Hello! My name is Stephanie and I am addicted to TV. Currently, I am watching 14 shows, which is actually a pretty light load, by my standards. Normally I'm watching around 20-ish shows a week, and I watch around 40-ish throughout the year, including one-off series like Making a Murderer and that kind of thing.
Now, I've tried to cut back on TV before, and it... hasn't always gone so well.
If you're like me, you're probably asking why I would want to give up TV in the first place. The short answer is simply "to see if I could". But aside from that, I wanted to see what my life would actually be like without TV. Would I have a whole lot of free time to do yoga? Would I read a thousand books? Would I go out every single night? The possibilities were endless, and so, I decided to give it all up. For a month, I'm not insane.
Since I'm very vocal about my love for TV on Twitter, I asked my followers if they thought I would last the month. The results were... unsurprising.
Thanks, guys. But I suppose their doubts was justified, given that this is my Twitter bio.
The point is, being an admitted TV junkie is very much a part of ~my brand~, my identity, and I was curious to see what would change as I embarked on this challenge.
Before starting, I had to set myself some rules, so I'd know what I could and couldn't get away with. They were:
- Go without TV for a full, 31 day month, from April 11 to May 13.
- No watching live TV.
- No streaming.
- No DVDs.
- No movies, unless you're with someone else.
You might be thinking that this last one is kind of a cop-out, so here's how I justify it: When I watch TV, I skulk up to my bedroom, close the door, wrap myself in blankets, and hide out like a solitary gremlin, uninterrupted by the world at large. It is not a social activity. Meanwhile, the only time I watch movies is when I'm with friends, and it's very much a part of my social life. If the point of this experiment was to see what impact not watching TV had on my social life, it did not make sense to ban movies, because doing so would actually impair my social life. Also, I love Ben Affleck and I hadn't seen Batman Vs. Superman yet and you are literally deluded if you thought I was going to miss seeing that hot mess in the cinema.
ANYWAY, sorry. I'm very passionate about my problematic fave Ben Affleck. Let's move on.
Day one was difficult in that I sort of messed up. It was late in the afternoon, and I was at work reading about M.I.A's collaboration with H&M. Scrolling through the comments, I saw a YouTube clip and absentmindedly clicked play as I debated whether to write anything up about M.I.A's latest video. Two minutes later, I realised I was watching a Saturday Night Live clip. I was watching TV. Immediately, I stopped the video, and added the following rule to my list:
- No TV clips on YouTube, unless it's specifically for work and someone has asked you to write it up.
What's interesting about this is that it made me realise that I actually watch even more TV than I originally realised, because YouTube and the other video streaming services on social media make it so easy and accessible. For the rest of the month, I resolved to do my absolute best to avoid TV clips on all social media platforms.
That evening, I arrived home from work and immediately found myself in a conundrum. Since I usually eat while watching TV, what was I going to do while I ate my meal?
Eventually, I settled on reading, and it all worked out okay, with the rest of the week going pretty smoothly as I stayed busy, went to see Batman Vs Superman (rubbish), and rode high on my desire to prove my #haters (those Twitter followers who doubted me) wrong.
Over the course of the month, I finished three books and discovered that drunk reading-while-eating-a-midnight-snack after a night out requires a lot more effort than drunk TV watching.
Coincidentally, one of the books I finished spoke about the comforting effect of TV. In the novel Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, protagonist Ani says:
"I needed TV. I needed to be reminded that the world was still here, normal and stupid as ever with their talk shows and campy soap operas. Magazines could do that too, transport you to a silly world, but once you completed the quiz on the last page and found out that yes, you are a control freak and it's driving men away, the spell was broken. I required a permanent passport to Fluff City."
This is what I discovered in week two.
As someone who's had a rough time over the past five and a half years, with an ongoing battle with chronic illness, the death of a parent, and some more personal challenges that I won't bore you with here, I'm the first person to admit that I love the escapism that television provides. The half-present, glazed-over zombie stare that washes over you as you check out of your life and problems, and into the ~real drama~ of life as a Real Housewife has often been a reprieve from my problems. At times when things have been really bad, a good cliffhanger episode has been the solitary silver lining motivating me through the week.
It wasn't until the second week, as the initial momentum of quitting TV wore off, that I realised just how much I rely on TV to both escape from my problems and deal with my emotions. I recently started seeing a therapist to help me deal with some of those aforementioned issues, and anyone who's ever done any kind of therapy will tell you that confronting your issues and dealing with your shit is really, really hard. Normally, I would rush home afterwards and just zone out for a while to give myself a break from thinking about everything, but all of a sudden, I didn't have the option to put a buffer between me and my thoughts, and it sucked.
For me, watching TV isn't just about escaping my problems, but rather, it offers me an insulated form of catharsis. When crying with a character, I can cry for myself and my own problems and get that emotion out, without having to really confront my own emotions. While reading is good entertainment, it's a very active form of entertainment. It requires a far greater amount of participation from the the reader than TV does from its viewer. When you're caught up in your own thoughts, it's a lot harder to get lost in a book than it is to just let TV happen in front of you as you sit in a near-hypnotic state and watch all the drama play out before your eyes. Without TV, I had no escape route, and was suddenly forced to sit with my feelings and deal with them.
In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn't have started therapy the same month I gave up TV, but I was two weeks in and it was too late to turn back now.
When it came to my social life, I did find that I was somewhat busier during the first week, probably due to my attempt to fill all my spare hours up to the brim.
However, after the first week, as I settled into life without TV, things... pretty much went back to normal. While I may have been a little busier, it was really less because of extra time created from the void of no TV, and more to do with the fact that I just happened to have a lot on through the month. The Sydney Comedy Festival was on, I went back to my hometown of Adelaide for a long weekend, and with regular catch ups with friends, my time filled up as it normally would. I had expected to have a lot more time to fill through the month, and was surprised to realise that it just kind of filled up organically. As for whether I'd use my extra time to go to lots of yoga classes? Well, turns out I slipped on a wet leaf like an absolute idiot early in the second week of my challenge, and bruised my whole entire leg. So no, I did not. PSA: Don't tweet and walk.
In week three, Beyonce threw a massive spanner in the works with the release of Lemonade. Originally, I'd decided that music videos were fine to watch, because I wasn't about to spend an entire month on YouTube watching music videos. But Beyonce didn't release one music video. Beyonce released an entire visual album and had it air on HBO. Technically, it was a music video, but given that it was an album length and premiering on TV, I decided to wait, much to the dismay of my dear friend Josh:
Over the next day, I tried to find a definitive way to justify my watching the visual extravaganza, but eventually saw that HBO was putting it up for Emmy consideration, and that put the kibosh on that.
On the other hand, a challenge that I was thoroughly expecting was that of spoilers.
Basically, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and recaps spoiled pretty much every show I watched at some point over the course of the month, but it's fine, because I feel very passionately about the fact that if you don't keep up with your stories in a timely manner then you can't be upset when you have your shows spoiled for you.
Eventually, May 13 came, after 31 days I was free, free, FREE TO WATCH TV! Over the month, I gained a deeper understanding of my relationship with TV and the ways in which I use it as a crutch to manage the everyday stresses of, you know, being alive. In some ways, it was easier than I thought it would be, in that I didn't notice a significant increase in the amount of free time I had to fill, and it was good to realise that my love for TV doesn't seem to impact my social life one way or another. On the other hand, parts of the challenge were harder than I'd anticipated, in that going without my main form of escapism left me vulnerable and forced me to sit with my own thoughts and feelings. It made me realise that I didn't actually miss a lot of the shows I'm currently watching, and perhaps when their seasons finish up I can re-assess whether I actually need them all in my life.
But for now? You'll have to excuse me. I'm 63 episodes behind schedule and I have to go watch TV until my eyes bleed.