Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Shackles of TV

Scott D. Parker
A few short months ago, the new television season premiered. With great anticipation, my wife and I looked forward to the return of old favorites (Castle, CSI: Miami, Body of Proof) and the opportunity to sample the new shows to premiere. Some of the new shows proved quite good (Grimm, Terra Nova, Revenge) while others fell by the wayside after a viewing or two (actually cannot even remember them now). Naturally, all the shows we end up watching on a regular basis become investments for us. We set aside time to watch them, be entertained by them, discuss them, look forward to each new episode, and generally are pleased with the investment. Along the way, naturally, there were time conflicts (CSI: Miami *always* got bumped by football; Harry’s Law jumped around; Private Practice moved to Tuesdays opposite Body of Proof) which meant that we taped the shows to watch later. It’s just what we do when there are a number of shows we enjoy. Moreover, throughout the year, we had the one-offs we watched (Downton Abbey, Sherlock) that bumped our regularly scheduled shows, but we were flexible and caught up on everything.
So, imagine my surprise when, after watching the season finale of Revenge this week my wife commented that we were finally free from tyrannical chains of the television. Yeah, those are my words, fancified. She didn’t say those exact words but the gist is there. Finally, she thought, we were free from the TV!

How is it, do you think, that the very device that delivers entertainment---entertainment that we choose to accept and that we enjoy—becomes a shackle? 

I asked a similar question a few weeks ago: Do you enjoy reading or having read? I’ll admit that there are time when I’m reading a book—a book I want to read—and then glance up at my bookshelves at all the other books I could be reading and start to wonder if I should drop the current book and pick up a new one. Maybe the author isn’t reaching me. I’m nearly done with the current selection of my SF book club and the book selected—a supernatural pirate book; what’s not to like?—failed to live up to my expectations. When I started, I imaged finishing it, then moving on to Captain Blood and a re-reading of Treasure Island, all the while watching the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies at night. Now, I’m a bit soured on pirates because I expected the current pirate book to be one way…and it wasn’t.

I wonder, in our culture of instant takes on any given subject, that many of us prefer *having read/seen* something rather than actually enjoying it in the moment. For me, the hour of Castle or CSI: Miami (RIP) is a fantastic hour that I love. Same, too, with the oh-too-short “season” of PBS’s Sherlock and Downton Abbey. I also enjoy reading about those shows and others the following day. Back in the days of the TV show “Lost,” a small group of my co-workers and I would gather in the hallways and pore over every detail. The folks who missed the show missed the discussion.
It was merely a curious observation that my wife made that got me thinking. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I have all the answers for me, personally, either. But it’s part of a larger social discussion of reading and consuming content in the 21st Century.

What are your thoughts?

Book Signing of the Week: James Swain at Murder by the Book, Houston, Texas

Without a doubt, living in the same city as Murder by the Book is a luxury. It is a destination stop for nearly every author doing a book tour. On Thursday night, James Swain made his only non-Florida stop on his tour promoting his new paranormal/magic/thriller book, Dark Magic. My wife read an advanced copy and wrote a Fresh Meat review over at Criminal Element. (Having read her piece, I’m going to read the book, too.) So, when I discovered that Mr. Swain was to be in town, we headed on over to see him.

Now, most of us here know that, when it comes to an author event, they can sometimes be hit or miss. I’ve had the sad occasion to meet a favorite author who was a bore when it came to a book signing. I’ve attended lavish gatherings of authors that are new to me and had a blast. I can say, with absolute certainty, that I’ve never had an author perform a magic show.

My wife and I arrived and, when it came time to sit and listen, the only available seats were on the empty first row. I’m a back row guy myself, but we sat front and center. Imagine our surprise and delight when Mr. Swain asked us to be his assistants. I’ve never see magic performed that close before and it was thoroughly amazing. Some of the things he did I frankly do not know how he did them. The card tricks are, likely, sleight of hand, but the other, mind-reading things were awesome. 

For an author whose book my wife selected at random, Mr. Swain now has a new reader to count in his column. And isn't that the purpose of book events anyway?


Gerald So said...

TV can feel restrictive if you carve out thirty minutes or an hour per program, per week. If you watch TV shows on DVD, you're still pledging to sit and watch for however long you do.

Anything we choose to do with our time is something of an investment, but watching movies or TV is more restrictive than reading or writing. When watching, we not only have to accept the screenwriters' plot but also the actors' portrayal of the characters and the director's overall vision. The range of stories you can tell on broadcast and cable TV is also subject to decency standards more conservative than those for theatrical movies or written fiction. When reading, we are free to imagine the characters and the setting and control the pace of the action to an extent. When writing, we have even more creative freedom.

On a side note, I met Jim Swain at Dead End Books on on Long Island (which has since sadly closed). He was known for his Tony Valentine series of casino thrillers back then. He's a great speaker, writer, and performer.

sandra seamans said...

Up until probably the 1980's if you wanted to watch a show, you were chained to that time period. No recording, no endless reruns. If you didn't watch, you missed it. Especially in the country where there was no cable or satellite dish and only three network channels. Nowadays I don't worry about missing a program - it will be on again, sometime, somewhere, forever.

Jay Stringer said...

The trick for us is that we don't watch all that much TV. There are maybe a couple a shows a year that we make time for, and aside from Doctor Who it's mostly done on our time when we have chance. So it never feels like a commitment, it's just a few hours of relaxation here and there fitted in around our commitments.

Though Castle started to feel a lot like a chore this season, so that's one that might be cut loose from next year.