I Don’t Watch TV, and That Makes Me Feel Like an Asshole

I Don’t Watch TV, and That Makes Me Feel Like an Asshole

One of the quintessential things white people like, according to Stuff White People Like, is not having a TV. “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.” I don’t have a TV. (And I’m white, if you must know.) Does that make me a pretentious prick?

I don’t have anything against TV. I grew up watching TV—a lot of TV. There was one family my siblings and I baby-sat for who didn’t own a TV, and we saw them as weirdly countercultural, like the fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers across the street. (That family did have a TV, but apparently into their teen years, those kids were genuinely convinced it only ever showed baseball games.) Starting when I went to college, though, the amount of TV I watched steeply declined. I’ve actually never owned my own TV, and what’s more, I’ve never watched Hulu or Netflix on my laptop.

When I was in grad school, I wasn’t self-conscious about this. I don’t remember any of my classmates gushing about what I was missing on TV. But over the past few years, since I’ve been out of school, it seems like all the people with whom I’d seem to have most in common are enthusiastically into TV in a way that’s making me feel weird and—though none of them say so—kind of like an asshole for never watching TV.

My girlfriend is a fan of Xena, the Food Network, and Rick Steves. My Tangential co-bloggers like Becky Lang (30 Rock), Katie Sisneros (Arrested Development), and Marcus Michalik (everything) have made TV part of their personal brands. Thought Catalog blogger Kat George has assigned me a long homework list of shows I have to watch, starting with South Park. (Still haven’t watched ’em.) A Tangential reader pulled me aside one night at a bar and said he only had one suggestion for my writing: “You should really watch more TV. That’s all I’m saying. Just…watch more TV.”

So why don’t I? I know these shows are good—I’ve caught stray episodes here and there. I have nothing against them. I just never, ever, ever sit down and think, “Okay, I want to watch a TV show now.” I would always rather write a blog post, or read one of the magazines on my towering stack of unread magazines, or go out to a bar.

If I try to watch a TV show, no matter how good it is, I start to get itchy—I want to check my e-mail, or edit one of the articles always sitting and waiting to be posted on the site where I work, or even chip away at that giant pile of laundry waiting to be put away. If it’s a social occasion of some sort, I can watch TV—but never alone. I know it’s possible to multitask by laptopping and TV-watching simultaneously, but that never works for me—my attention always gets caught by the TV, then I get itchy and turn it off.

So as the gap between my TV-watching childhood and the present widens, the chasm of pop-culture literacy between me and the rest of the world just grows—and the fact that I’m now an editor at what describes itself as a “pop culture and creative writing blog” is making this distinctly awkward. When I’m talking about TV now, I feel like the 40-year-old virgin talking about breasts. “What do I think about The New Girl? It’s like…a bag of sand!”

I’ve had entire conversations end when the other party learns I’ve never seen Arrested Development. The other day Kat told me, “You’re going to be an old dad, like Jack Donaghy,” and I had to use Google to find out who she meant. Xena went off the air ten years ago, but it was just this year that I learned Xena was actually a lesbian and not just a lesbian icon.

I don’t hate TV! I don’t hate pop culture! I don’t hate you and everything you hold dear! I just don’t actively pursue TV, and though people now talk to me about TV the way my college roommate used to talk to me about Phish (“You just don’t know Phish. If you just gave Phish a chance, you’d love them, I swear”), in reality I don’t think my TV-dodging ways are going to change. That kind of makes me feel like an asshole.

Jay Gabler