Monday, April 25, 2005

The Most Annoying Sentence in the English Language

It's a close competition. Definitely some slogans or catch-phrses would apply. "Don't go there." "Talk to the hand." "Git 'er done." And, of course, there's certain ignorant or poorly-worded socio-political sentiments, like "support our troops," "no blood for oil" or, sigh, "Go Bush!"

But those aren't the annoying sentences I'm talking about today. No. Today's topic is a sentence I hear pretty frequently, even here in media-saturated Los Angeles. Give up? Here ya go:

"I don't have a TV."

Now, please, before you click that comment box to let me know how much you loathe television and how much of a loser I am for defending it, allow me to explain.

I'm not of the opinion that watching a lot of television is a life-essential activity. I feel that the amount of television a person chooses to watch probably has to do with a number of personal factors that have very little to do with overall intelligence, or whether or not a person "has a life" for that matter, but we'll deal with that later.

No, my problem with the statement "I don't have a TV" generally arises from context. Because there are certain situations in which this would be a perfectly logical and reasonable thing to say. Here's just on example.

Two people are standing in a living room.

One of them, Trevor, says, "Hey, Jill, here I am, in your living room, and I would like to know the score of the football match. Could you please turn on the television."

"I don't have a television," Jill responds.

"Oh," responds Trevor. "Wanna make out?"

So, you see, this situation would be one in which the use of the sentence "I don't have a television" fails to offend. But that's not how most people say it. At least not to me. I'm never in a girl's living room.

Most people say it with a haughty, condescending attitude, implying that their refusal to purchase television is an obvious and thoroughly sensible decision that deserves accolades. Here's how our fictional conversation with Trevor and Jill might go.

Trevor and Jill are at a bar, talking.

"Hey, did you see last night's 'Lost'?" queries Trevor.

"I don't have a television," sneers Jill. "Cause I have something called a life."

"You're a bitch," says Trevor. "Wanna make out?"

You get what I'm saying. These people who don't own TV's are so proud of themselves, like they've done something really brave and progressive by ignoring technology.

Because really, that's all you're doing. You're making a blanket judgement about an entire medium based on popular stereotypes and pop psychology hokum about mind control and mental passivity. I'm not saying you're stupid or wrong to do it. There aren't a massive amount of television shows I enjoy, and my TV viewing probably comes in at below the national average.

I'm just saying that it doesn't make you cool or special or somehow more in touch with the world. Just like avoiding movies or the Internet or newspapers or magazines or talk radio doesn't make you smarter or more attractive as a person.

I bring this entire subject up because it's something dumb called TV Turnoff Week in the UK and America, and these anti-TV groups are organizing protests and activities. I reported previously on this blog about a device called TV-B-Gone that will turn off a television up to 50 feet away without anyone knowing who's controlling it. Well, activists are planning to go into bars and restaurants where TV's are playing to turn them off.

No word on how they plan to retaliate should the bar owner just walk over and turn the TV back on. Probably whale on them with a baseball bat until the cops arrive, I'd imagine. But maybe I've just seen too many violent shows on TV. Here's British paper The Guardian:

"For most people, TV has become a default activity. If you're not doing anything else you tend to watch TV. People become very defensive when you challenge them about it. If you sleep for eight hours and work for eight hours, people give half the rest to TV," said David Burke, the founder of the UK arm of White Dot which is organising the protest on this side of the Atlantic.

Ummm....I still don't get exactly why Burke thinks TV is so bad. I mean, granted, people watch too much of it. But any activity can be harmful when overindulged. You don't have "Stop Eating Chocolate" Week or "Stop Masturbating in the Men's Room of the 6th Floor of Your Office Building in the Afternoon" Week, yet these are also activities in which moderation is preferable.

"They're all minutes of our lives. You're devoting 10 to 12 years of your life to watching TV. What would you be doing with those 10 years otherwise? You would be talking to your kids or your partner. It's not a small thing," he says.

Really, Dave? Really? You believe that? That if TV didn't exist, we'd all be closer people, with better communication skills? I think, sure, you can make the case that television is a highly effective communication tool that we mainly use in America to hawk brand merchandise. It's simultaneously a horrible waste and a menace, creating an ignorant society of rabid consumers who can neither control their outrageous spending habits nor obtain a job to satisfy their material wants and needs. That's an argument I can understand.

But this whiny ridiculous "TV ruins family dinners!" line just doesn't work on me for a second. If Dad wants to unwind after a long day at the office, and there's no such thing as TV, he'll listen to the radio or read the paper or sit in the corner and drink scotch until his eyes gloss over. If he's the kind of Dad that wants to hang out with the kids, like my Dad was, it doesn't matter if there's TV or not, he's hanging out with those kids.

I mean, there was TV when I was growing up, and I watched a lot of it. A lot. Don't believe me? Here's the entire theme song from TV's "Perfect Strangers," from memory.

Sometimes the world looks perfect
Nothing to rearrange
Sometimes you just get a feeling
Like you need some kind of change

Standing tall
On the wings of my dream
Rise and fall
On the wings of my dream

The rain and thunder
The wind and haze
I'm bound for better days

It's my life, my dream
Nothing's gonna stop me now

[Here, there's a little harmonica solo while we see Cousin Larry and Balki do the Dance of Joy]

Okay, so, as you can see, I watched TV growing up, and remember some of it, even. And I'm a fairly intelligent, able-minded kind of guy. I've read some Dostoyevsky and some Immanuel Kant, and I think I've understood some parts of it.

And I spent plenty of time with my family, believe me. More than enough, really. They're probably sick to death of me. You should see these pictures my parents sent back from Hawaii. Their smiles grow 50% for every 100 miles of distance from me and my brother.

But according to D. Burke, I'm horribly depriving the rest of the world my company during those nights spent watching Donald Trump or Paris Hilton or Ashton Kutcher humiliate strangers. He and the other anti-TV-ites want me to go outside, join the world, do...well, do something. I'm not quite sure what they want me to do. They never say.

This is why it's not an intelligent protest, and why the people who say "I don't even have a TV" are off-base. Because it's not about "not watching TV." How bland, how boring. Anyone can not do something, it's all about doing something else that's more interesting. I mean, if the decision is between watching television or data entry, anyone in their right minds would choose TV. A lot of TV rules, particularly when Puff Daddy makes wannabe musicians walk to Brooklyn to retrieve snack foods. If the anti-TV crowd were sincere, and not just trying to act superior, they'd have a suggestion at the ready.

"Don't Watch TV. Take Up Backgammon." I think that sort of thing would go over better.


Boyd McKendrick said...

Lons, you are such a conformist. And I resent the data entry remark, just FYI.

Lons said...

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or sincere, Boyd, so I wrote two responses, one for each possible tone:

1) Ha ha!

2) See, Boyd, this is exactly what I'm upset about. It's just as conformist to offer an anti-TV stance as it is a pro-TV stance. One can easily identify with either side. It's far more interesting to promote some alternative activity, such as reading other people's blogs and then making mean-spirited remarks on them.

Boyd McKendrick said...

I can't tell which response is for which tone. And I also can't tell you how adorable you are.

Lon Admirer said...

I realize that you find the most annoying sentence in the English language to be "I don't have a TV." Well, I have three TV's in the household and now that the "kids have flown the coop" I don't turn any of them on. Does that make me supercilious or just offended with the low level of entertainment offered to the adult public who may be over the age of 40?

Lons said...

Well, it's always nice to hear from an admirer...

But there are clearly plenty of quality shows for people over the age of 40 (not that the number 40 has any significance as far as recognizing good TV goes).

Maybe you're sticking for some bizarre reason to the network line-up, which has degraded to the point of becoming unwatchable.

Or maybe you just don't have a cool cable box that lets you see a menu of all of the things on. But I know a variety of people with a variety of tastes, and all of the ones who aren't hopelessly snotty can occasionally find something to watch.

I'm not saying all TV is good, or even a majority, but to say that there's nothing good on television ever is to make a wild overstatement about an entire medium.

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