Bascom: Why I do watch TV

Bascom: Why I do watch TV

Jordan Bascom, Columnist

Last week, fellow columnist Tom Cui wrote an article about why he doesn’t watch TV. His decision not to partake in this all-American pastime is certainly valid, though his reasons for why others should follow suit are predicated on an assumption that television can add nothing to our lives.

How you spend your time is your own prerogative. People are entitled to fill their day with the activities they so choose. Granted, our job at Northwestern is to be students, and academics should be our first priority, but I think it’s also important to spend time each week doing something you like, whether that means joining a math club (I’m presuming these exist) or watching a few episodes of your favorite show.

I disagree with Cui’s point that our time is categorically better spent if it is in the pursuit of other activities. Conventional opinion at NU has a propensity to confuse involvement with enrichment, a mindset undoubtedly symptomatic of our fanatic cult of resume building, even though participation in extracurriculars does not directly translate to experiences worthy of distinction.

I love TV, and I watch a lot of it. Comedies, dramas and everything in between – my interests know no generic limitations. I read insatiably as a child, which I blame for cultivating an enthusiasm for stories that is also satisfied by television. And, like reading, I find that watching TV can serve dual purposes by providing the material for enjoyment and analysis – both justifiable reasons to keep those Netflix and HBO Go subscriptions activated.

Television is problematic when it eclipses your more important obligations and responsibilities. Nothing good comes from relying on it as a means of avoidance or escapism. If you’re starting a new show, you have to have the discipline to mediate its consumption. I’ve learned my lesson to never binge watch during a school quarter, but I know other people who can do it without detriment to their academics. I follow several shows from week to week, which is what I choose to dedicate my free time to. I often watch with friends, and it can be a very connecting, social activity as well.

Yes, some TV is mindless entertainment. But why is that a bad thing? Who says we have to spend every waking minute in rigorous cognitive engagement? Life has its fair share of hardships, so why not take a 30-minute break from reality and lose yourself in the delightful world of “Parks and Recreation” or the fantastical one of “Game of Thrones?” The possibilities are numerous. If you hate that treadmill at the gym, throw on an action-packed, captivating show like “24” while you work out. Soon, you won’t be concentrating on the misery of each stride. Or, if you’ve had a long day of classes and work, a quick dose of a “Friends” rerun may be all you need to give your brain a brief respite.

TV, however, can be more than merely a pleasing or relaxing activity. Like a work of literature, television can be analyzed for the universe imagined by the writers or for how the show relates to the greater cultural context of which it’s a part of. I’m in a class this quarter on 1950s post-war novels, for which I feel watching “Mad Men” fully prepared me. The fictitious nature of a show’s characters and universe does not necessitate intellectual dismissal, as Cui believes. I’ve found some conversations with friends about the revolutionary use of the female gaze in “Outlander” or the brilliance of the humor in “The Office” more enlightening than some I’ve had in classrooms.

The intellectual value of television cannot be dismissed simply for its medium.

College, and especially a liberal arts education, is supposed to teach us how to think, and television is one tool that can do just that. There’s a reason NU has a Department of Radio, Television and Film and why classes in multiple disciplines explore the many didactic purposes of television.

If you don’t want to watch TV, that’s fine. But if you do, that’s fine, too. You do you.

Jordan Bascom is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].