What I Learned from Television

I love television. Yes, I have a PhD and teach literature and all that, but I really like television, including the occasional dip into PBS, the favorite and sometimes the only channel most of my clan will admit to enjoying. Nope, not me. Ask me about Real Housewives, Toddlers and Tiaras, Dancing with the Stars, Intervention, or just about any HBO drama series. In my defense I can’t stand the warbly, overwrought balladeers and tween-hipsters of American Idol any more, and I only watch Dancing with the Stars so I can talk about it with my 83-year old mother (I swear that’s mostly true). And because I like television so much, the DVR has changed my life: I would sooner give up my refrigerator than do without it.

But what I really like to settle into my sofa’s ass-groove (in Homer Simpson’s immortal words) and watch for hours on end is sports. Maybe some people can do it, but I can’t watch sports that have been recorded. It’s not just that I’ll have to put myself in an information isolation booth to avoid finding out the result before I watch; it’s more subtle (and more embarrassing) than that: I’m afraid I’ll discover how little of an event is actually meaningful. Is a Wimbledon Final just as gripping without Nadal’s ball-bouncing, bangs-tucking, and wedgy-picking, for example? I think not. With the Red Zone, some fans have already discovered what an all-wheat and no-chaff NFL Sunday looks like, but I don’t really want to know.

But I digress. What I started to say was that when I indulge in a sports watching endurance event like the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the DVR is of no use and I have to watch commercials. The same ones. Over and over again. And what I discovered this past weekend is that, partially as a function of the DVR and, alas, partially as a function of generalized old-fartitude, I don’t understand many of the commercials. I ponder them like foreign film, like the James Joyce novels I never finished reading, like jazz, and financial statements.

What hellscape are Mr. Peanut and his Lady (?) nut-friend in when he cheers on the spicy Spanish almond in a cape who’s bullfighting a cockroach? “There’s a lot of spice in that boy,” he intones with his monocle and walking stick and waistcoat. I don’t even want to remember if he’s wearing pants. Perhaps I need to adjust my medication, and I am aware of some vague stirring of desire, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for a can of nuts.

And who is supposed to buy that tricycle for geezers, the motorcycle with training wheels? Does it come with the Danica Patrick wannabes tumbling their raven locks from helmets (safety first!) and unzipping leather jackets. Maybe it’s the same people who must be obsessed with insurance of all kinds. I mean, in the name of all that’s holy, how much insurance-shopping do people do? Do we want to buy it from a horrible horse-faced man with a blue phone? Or from simultaneously ironic and peppy (a tricky double salchow of affect) Flo? I don’t want to know her name, but god help me, I do.

Then there are the pharmaceuticals ads, with their peculiar set of hermeneutical challenges. I’m especially baffled by the gout medicine commercial that shows the man lugging around the burden of his (bright green) excess uric acid, but then after he takes the magic pills, he still carries it around, except now in a hip leather messenger bag. What, the medicine doesn’t get rid of it; it just gives you something to carry it in? I don’t understand. Nor do I think my kitchen or laundry room flooding with water is sexy, Cialis people. Is this supposed to appeal to people old enough to need Cialis but unencumbered enough not to start thinking about plumbers and water-damage, and – wait – insurance? Oh, I get it.

Author: Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton

Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton actually gets paid to read books and talk about them with bright young people in her job as an associate professor of English at Southwestern University, just outside of Austin in beautiful Georgetown, Texas. She's lived in Texas for 25 years, but before that spent the first half of her childhood in southwest Virginia, the second half in New Jersey, and college and the first bout with graduate school in Ohio and Chicago. She has written for the Texas Observer and has published work in scholarly journals and collections. Her recent work focuses on the the literature of post-Viet Nam American wars, and her current project is a manuscript about life in a small town in the far north of Viet Nam. Other interests include food, sports, travel, and listening to other really smart people talk about politics.

2 thoughts on “What I Learned from Television”

  1. I hate to admit to paying attention to the gout medicine commercial — simply because I had never seen a gout medicine commercial before. What I learned: one of the side effects of the gout medicine is — wait for it — gout.

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