Watching TV (with poll)

Watching TV (with poll)


A reader who prefers to remain anonymous writes in asking about the television-watching habits of philosophers. He notes that philosophers and other academics are often proud to abstain from television, and to not even own one of the infernal contraptions. (“How do you know someone doesn’t own a television? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” See also: here, here, and here.) But he also points to a study which suggests that

time watching TV or playing video games can have a powerful restorative effect – just what many of us need after a hard day. This benefit isn’t found for everyone, and in new paper Leonard Reinecke and his collaborators propose that a key reason has to do with guilt. The researchers think that it is people who are mentally exhausted, who are most likely to experience guilt after vegging out with a [television] set or video game. This is because, in their depleted state, these people see their behaviour as procrastination. This leads to the paradoxical situation in which it is the people who could most benefit from the restorative effects of lounge-based downtime who are the least likely to do so.

TV watching could be good for you? I thought we knew a priori that it couldn’t be. My correspondent wanted to know whether philosophers watch TV (or television shows using Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other such services), and about how much.

Finally, readers, we have come across a topic worthy of the scientific precision available via an internet poll:


For comparison, according to the 2013 American Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends 2.8 hours per day, or 19.6 hours per week, watching television. The Nielsen media company reports much higher figures of nearly 5 hours per day, or 35 hours per week, on average.

In addition to completing the poll, your suggestions of which shows philosophers might like are welcome in the comments.

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Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

Call the Midwife is very popular in my department.Report

Kenny
6 years ago

The linked article doesn’t make clear whether playing on the internet and reading blogs should be thought of in the same category as watching TV and playing video games!Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Wait, Kenny’s question raises a further question–was the poll supposed to be just about watching TV/Netflix/Hulu, or was it supposed to include time spent playing video games? If the latter, I answered incorrectly.

Also, recently, I’ve been enjoying Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.Report

Ray
Ray
6 years ago

I watch too much tv, but most of the time I’m grading or something like that while the tv is on in the background. When I discuss my tv habits with another philosopher I can feel him/her judging me and then he/she will say “oh I don’t own a tv” which really means “I’m better at philosophy than you.” But maybe that’s just me feeling guilty for watching too much tv.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Can we add a complementary poll: how much do you lie to strangers about how much you watch TV due to the weirdly moralistic nature of our culture’s arbitrary attitudes about one particular medium for irrespective of the delivered content, which is often identical to that delivered by other media? The options are: yes or yes.Report

Thomas
Thomas
6 years ago

Basically every philosopher that I know watches plenty of TV-series like House of Cards, GOT, Mad Men and so forth.
In fact, I had some rather nerdish discussions about tv-series with quite renowned senior people.Report

Jonathan Weisberg
Jonathan Weisberg
6 years ago

“So what are you watching?” seems to be a common conversation-starter around my department, and a highly successful one. The academics I know are keen to recommend their latest find, share analyses, and argue about the comparative merits of Mad Men vs. Breaking Bad (MM > BB, obviously).

I don’t think I’ve encountered the judgey/braggy “I don’t own a TV” thing since the 90s, pre-Wire era.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Thomas, that’s probably generally true, but one variant of defining social status by non-TV watching involves defining it by the right kind of TV watching. Now that the culture industry has, in order to reach that unserved market, declared this a Golden Age of Television, we’ve slapped critical “Official Fine Art” stickers on a handful of its goods, so we can get the same kinds of culture points for watching TV as for not watching.

Notice that those TV watchers will rarely deviate from the middlebrow dictates of “good” TV, and they are careful to let you know they’re watching it on Hulu or Netflix, so they’re not admitting owning a TV. Notice, as well, that the shows anointed Good TV (or Doesn’t Count as TV) tend to be in places less accessible to the “masses”: pay stations, cable stations, online services like Amazon, etc. HBO’s slogan was even “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.” They knew what they were doing, just as Apple knew who they were targeting ages ago with their 1984 and “think different” campaigns. The same snobs who once proudly proclaimed they don’t own TVs are the same ones now issuing the culture industry’s marching orders about high brow “must see” TV.

Remember, too, that once upon a time academics and intellectuals proudly declared they don’t like beer. Now they proudly declare the opposite.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

I’d propose a sub-category here: how much, and what kinds of sports do philosophers watch?

I get in about 3 hours of NBA games a night (League Pass and NBA TV) during the season. Excellent decompression from the day’s work. Plus I can Facebook comment about the games so it’s socializing too. I never feel guilty about not working during that time, as I say it makes my morning philosophy and afternoon teaching and admin all the more efficient.

I do feel increasingly bad about watching NFL football (the injuries) and college football (the injuries and the exploitation) and the amount I’ve watched has tailed off the last few years.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

If I have the tv on “in the background” even if I am not paying much attention to it, does that count as “watching” the television? It may as well be the radio given the function it serves as ‘white noise generator’ while I work. I assumed that it did count and answered accordingly.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
6 years ago

I am completely unashamed about my watching of “The Americans”. Fantastic acting, family drama, spy thriller, great production values (early 80s fashion and hair styles!)…moral dilemmas involving local and greater goods: what more do you want?Report

Michelle
Michelle
6 years ago

I love TV. I have my entire life. I love the sorts of things TV shows (can) make me think about, I love the sort of entertainment they provide, and I love getting to socialize with other people by talking about TV shows after watching them. My love for TV, I think, was pretty important in my childhood development such that I went on to become a philosopher. TV is good.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

The Americans is great. But if a tv show isn’t well acted, has low production values, doesn’t involve moral dilemmas or have intellectually challenging content, does it follow we should be ashamed? Not that you implied that, but for many defiant non-tv watchers or shame-watchers, that seems to be the suppressed premise.

Take Protevi’s example. Sports bore me, but I don’t see why anyone should be ashamed of enjoying them, even if watching them (might) have no morally or intellectually edifying content. Or take crossword puzzles, building model railroads, golf, Angry Birds, funny YouTube videos, laughing at dumb jokes with friends or playing hide and seek with your kids. They aren’t great works of art or morally sophisticated in content. Shall we be ashamed? Or must we really defend those things by appeal to their moral or educational utility?Report

Kristina Meshelski
Kristina Meshelski
6 years ago

As Anon says, I think a lot of the TV judging these days, within academia and without, is about good vs bad TV. Plenty of people will admit they watch the latest HBO drama but few will say they watch Honey Boo Boo. For the record I watch tons of TV, “good” and “bad”, and even my students judge my TV habits.

If I wanted to be more productive I think it would be better for me to give up internet, personally. THAT is the real time waster, and seemingly none of the restorative effect. But here I am, reading and commenting!Report

Becko Copenhaver
Becko Copenhaver
6 years ago

I love watching TV. I particularly like police procedurals, including the bad ones. I have no doubt that watching TV is good for me.Report

Alan White
Alan White
6 years ago

I second Michelle (if I may). I’m not a reality TV fan, but I love The Walking Dead (great season finale last night), The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, streaming stuff like The Fall . . . And lots of sports. BIG fan of women’s basketball (I got my PhD from Tennessee, so big shock), and I love watching golf. As ejrd says above, it’s often my murmuring roommate while working too, so my hours of “watching” are high-end as well. But ashamed of TV? I have three large-screen flat panels in my house, and I live alone!Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
6 years ago

I watch a couple soccer matches each week I can (mostly BPL and Euro championship) but try to do emails and other relatively mindless work at the same time (where such “work” includes keeping up with the profession with blogs). And I watch Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Louie. And I’ll miss Daily Show (I already miss Colbert).Report

Eric
Eric
6 years ago

I can’t believe no one has mentioned Last Week Tonight. As good as Colbert, I’d say.Report

Christopher Stephens
Christopher Stephens
6 years ago

Lately I’ve been watching House of Anubis – a soap opera mystery about kids at an English boarding school where evil teachers are part of an Egyptian based cult trying to find a way to live forever. The acting is bad, and yet each episode, in classic soap opera style, ends with a cliff hanger goading the viewer into watching the next episode. The primary target audience is 12 year olds, I suspect, but I can’t stop watching.
It’s a step up over H2O: just ad water – the Australian series about high school kids in Australia who turn into mermaids when they get wet and try to keep their identity as mermaids secret etc. Sure, there’s the occasional Miyazaki movie, but also reruns of Full House.
Oh, as you might guess, I have two daughters.Report

Sigrid
Sigrid
6 years ago

Another huge fan of “The Americans” here, with a small philosophy crumb: in one episode, when it’s clear that the KGB is starting to target key scientists (to kill or to turn, I forget which), an FBI agent says something to the effect that, if we don’t stop them here, next they’ll be coming after our top philosophers.

(I wonder if that reflects a serious fear at the time)Report

Matt
6 years ago

I don’t have strong feelings about people watching TV or not, but am always amused at the ability of philosophers (even more than others, I’m sad to say) to turn their aesthetic preferences into moral or political positions or statements, whether these are, in this case, pro TV, pro “good” TV, or anti-TV. The same, of course, goes for many other aesthetic preferences.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
6 years ago

I like to watch people playing well the sports I play badly, or played badly when I was young enough to do that. Hockey playoffs are a couple of weeks away and baseball season is around the corner. It’ll soon be channel-flipping time.Report

Philip Kremer
6 years ago

There’s no TV in our house, but that doesn’t stop anyone in the household, especially the toddler, from watching TV shows. Youtube is a treasure trove for toddlers.

BTW, Weisberg is wrong: BB > MM.Report

Philip Kremer
6 years ago

Current guilty pleasures: The 100 (can’t wait for Season 3) and Nashville. I still can’t believe that I spent 121 hours of my life watching Lost.Report

Griff
Griff
6 years ago

I am a TV junkie, I admit it. But after spending so much of my day (sometimes 9am-10pm) reading, writing, and teaching philosophy, often the last thing I want to do is pick up another book. So I retire with a TV show or movie, which helps me “turn it off” a bit. At the same time, I think it enriches my philosophy. There’s always new issues to think about, and with the huge number of quality shows out there right now, you have lots of old philosophical problems being presented in interesting and creative ways. Many of my philosophical examples in seminars and talks come from these shows, and being tuned in to pop culture helps me connect with my students as well.
Also, a little anecdote: Was talking to a German professor a few weeks ago. He said, “I don’t vatch much German television at all, but I do looooove ‘House of Cards’.”Report

C
C
6 years ago

Well, until hockey season is over at least, then it will be back down to occasionally.Report

The anonymous
The anonymous
6 years ago

How frivolous! Volks (sic!) drop the zapper and start re-reading Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (in German — or the Latin translation – , backwards, chanting Stabat Mater )!Report

Nathan Kellen
Nathan Kellen
6 years ago

I’ve recently gotten fairly into comic books (especially superheroes) and I find that the various comic book shows on television are a great way to wind down. My favourite is ‘The Flash’, but ‘Arrow’, ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and ‘iZombie’ are all lots of fun as well. None require a ton of attention at any given time, so multi-tasking (exercising, grading, etc.) is pretty easy as well.Report

Jonathan Weisberg
Jonathan Weisberg
6 years ago

Don and Peggy created the void Walter struggles—in his limited way—to fill. QEDReport

Heisenberg
Heisenberg
6 years ago

I am the one who knocks, Jonathan.Report

JPL
JPL
6 years ago

I too am a League Pass junkie–I watch a game or so each night.
Still addicted to football as well, despite its moral implications.Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
6 years ago

I never met bigger fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer than philosophers.Report