The pope confessed this week to switching off his television for good in 1990. He explained to the Argentine publication La Voz del Pueblo, “It was not for me.”
How does one perform pontifical duties lacking awareness of, let alone expertise in, Homeboys in Outer Space, Cop Rock, Dance Moms, and Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? The pope missed Sinead O’Conner ripping up the picture of a papal predecessor and Justin Timberlake ripping off Janet Jackson’s bra. No Puck, Snookie, Omarosa, or Speidi. Jeff Gillooly, Kato Kaelin, Lorena Bobbitt, and their Argentine equivalents remain forever erased from rather than etched in his memory.
The technology’s pioneers exuded higher hopes. Inventor Lee de Forest exclaimed, “What thrilling lectures on solar physics will such pictures permit!” RCA honcho David Sarnoff predicted “a new horizon, a new philosophy, a new sense of freedom, and greatest of all, perhaps, a finer and broader understanding between all peoples of the world.” My studies have yet to reveal a prophecy of television creating a new race of quarter-ton amoeba-people or transmitting mental retardation to its most faithful viewers.
Though neither an ex cathedra pronouncement nor known to me at the time, the pope’s confession corresponds to a recent sermon I delivered to the cable company call center to suspend my subscription. Francis sacrificed the television in a promise to the Virgin Mary a quarter century ago this July. I similarly have suffered sans a functioning set, and without the aid of the Blessed Mother, for a terribly long time (My TV went dark one week ago). Chumlee, dreamy Danielle from American Pickers, and various Alaska frontiersmen miss me dearly. I miss them too.
This void required filling. With no TV signal (at least for the summer), I read, about twenty years after a lit-major friend recommended it, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (hypocrite Angelo, in his puritan public face and lecherous private conduct, seems more than most of Shakespeare’s creations a made-for-TV character). I swam in the ice-cold Atlantic. I jogged four miles. I mowed my lawn.
The loss of the pixelated moron-maker produced a similar effect on the characters in Ray Bradbury’s “Almost the End of the World.” A barber explains to two miners emerging from the darkness what wrath sunspots unleashed upon their sets: “All that blankness, that empty stuff falling down, falling down inside our television sets, oh, I tell you, it gave everyone the willies. It was like a good friend who talks to you in your front room and suddenly shuts up and lies there, pale, and you know he’s dead and you begin to turn cold yourself.” Horrifically, the town’s inhabitants play sports, hold bandstand concerts, socialize through keg parties, and partake in other pursuits previously restricted by the machine’s hypnotic hold.
The coolest people don’t appear on televisions but very far away from them.
Longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer stayed original and focused by staying clear of conformity-inducing distractions such as televisions in his spartan San Francisco studio apartment. Russell Kirk, who harbored an ex-con, Vietnamese refugees, and even ghosts at his Michigan estate, showed no such tolerance toward “Demon TV.” He famously defenestrated a set when he discovered the ladies of the house had smuggled one into his home.
The only people worse than those obsessed with stupid television are people obsessed with the stupidity of television. Expecting uplift from a passive visual medium seems a type of category mistake. Why watch Charlie Rose when you can read a book? For the exhausted seeking mindless entertainment—American Ninja Warrior, Workaholics, any number of “news” programs—after a long day, TV delivers.
“The number one reason why white people like not having a TV is so that they can tell you that they don’t have a TV,” Stuff White People Like informs. It’s #28 on the list, lagging behind Microbreweries and Having Two Last Names but safely ahead of My So Called Life and Taking a Year Off. SWPL explains of preachy people—the vile type who would boast about such a decision in a column—killing their television: “It is effective in making other white people feel bad, and making themselves feel good about their life and life choices.”
The man in white’s life choice remained relatively hidden for more than two decades. A preacher by trade understands better than most when not to be preachy.