I appreciate television just as much as the next person, and I spend a fair amount of time happily viewing the stuff. (I’m somewhat annoyed by the vast amount of excellent programming currently available, as it makes it nearly impossible to decide what to watch. Well . . . that’s another gripe for another column.)
But in spite of my enjoyment of televised entertainment, I find—shocking though it may seem—that I’m able to function reasonably well without having constant, uninterrupted access to it throughout the day, every day, in each and every location I visit. Nevertheless, to my great irritation, that seems to be the direction in which we’re heading.
It probably started with sports bars where, I’m told, patrons often gather to enjoy a beer or two while they watch a game with fellow enthusiasts. It’s a perfectly sensible concept. These days, though, in addition to places like sports bars where communal viewing is a logical complement to the experience, TVs are showing up in all kinds of other establishments—even in places where their presence truly makes no sense. There is scarcely a stretch of wall now in any public space anywhere that isn’t occupied by a flat-screen, emitting a constant stream of general output. They’re now in restaurants, gyms, airports, hotel lobbies, waiting rooms, barbershops, taxicabs, elevators . . . you name it.
If I'm staying at a hotel and I have the urge to watch TV, I literally do not have to leave my bed to do so. Oh but wait! Now I can watch in the lobby as well, and then in the elevator on the way up, so I don't have to suffer a single moment without electronic visual stimulation. If I'm in a hospital waiting room, suffering from, let's say, nausea, I can now be kept involuntarily entertained by back-to-back cooking shows. How perfect. Or maybe my chronic pain can be exacerbated with a nice long political news report while I wait to see the doctor.
Your Curmudgeon frequents a local diner where, until recently, one was able to eat one’s meal in peace, occasionally exchanging pleasantries with waiters and patrons if one was so inclined. (I, of course, was never so inclined, as I don’t like making new acquaintances. I’m only saying the option was available.) And then came the televisions. Now we sit, slack-jawed, gaping at whatever is on, regardless of whether or not we’re interested in the subject as we mindlessly shovel food into our mouths, barely aware of anything going on in real life. I miss the relative quiet of my TV-less diner.
These electronic intrusions are even more disappointing in restaurants that are presumably aiming for higher levels of class. The presence of TVs in an upscale eatery does not suggest elegance or sophistication so much as it evokes the unique ambiance of a sports bar. But someone seems to have convinced the people in charge of making such decisions that the addition of a never-ending broadcast somehow enhances the aura of their establishments. It does not.
Way back when the Curmudgeon was a child, my siblings and I considered it a great treat when mom would occasionally serve what were known as “TV dinners.” These were complete meals of frozen foods in compartmented trays. The instructions were often complicated (“Peel back tinfoil over compartment C. Heat at 200 degrees for 26¾ minutes. Remove tinfoil from compartment B. Turn tray to face Mecca . . . ”). The food was unforgivable. The nutritional value was negligible. But we got to watch TV while we ate.
We outgrew the novelty by around age 10.
One of these days, smart proprietors will begin erecting signs outside their establishments proclaiming “Come in! We have no TVs!”
That’s where you’ll find me.