Shame Viewing: A Confession
I’m restless and melancholic, twitchy when separated from my laptop and only able to concentrate in intense, 42 minute bursts. Today is the 96th day of my incarceration: my imagination, sanity and social life all held in captive stasis by a crack team of world class, emotionally erudite Seattle surgeons. Yes, of all things in the vast and varied televisual universe, I am in thrall to Grey’s Anatomy. Try not to judge me too harshly friends, because I know alright? I know. When I have a rare breather between episodes and my brain comes up gasping for air I fleetingly reflect on what a mammoth waste of my time and dwindling middle youth this is. But as quickly as this realization strikes me it passes and I’m back in front of the screen, my busy fingers clicking feverishly through the web pages and pop-ups that block my path to that next delicious hit. At my most deluded I loftily think of this time as my Grey’s Period, shoddily aligning myself with Picasso at his creative, prolific best to validate my almost total detachment from real life in favour of art. Or, you know: telly.
But while Pablo painted his great works in the hope they’d be admired in hushed, reverent tones in galleries worldwide one day, I am grateful for the anonymity afforded to me. A person’s shame viewing habits can’t withstand public scrutiny, but enjoyed furtively and in fear of exposure they’re delightful. When I’m alone, my poor enslaved laptop burning through the dermis of my knees as I enter hour 4 of medical melodrama, I can fully invest in dialogue that can’t have ever passed real people’s lips. What I started watching in an ironic, snarky way morphed into sadly sincere and complete involvement too swiftly for me to duck and run – and now I don’t even want to.
Discovery, however, brings unwelcome perspective. Too many times I’ve been completely engrossed in Meredith’s latest drama only for an incredulous “are you still watching this shite?” from behind me to wrench me back to reality. In that instant I am shamed. But why should it be like this? Why should judgement of your TV choices mean that you’re judged as a person too? And if you have more than one dodgy show in your watch list, what then? What’s the tipping point where you go from intelligent viewer with the odd dodgy preference to an imbecile who the term ‘fool’s lantern’ was coined for? We’ve all got something squirreled away in our TiVo library that we’d rather no one finds, haven’t we?
The proliferation of cable packages and online streaming sites has gifted us with a wealth of viewing choices that allow us to create a flattering reflection of ourselves with the programmes we tune in to. We feel obliged to watch shows that plug in to the zeitgeist if only to keep up with the chat on Twitter, and I know people who are genuinely anxious about not having seen Breaking Bad, like it means they’re falling behind the evolutionary curve. Some people watch programmes that make them feel clever for doing so, but watching C-Span just so you can say you watch C-Span is posturing – the TV equivalent of wearing the t-shirt of a band you’ve barely heard of. It’s weird to me that this is more acceptable than enjoying a drama series that gives menopausal housewives Bieber fever. Before Grey’s I got my melodrama from One Tree Hill, my age-inappropriate enjoyment of which can be traced directly back to my obsession with Dawson’s Creek as an actual teenager. Thus, with Pacey, it all began.
But these are scary times. I’m almost all caught up on Grey’s – any day now I’ll be up to speed with season 9 and watching it in agonizingly slow, weekly doses like a civilian. And what do I do when it’s over? I don’t know if I can function without regular access to a show that sound like it’s scripted by Taylor Swift with bad PMS. I’d like to think that I’ll take the season break as an opportunity to re-enter intelligent society – maybe read a few books, reassure my friends I’ve not succumbed to agoraphobia, learn to bloody DRIVE already – but I know myself too well. A year from now I’ll be right here: laptop on increasingly fleshy knees, deathly pale and sobbing at some glossy, whippet thin woman’s latest romantic tragedy. But one hand will stay on the screen, ready to snap it shut at the sound of approaching, judgmental feet.
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