Personal story time
I’ve always loved watching television, and can remember being really little and wanting desperately to know what would happen after the comparatively minor suspense of a commercial break in David the Gnome. That desire quickly upgraded to a small seizure over the possibility of not knowing what happens in the next episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, followed by one of the more obsessive relationships with Babylon 5 to ever grace a preteen psyche. Narrative absorption of any kind was the ultimate pleasure, and I had as little trouble blocking out the world with a copy of The Golden Compass as an episode of GhostWriter. (I almost missed my entrance in a drama camp performance of Carousel because I was reading back stage, and remember impatiently feeling like the chorus songs were just too long, because who would not rather be reading The Golden Compass backstage with the script flashlight than actually performing this play that we were all in?) Total absorption in books, in particular, was so dangerous that I managed to mentally skip most of Algebra 1 by blatantly reading in class.
It wasn’t until some point in college when television’s ability to capture my entire brain overtook my easy daily slide into a text, and it is especially thanks to one summer in Boston that the most basic advantages of television as a narrative medium became clear to me. The enemy of absorption is distraction, and I finally realized while trying to finish Adam Bede next to a wall actually vibrating with the impact of a reggae bass line that the simple presence of sound coming out of a speaker – my headphone speakers, not the neighbors’ blasting behemoths – made a marathon viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer far more attractive than poor George. I watched every single episode of Buffy that summer, thanks to equal parts fascination with the show and desperation to focus on something other than that awful, perpetual noise. Television was far more reliable than an audio book, which has none of television’s multi-layered aural aesthetic, and leaves too much empty space in the background. Music made an effective sound block, but it left my brain running in circles, always testing how much of the Constant Bass Line from Hell was slipping through. Buffy was my best friend, and once I spent time powering through many episodes a day, I began to appreciate the way the repeating rhythms of an episode format were laying bare the skeletons of plotlines, making it easier to see character development and audience suspense stretched out over the frame of a twenty-three episode season. I went to Buffy for the improved escape of multi-sensory entertainment, and almost in spite of myself, stumbled into absorption with television as television and not just a story that kept going and kept me going.
There inevitably comes a time when life interjects into one’s seven season marathon, and you have to figure out how to do things that you wish you could do quietly, like read or write, inside a space that is cluttered with bass lines and stomping and overheard conversations. At the moment I’m exploring the potentials of a noise machine. I wish I were watching TV.