Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Belinda Acosta

JUNE 7, 1999:  One of the interesting things about writing this column is that when my identity as the "TV Eye" columnist is revealed at parties, I become the confessor of all sins related to television-watching. Maybe it's because many of the parties I attend at this time of year are with graduate students, who, I'm convinced, are "experts" on television. Oh sure, they're working on a higher intellectual plane than the rest of us, what with all that critical thinking, hypothesizing, and philosophizing going on. But when it comes to procrastination, no one does it better than a grad student. From my perspective, television-watching is the preferred means of graduate student procrastination, surpassing shopping (graduate students are poor), cleaning, cooking, and alas, even sex.

As soon as I am introduced to an intellectual-in-progress with, "She writes that TV column ..." tacked to the end of my name, one of two reactions are received. One reaction is pure and unmasked disdain. This look is followed by the person telling me they don't ever watch TV -- ever. One person told me she had two televisions. Two! But she never watched either of them, as if that made her doubly intellectual, doubly moral, doubly above it all -- "it" being me and the rest of us slugs who admit to watching TV with some interest. It always seems that the person -- the one with one TV for each eye -- is almost always the person who sits alone at the party for extended periods of time. Not that I believe television-watching cultivates social skills, but there is a coincidental similarity between the person disinterested in TV and the person who seems unable to strike up amiable party chatter; that is, until the host gets the idea that they should introduce the party loner to me, and you've just read how that turns out.

The second reaction is feigned disdain, which usually melts into a good-natured chat. This reaction is by far the most common. Although this reaction comes with claims to little time for television, once you get these people talking they reveal a favorite program that causes the boyfriend, wife, or partner embarrassment. This is where my role as confessor comes in. Two people, at two separate parties, confessed, er, admitted being drawn to the massage program on ACTV (quite simply, you watch a person getting a massage, sometimes in water, usually on a massage table). Both times, their respective partners admonished them not to "admit that in public." But when I mentioned that I've seen the show, the massage show watchers' faces lit up, as if my admission enabled them to free some part of themselves that they'd kept secret on a high shelf away from the children.

This same group of people can always detail the synopses of the "good" TV shows -- Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue, or (gag) Ally McBeal. These same people sometimes look down their noses at those who don't share their TV viewing habits, as if they've found the only good programming on TV and anything else must be the trashy TV they would otherwise disparage. But meeting me, a person who's supposed to watch all of it at one time or another, brings out this strange curiosity that stops just short of titillation: "When do you watch it? How much do you watch? How long? Do you do it during the day, or just late at night? Do you do cable or network? Do you do it with your boyfriend or alone?" One person, apparently worried about my reputation, stammered, "You just do PBS, right? Just PBS?" Yeah, right. As if the same old reruns of British comedies wouldn't drive anyone to pay-per-view for a quickie.

During a lull in conversation at a small get-together, one quiet young man caused an audible gasp by asking if I watched Teletubbies (I have). Another time, a young woman told me she couldn't help it, but when she was at home sick one afternoon, she watched Jerry Springer "just to watch the freaks." What I find interesting is that most people are quick to launch into a conversation about why other people watch Jerry Springer, while downplaying their own sense of pleasure, voyeurism, or whatever it is they experience watching the show.

In the end, I can't say why others watch what they watch, only why I watch what I watch. Though I'm not much interested in absolving those who feel guilty for watching TV, I am interested in hearing what people watch. So, if any one out there has any riffs on season finales, spin-offs, season enders, or other topics covered or not covered in this column, send them my way. I'd like to hear from you.


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