adapted as a song in the late 1950s and the rock group the Byrds made into a hit in the mid-60s: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…