When I was a child - beyond the mists of time - there was a TV programme called Why Don't You?. The full title was Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set And Go Out And Do Something Less Boring Instead?- a title screamed at top volume by the over-enthusiastic presenters at the start of every episode. My mother used to hear this bellowed imprecation, and promptly bustle across the living room and turn it off. Half disapproving, half obedient, she summed up the suspicion with which she viewed TV, chasing me out to fall off the swing or fall off my bike or fall out with the kids who lived nearby.
Years have passed, the channels have been changed, the wheel has come full circle. Most of us, nowadays, find it almost impossible to imagine a life without TV, or without the remote control of some electronic entertainment portal. What would we do with our time? How would we relax? Without TV, we argue, we would be less aware of what is going on in the world around us. Our days would sound duller without the tuned-in voices of One Direction, who owe their very existence as a band to a TV programme. Where would we find our daily gossip without the likes of Gail Platt, Kat Slater, or the Loose Women?
As small children we all loved to be told stories; as we grow older, television takes the place of these storytellers. We still love to find out what's going to happen next and how a story ends, and this is why we love sitting down to watch Eastenders, Made In Chelsea or Modern Family. Just as, when we were children, we liked to identify with the beautiful princess or handsome prince, now we like to find our favourite characters in TV dramas, in the escapism we crave after a stressful day. We enjoy being immersed in stories, which are better told than our reality. We enjoy the anticipation of waiting for the next episode after a cliffhanger: like finding an hour, for one more Monday night, to discover who the Broadchurch killer really was...
And it's not just fiction. Television offers us education, through current affairs, news and documentaries. There are enough documentaries to make you dizzy, some of them sounding terminally dull enough to make me laugh. My father complained petulantly, last Friday: 'I had been looking forward to watching a programme about Josiah Wedgewood, but they're making us watch bloody Ulster rugby here instead.' TV like this - from penguins to pottery - can inspire conversation and make people re-discover that learning is fun. Well. Mostly.
Then there's sport. From those 'bloody' provincial rugby matches to the spectacles of the Olympics, the Championships at Wimbledon or the FA Cup, we can watch almost any sport we want, along with expert commentary. We can watch aerobics or yoga without ever leaving our sofas. There's the rub. Do we become so expert at watching sport on our TVs that we become almost terminally inactive in the terraces created in our living rooms? Does it become so inconceivable for us to move around, ourselves, that we even watch our workout DVDs from our sofa-bound, snack-ridden nests?
I could go on. Too much of the TV schedules sounds like life in any provincial town, with an evening class or two thrown in. Bake-offs. Sewing-bees. Book-clubs. Nights out, labour wards, hours in A&E. Are people sitting on their sofas, blindly slurping ready-meals containing not only horsemeat but horse tranquillizers too, pulling a tea towel over their ripped jeans and watching avidly, while someone else cooks bread from scratch or sews a garment from a pattern, gives birth, gets better? What's next: the Great British Paint Drying video, to be viewed in a room where the ageing paint is flaking off the walls...? Are we so brainwashed that we insist on staying in so we won't miss Not Going Out? Do we not know where to go, because we think The Only Way Is Essex?
Imagine a world without TV. Instead of tuning in for the latest family drama on Emmerdale, we'd talk to our own families. Instead of watching yet another endless football match, we'd go to the gym or take the dog out for a walk. Instead of watching the Masterchef contenders facing insults from the judges, we'd cook a meal and talk to our friends or family while eating it together. Instead of watching a TV talent show and wondering at the tragic back-stories or the fashion, we'd listen to some music for what it really is. Instead of watching people discussing what they'd read, we'd read a newspaper or a book. Instead of watching other people's lives, we'd live our own.
Imagine it. Why Don't We...?Suggest a correction