The Untelevised Life

Posted on January 4, 2012


I’m sitting in a cafe in the tropical mountains of Ubud, a small arts village an hour’s drive from the main tourist beaches of Bali. As my family spent the last five days visiting local artiststudios and hiking the hills traversing the rice paddies and lush valleys, we’ve encountered so many friendly villagers who seem content with their simple lifestyle, and I can’t help but think: These people have no idea of all the great television they’re missing.

Yes, they all have TV sets, but they only get eight channels, the channels are all in Balinese or Indonesian, and not one of those channels features a Kardashian. Not even one of the Jenners or Lamar Odom. Most of them can speak some English but when I asked them whether they thought Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries’ marriage was a sham, I only received blank stares in response. How sad. Or maybe they were too distracted by the untelevised scene behind me:

I’ve been thinking about the year 2012 and all the popular theories associating the date with an apocalyptic end of the world. I’m not a big fan of predicting the end of the world–as I’ve written before, if it’s poor form to reveal how a movie ends, it’s even worse to reveal how the world ends–but if the world is going to go up in smoke, my biggest regret would be all the TV I haven’t watched yet. I hope I have enough warning that I can go out and buy all the TV boxed sets I haven’t had time to watch in case we have to spend fifty years in a bomb shelter.

When we’re all gathered in the bomb shelter together, the other strangers in the shelter will unite and form friendships over their mutual love of a particular TV show, and as they begin to discuss memories of American Idols past, I’ll have to say, “Don’t tell me who won. I haven’t seen it yet.”

I assume our resolve not to reveal TV spoilers will fade after our first decade. These will be the tales we pass on to the post-apocalyptic generation, the tales of the Kardashians, The Bachelor, and Top Chef. We’ll gather around the fire and my friend Todd will recount the story of Jersey Shore so many times that the third person becomes the first person, and ‘The Situation’ becomes ‘I,’ and we start to believe these stories had always belonged to him.

And wouldn’t it be perfectly natural to assume these lives for our own? As the years passed we’d find it increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from ‘reality.’ We’d close our eyes as we strained through the murky recesses of our minds to determine which events happened to us personally and which events only happened on TV. Most of us will lean towards claiming television’s achievements for our own, especially because we long ago agreed to transfer the  time required to produce our own interesting lives in exchange for the interesting lives of those on TV–an outsourcing of life, if you will.

The only objection to claiming these lives for your own will come from your bomb shelter neighbors who share the same collective television memory; it won’t be long before the bomb shelter breaks up into tribes and 100 different people make the case for being elected tribal leader and use winning a season of Survivor as their campaign platform.

Posted in: Travel