TelevIsm: Television without television

Rachel McCarthy-James
View profile »

I grew up in a limited-television home, and didn't have a television to myself in college until senior year, when I was too busy to watch the free cable. Now that I'm paying my own bills, food and kitty litter have won out over those extra 40 channels, 35 of which I have little interest in. I've managed to acquire three different television sets for free, but for the first year or so they sat unwatched except on Thursday nights, when we would hooks up the antenna for The Office and its attendant Thursday night workplace comedies.

Even though I wasn't making my use of our television—televisions—I still had to watch my programs. But how could I? Where would I go? What method should I use? After ten years online, I knew that the Internet to be a many-splendored resource for media, but my tracking skills had gotten a little rusty.

The starting point was Hulu, which launched during my senior year and which I didn't pay much attention to at first. Its chief attractions are its non-expense and unquestionable legality. It's also getting more accessible by adding captions, and accessibility is always awesome! Free stuff kicks ass, and it's nice to be on a site free of viruses. Of course, I'm feeding into the media-industrial complex by watching its productions, if that's a thing. But that's kyriarchy for you—everywhere, as per usual.

Hulu does have ads, and they are annoying, as ads tend to be, but I don't mind them much. When I stopped watching TV when it was intended to be consumed, commercials became a fun novelty. But Hulu's sometimes shallow pool of episodic resources is pretty limiting. It's frustrating to sample a television show, get into it, and get stopped after the allotted five episodes. It does have some season of television in full—the first season of Buffy (which I still haven't watched!) and the first five of Lost—but it's best when used for its intended purpose: catching up on currently airing television shows.

Hulu's a good resource, but I am no stranger to the seedier or simply less legal sites. YouTube used to be a lot more fun before the folks in charge realized I was watching America's Next Top Model on there in five minute segments for free. But those days are gone—while I occasionally hear of someone watching True Blood on YouTube in the days after it airs, copyright infringement is the harshly-enforced law of the land.

Not every site is quite so concerned with maintaining the patriarchal structure of media distribution enforced by more legitimate sites. These websites, filled with links to streaming video that carry a high risk to your computer, seem to get shut down every six to twelve months, and I can't remember any of the the sites I visited before my current haunt. But like so many fictional entrances to magical worlds, these portals always exist—they just shift from place to place. I try to stay away from them these days, but sometimes I just gotta find my program and there's no other place for it.

This last one is my favorite, the best $9 I spend every month—Netflix. I am pretty broke all the time, but that sum is a non-negotiable part of my budget because it vastly stretches my entertainment dollar. The shows I watch there are as necessary as Internet—it's not food, but I get real frustrated if I don't have it.

Since I got it on my Wii (hello class privilege!) it is the one thing that's finally put my television to regular use. I watch the occasional movie on there—there are some terrific documentaries, and I cannot get enough Meryl Streep—but I mainly love watching shows on it, whether old (Arrested Development) or new (Bones). There are no commercials, or mail time—it's there whenever I want it. When X-Files ends on a "To Be Continued", I click "next episode", and BAM, continued.

Now, there are some problems with Instant Viewing. There are no captions anywhere on anything (except flicks that are foreign by U.S. standards). And again, it's a part of the existing patriarchal structure that we're all supposed to be smashing, and I encourage you to offer your critique of Netflix in the comments. Still, Netflix is kind of my best friend.

I love Mad Men, I love Weeds, I love shows that should just be on cable. And I'm thankful I don't need OnDemand. I don't need TiVo. I don't even need antenna. As long as I got Internet, my televisual budget is a fraction of what "the man" wants it to be.

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

3 Comments Have Been Posted

Now, there are some problems

<em>Now, there are some problems with Instant Viewing. There are no captions anywhere on anything (except flicks that are foreign by U.S. standards). And again, it’s a part of the existing patriarchal structure that we’re all supposed to be smashing, and I encourage you to offer your critique of Netflix in the comments. Still, Netflix is kind of my best friend.</em>

I definitely have sent Netflix feedback regarding this issue. I use captions and it's really the only issue I have with their service. I dug on this post.

I sold my television two years ago and have been without cable for nearly four years. I thought this would be really challenging, but it turns out it hasn't been. I don't like reality programming or most broadcast network sitcoms, so for the most part my viewing habits haven't changed. I managed to find the rare gems - I see you, <em>Friday Night Lights</em> - and avoid anything that's just going to bore or annoy me.

<strong>Snarky's Machine, your friendly comment moderator</strong>
<a href="">Did someone say <em>Comment Policy</em>?</a>

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Just Curious

"Now, there are some problems with Instant Viewing. There are no captions anywhere on anything (except flicks that are foreign by U.S. standards). And again, it’s a part of the existing patriarchal structure that we’re all supposed to be smashing, and I encourage you to offer your critique of Netflix in the comments. Still, Netflix is kind of my best friend."

Let me say upfront that I do not want to pick a fight, just raise a point and spark some conversation. I atually have no critique of Netflix, but I did want to just bring up a larger point around this sentiment. I consistently bump up against that place where being a mindful consumer who only consumes that which is not in direct conflict with my values is hindered by the mere convenience factor. My question is whether or not I can really provide an honest critique of something I myself am willing to consume. "I know McDonald's is awful, but gosh, what else am I supposed to do when I'm in a hurry and hungry?" I use Netflix myself, and I'm with you--having it streaming to my TV is awesome. It's kind of my best friend, too. I can now watch all the 30 Rock I want. But I'm not necessarily against the existence of big corporations, so this doesn't conflict with my values in that sense. It also supports my values concerning how people interact with media (the less and the more mindfully, the better). But were it to conflict with my values, I'd think that I would need to seriously fight the urge to engage with it even though I really, really liked it in order to reach for a higher aim and have my actions match my words. In the end, I can't really expect for things to change if I continue to engage in the very thing I'd like to see change. Right? We all do this to a degree. It's a struggle for sure, and I don't want to downplay that in the slightest. But I'm always struck by how quickly we say, "Yeah, I know I shouldn't do this because it kind of conflicts with my values, but...look! They have every single episode of Black Adder!"

I don't have a tv

I don't have a tv be honest I don't like that oh-hey-I'm-getting-suckered-into-a-show-just-because-it's-on-next syndrome, I really don't like the ads, and I REALLY don't like the cable bill.

We've done pretty well on online streaming sites, which find places that people have uploaded the videos and just make lists. These can be places as massive as STC or people's individual fan blogs. Sometimes the next episode I need to watch has been taken down, and sometimes I'm watching from a chinese website (note: non-Mac users, I don't recommend this: foreign media sites are notoriously hacked into. Really I probably shouldn't be doing it on my Mac either, but as most spyware/viruses are programmed for PC, it's safer, and I haven't had problems yet), but for the most part I can watch on things like megavideo where people put up and take down their stuff pretty frequently.

I do watch Hulu, or on the websites of the TV stations themselves, if I'm watching a show I think needs help in the ratings to stay alive. I also appreciate stations that DO stream their own TV shows and understand the internet is a viable form of viewership. I watch Netflix to watch (often totally radical leftist ;D) documentaries and indie flicks, although I have to admit I'm not totally following your Netflix point and may be missing something.

I much prefer Hulu and Netflix to Comcast where I don't have to sit through as much advertising and presumably, am not paying advertisers as much -- and can use my dollar as much as I possibly can in the allotted month of payment, instead of "as many times as there's something airing".

I also work in a retail electronics store, though, and wrt class privilege -- the affordability is different for everyone and of course the drive to WANT things similarly despite that is systemic/social as well -- but pretty much every class has been in there, having saved or not saved, with cash or credit, to get various things (I definitely had a guy pay me $900 in $20s, $10s and $5s the other day, I'm guessing he's not upper middle class...), often multipurpose devices like PS3 that are not only game systems but also streaming wireless and Blu-Ray players. I think streaming video is putting their money to better use than cable, personally.

Add new comment