One day in college, 2005, while stalking one of my crushes on MySpace, I checked out Kory, her little brother’s page, her little brother who had gone from being a conservative, proverbial spokesperson for American Eagle to an all-black-clad, butt-flap-wearing, dumpster-diving anarchist in like three days. His favorite bands were Crass, Dead Prez, and Flux of Pink Indians; he was getting arrested at a protest of some sort in his profile picture; his “About Me” section read, “RED AND BLACK RESISTENCE.” What I remember the most, though, was under the “Television” section, he had written, “Smash it. Read a fucking book.”
Because I’m abysmally narcissistic, I took Kory’s comment personally. I began to look at other friends’ pages, specifically their “Television” section. While a few friends listed shows they watched, the majority was pejorative: “Fuck tv”, “makes you a zombie”, “television sucks”, “aw hell no”, “no”, “It’s in the garage”, and so on. One of my friends had, in lieu of text, a gif of a monkey peeing in his own mouth. Another had, basically, an English 101 paper written about the government, mind control, conspiracy theory, and how we need to “wake up, be brave, and turn it off.” Apparently there was a revolution happening, some sort of intellectual renaissance – but I wasn’t a part of it.
I wasn’t a chronic TV watcher then, hadn’t been since MTV stopped airing anything having to do with music. I possessed a TV, but wasn’t possessed by it. My only binges took place on Saturday mornings, when I’d watch stupid Japanese cartoons and smoke $50 blunts of weed with my roommate and pop his schizophrenic girlfriend’s muscle relaxers, but that was about it.
Still, though, it bothered me that so many people had turned off their TVs and had somehow become these productive geniuses overnight, like how Kory had become this valiant activist overnight. What began as lonely melancholy turned into anger as the weeks went by. Who did these sanctimonious pricks think they were? I became vindictive and judgmental. I would eavesdrop on conversations. If I heard someone say they didn’t watch TV, I would look them up and down, taking mental notes: horn-rimmed glasses, pointy dress shoes, beards. At that point I just started profiling – anyone who looked like that didn’t watch TV, and was therefore a philistine. Visuals turned to smells. If I met someone in class who announced that he never watched TV, and, for example, his breath smelled, I would think, Ha! His breath stinks because he’s literally and figuratively full of shit. Fuck this guy. I’ll bet he has seventeen TVs in his room.
Then I became obsessive.
The student who doesn’t watch TV became a manifestation, an enemy. I would imagine this student reading Finnegan’s Wake for pleasure, because he had become bored by the cute, predictable algorithms of The Simpsons and Mr. Belvedere, and had so much free time having turned off his TV. I would picture him and his beautiful girlfriend. I would picture them having sex, and talking in breathy little moans about how much garbage they had to throw on their compost heaps, and then they would come at the same time, with big, accomplished smiles on their faces. I even began writing fictional monologues, in which this hypothetical luddite would tell me how big of a piece of shit I was, and what was wrong with me, without offering any sort of solution. In one, he and his girlfriend slowly killed me, telling me that my screams we invalid, because I didn’t live in an impoverished country, that my screams were nothing but wasted energy, empty calories. Then they had sex on my corpse (I was in college; my libido was out of control), found a cure for AIDS years later, and so on. It became increasingly clear that I was a piece of shit, because I watched TV. The problem was, I was too busy on MySpace and in my head, and finding and judging people who didn’t watch TV to even watch TV myself. When asked if I had seen Lost, for example, I would say, “No – I don’t really watch TV,” (bite my tongue,) “well, because I have too much other stuff to do,” (total lie) “I mean, I’m not like an anti-TV person, but…” At this point, my side of the conversation was too unwieldy, and the other had moved on, along with everyone else.
The following year, after I had first encountered Kory on MySpace, I was working for a Chinese restaurant, and delivered some General Tso’s Tofu to him and his girlfriend. When his girlfriend answered the door to sign her credit card receipt, I looked over and saw Kory parked in front of a giant TV, playing a video game called Freedom Fighters, in which Communists murder the president, and your characters are tasked with shooting them dead in New York City.
That was all I needed.
I asked him what he was playing, even though I already knew.
“Freedom Fighters,” he said with enduring enthusiasm. “It’s pretty fun, dude.” I believed him, too.
I smiled and said, “Hell yeah, dude,” or something. I wished Kory, his girlfriend, and their dog a good afternoon, left, and finished the rest of my shift, relieved and exhausted.