December 29, 2007

A sordid intoxication

Having finished Making Love, I am back to reading Toussaint's Television, which I had read just 6-8 pages of some weeks back. I really like the author's writing style and so will attempt to read two of his books back to back. A break after this book in early January, when I intend to concentrate on just one non-fiction book, which I need to read for some work-related stuff - To Cork or Not to Cork by George Taber.

Anyways, I barely restarted the novel and I arrive at yet another great paragraph. this rate, I might be transcribing the better part of the novel here! (This one is short too - at 164 pages.) Actually, fear not - I will try my level best to not type every great paragraph from the book. However, this paragraph is a great reflection of my feelings about the "sordid intoxication" that takes over a majority of living rooms around the world every evening and I am transcribing it here.

Sometime before, as if caught up in some sordid intoxication, I'd taken to turning on the TV in the evening and watching everything there was to see, my mind perfectly empty, never choosing any particular program, simply watching everything that came my way, the movement, the glimmering lights, the variety. At the time I didn't quite realize just what was happening to me, but looking back, I see that short-lived period of overindulgence as a classic forerunner of the radical decision that was to come, as if, to make a clean break, you first had to go through such a phase of excessive consumption. In the meantime, I spent hours every evening motionless before the screen, my gaze fixed, bathed in the ever-shifting light of the scene changes, gradually submerged by the flood of images illuminating my face, the long parade of images blindly addressed to everyone at once and no one in particular, each channel being only another strand in the vast web of electromagnetic waves daily crashing down over the world. Powerless to react, I nevertheless understood full well that I was debasing myself in these long sessions before the screen, unable to drop the remote, mechanically and frenetically changing channels in a quest for sordid and immediate pleasures, swept up in that vain inertia, that insatiable spiral, searching for ever more vileness, still more sadness.

and then a great paragraph that conveys well the relentless assault of TV on our lives. Why do we put ourselves through this? Why do we miss this when/if the TV ever goes off? What has mankind come to... letting the machines take over our lives or at the very least becoming so dependent on our TVs, our game-boys, our PSPs, our Xboxes, our mobile phones, our Blackberrys...and my own poison - this PC which I use to connect to this endless web of information - the internet.

Everywhere it is the same undifferentiated images, without margins or titles, without explanation, raw, incomprehensible, noisy and bright, ugly, sad, aggressive and jovial, syncopated, all equivalent, it was stereotypical American series, it was music videos, it was songs in English, it was game shows, it was documentaries, it was film scenes removed from their context, excerpted, it was excerpts, it was the snatch of song, it was lively, the audience clapping along in time, it was politicians sitting around a table, it was a roundtable, it was the circus, it was acrobatics, it was a game show, it was joy, unbelieving stunned laughter, hugs and tears, it was a near car being won live and in color, lips trembling with emotion, it was documentaries, it was World War II, it was a funeral march, it was columns of German prisoners trudging along a roadside, it was the liberation of the death camps, it was piles of bones on the ground, it was in all languages and on more than thirty-two channels, it was in German, it was mostly in German, everywhere it was violence and gunshots, it was bodies lying in the street, it was news, it was floods, it was football, it was game shows, it was a host with his papers before him, it was a spinning wheel that everyone in the studio was watching with heads raised, nine, it was nine, it was applause, it was commercials, it was variety shows, it was debates, it was animals, it was a man rowing in the studio, an athlete rowing and the hosts looking on with anxious expressions, sitting at a round table, a chronometer superimposed over the picture, it was images of war, the sound and framing oddly uneven , as if filmed on the fly, the picture shaking, the cameraman must have been running too, it was people running down a street and someone shooting at them, it was a woman falling, it was a woman who'd been hit, a woman of about fifty lying on the sidewalk, her slightly shabby gray coat gaping half open, her stocking torn, she'd been wounded in the thigh and was crying out, simply crying out, screaming simple cries of horror because her thigh had been ripped open, it was the cries of that woman in pain, she was calling for help, it wasn't fiction, two or three men came back and lifted her onto the curb, the shots were still coming, it was archival footage, it was news, it was commercials, it was new cars gently snaking along idyllic roads in the light of the setting sun, it was a rock concert, it was series, it was classical music, it was a special news bulletin, it was ski-jumping, the crouching skier pushing off down the ramp, serenely letting himself glide onto the jump and leaving the world behind, motionless in midair, he was flying, he was flying, it was magnificent, that frozen body bending forward, motionless and immutable in midair. It was over. It was over: I turned off the television and lay still on the couch.

Phew..The above description seems to be of European TV... a similar description of TV in the US would be even worse -- I am shuddering just recalling the inane nonsense on the local evening news, followed by the even more ridiculous Hollywood/celebrity gossip shows and game shows that I let into my house every evening after work (6-7.30pm) in the past few years!! And I didn't even get to an endless stream of sports-talk or the talking heads on CNN/Fox News etc! Oh...the calamities! Now you know why I do not get TV subscription! Why would I do that to myself?

Previous excerpts from the book: 1, 2, 3.

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