I watch TV and so do 99%* of the other academics I know

*FYI, bogus “statistic” for hyperbole’s sake

So, I just read three blog posts in a row (having followed some linkage here and there) in which the authors and their commenters were asserting their *difference* in the academy because they are “normal” people who watch TV, and like popular music, and see big summer blockbusters, and read popular magazines and novels, and so on and so on, unlike the rest of snobby academia with their classical music and life without TV and canonical novels and French art films.


Apparently these bloggers (and I’m not linking to them because I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on them) live in a parallel universe of academia that is not my universe. I don’t know if their world is Bizarro World or if mine is, but in mine, the people without TVs are in the minority.

As for the rest of us, all we ever do is talk about TV and music and Harry Potter and whether or not we agree with the casting decisions for The Hunger Games movies and what not. In grad school, my friends and I got together every Thursday night to watch Friends through ER (yeah, that’s how long ago I was in grad school) and then later we had Buffy nights. And Oscar-watching parties and Super Bowl parties. I mean, that’s the stuff we have in common across our various subfields and disciplines. The shared interest in pop culture is part of the glue that cements my relationship with Bullock, too.  I mean, sure, our taste is geeky and isn’t exactly in line with what’s at the very top of the charts (for dog’s sake, we just watched the entire two-season run of Sports Night on Netflix and he’s a freakin’ *Cubs* fan), and yeah, you could *totally* ascertain our class and race from our tastes (we like Stuff White People Like) — though I’m pretty sure I’d throw off the gender-guessers.  And sure, I like plenty of foreign films. I can even say with a straight face that I’m more of a Truffaut gal than a Godard gal, and that right there puts me in a certain class of reverse-snob snobby snob, or something, but then I think Steven Speilberg would say *he’s* more of a Truffaut guy, too, and I like Speilberg, too, and I don’t think you can call liking Speilberg snobbery of any kind. And you know what movie I’ve liked best of all this year so far? Super 8. (Hey, exec-produced by Speilberg! Directed by JJ Abrams, who got his start in….TV!) But I’m definitely not part of the “Oh, I don’t even own a TV” ilk. Hell, I was *raised* by TV. My mom got cable so that Sesame Street would come in more clearly, since the PBS station’s signal was low and we were out in the ‘burbs. And Bullock and I have a honking huge one in our family room.

At first, I kept thinking things like “Well, maybe it’s because I’m medievalist and we’re already odd” or “Maybe it’s because I went to grad school in LA” or “Maybe it’s because Bullock started off thinking he was going to follow his dad into advertising or work in TV” or “Maybe it’s because I’m a blogger” or “Maybe it’s because we’re GenX” or so on and so on, but every time I answered each explanation with “But no, that doesn’t account for [insert a dozen or so people here].”  In fact, right now, thinking of those of you academics who might be reading this, I think *two* of you have said you don’t own a TV or maybe have a bad, old one that gets one channel or something (and hey, I still love you, but it does baffle me a little bit). Well, there may be others, but then you watch all your TV via bit torrent or something — I’m not counting you.  And I have one colleague whose tiny, broken-down TV is used only for watching baseball. So, that’s *three* people I can think of, and I know a lot of people in academia.

And actually, my *students* — normal, everyday people going to their normal, everday regional public university — are the ones less likely to watch a lot of TV and see a lot of movies (in the theater, anyway), but that’s because they’re too busy taking 5 classes and working 40 hours a week, and too poor to afford cable or movie tickets.

Maybe these bloggers (and their commenters!) who feel so out of it work (or in one case, worked) in universities with more old money? Or just more old *people*? Or do you think they might be projecting their anxieties (class anxieties or imposter syndrome or something)? Or am I just lucky not to be wherever they are? Or am I just clueless?  What gives? (Oh and I know at least one of these bloggers was in English, so it’s not a disciplinary thing, either.) Any idea?


31 thoughts on “I watch TV and so do 99%* of the other academics I know

  1. I think the bloggers you talk about might be surrounded with colleagues who are like me. 🙂 I have no idea what sport the Super Bowl belongs to. But at least I know it’s a sport, so I’m not hopeless. 🙂

    I also think that watching the Oscars is a form of medieval torture. 🙂

    (I hope nobody takes my comment as an implied criticism of the fans of Super Bowl and Oscars.)

  2. Well, sports knowledge/fandom is in its own category, I think. And Bullock’s with you on the Oscars, but I find that a slight against the Middle Ages. 😉

    But do you not watch TV at all? If so, then you’re #4 of my acquaintance. 😉

  3. I agree entirely. Half of my discussions with my colleagues and professors in my PhD program seem to center around pop culture. My advisor asks what I think of Game of Thrones and True Blood, and waxed rhapsodic when he finally got around to watching Battlestar Galactica. This summer, a dozen of us got together for “Dean on the Big Screen,” where we watched Supernatural DVDs in the video theater in our campus library. We’re constantly sharing box-sets (or even illegal downloads) of Buffy, Supernatural, White Collar, Game of Thrones, Chuck, Doctor Who, etc. Lots of us are establishing a pattern of collaborating on articles that are about popular culture, not traditional literature. We go to midnight screenings of Harry Potter, comic-book movies, even Twilight. But I know that it usually takes a bit before the new people join in each year–and I imagine that in some schools, most people would never feel comfortable enough to reveal these things to one another.

  4. No, I watch Top Chef and Project Runway and I LOVE them. But only when I grade. Grading without TV would be an impossible proposition. 🙂

    Sorry for slandering the Middle Ages, though. 🙂 🙂

  5. The “Oh, I don’t even own a television” people have always profoundly annoyed me. I’ve always believed it to be part of a conscious posturing, and I’ve often suspected that these same people sneak into department stores (do such places still exist?) to watch TV without having to take personal responsibility for it. Even if they’re telling the truth about their attitudes toward TV, how can they think that this kind of purposeful cultural ignorance is a good thing?

    Or at least that’s the way I used to feel. Back when we had a TV. For almost six years now, we’ve been essentially without television in our home (we do own a 13″ TV, hooked up to broken rabbit ears, with the result that it receives nothing but the local PBS station, and that only intermittently). We originally got rid of TV for a combination of economic and family reasons. We were tired of paying $60/month for cable or satellite, and we realized that we spent WAY too much time watching shows that we weren’t even that interested in and not enough time interacting with each other.

    At first, the transition was difficult. I always loved TV, and the house seemed so quiet without it. But now I actually find it difficult to be in an environment where the TV is constantly on. The noise bothers me more than anything (apparently, doing without TV also makes you think like a crotchety 75-year-old man). And I’m very glad that my kids don’t think of TV as the default form of entertainment in the house. We aren’t teetotalers (or is that teeveetotalers?). We watch a fair amount of TV on Netflix, and the kids often watch cartoons on the one channel our pathetic TV picks up. I must also admit to a dirty secret: anytime my wife and I find ourselves alone in a hotel room, our first thought is to turn on the television and watch for hours.

    So I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, desperately trying not to become one of those “I don’t own a television” people, but also happy not to have to listen to the incessant noise of “101 Ways to Leave a Game Show.”

  6. I distinctly remember discussing *Northern Exposure* in a Spenser seminar.

    I own an old TV, and it’s not big, but that’s because I’m cheap, not because I don’t watch TV. I’m still sad that I missed the final episode of MASH, by the way.

  7. I’ve admitted to listening to alternative rock instead of NPR, and to avoiding modern literary fiction in favor of fantasy and mysteries, with the occasional romance thrown in; but on the other hand, I hate going to movies in theaters, I don’t much care about popular magazines, and the only TV I deliberately watch is coverage of cycling and the occasional PBS costume drama (though I am exposed to snippets of lots of what Sir John watches, so I know what people mean by “House,” “Bones,” and “True Blood”). So it looks like I’m halfway into Bizarro World. The thing is, I can’t seem to hold a conversation either with the TV-watchers (believe me, I was at dinner with a couple of them just two nights ago) or with the canonical-novel-readers. Too serious for one group, too frivolous for the other.

    I can’t do anything with the TV on. If I’m watching, then I give it my full attention. This seems to be another way that I’m weird. I know quantities of people who like to have it for company or background noise.

  8. I have definitely known academics who don’t have TV and who reject a lot of popular culture. (I know law students who don’t have TV, but that’s because they stream TV shows via Hulu or Netflix or whatnot!) It hasn’t been a huge number, but I think they’re so sort of *adamant* about it, they take up more cultural space than their numbers would suggest?

    Also, my grad advisor was kind of the anti-pop culture type (foodie, wine snob, never went to movies, didn’t watch much TV). She obviously was only one person, but she loomed so large in her students’ imagination, her attitude was really influential – so maybe the people who described themselves as “normal” are reacting to a few really important people in their academic circle?

  9. (Dame Eleanor, I can’t work with the TV on either – if there are conversations going on on-screen, I have to pay attention. However, I just don’t work as much as other people. ;-D)

  10. If you don’t want to pick on those other bloggers, Dr. Virago, I’m more than happy to do it for you.

    Posts where authors insist that they are “different” from the supposed majority of academics because the authors have tastes that are more in line with those of “normal” people come across as indulging in a kind of reverse snobbery. Whether or not the authors are doing this intentionally, these posts always come across to me as insisting that because the authors have “normal” tastes, they are the only ones who truly “get” “real” people, and are thus in some way morally superior to other academics.

    Quite honestly, I find that type of post anti-intellectual and dangerous because it plays right in to the stereotype that all professors are overpaid, degenerate, elitist SOBs who are sneering down at the taxpaying peons while daintily nibbling arugula. It just contributes to the unjustifiable demonization of academics that is so prevalent in American society. Just look over at the hate-filled comments to Slate’s responses-to-Pannapacker column if you think this type of stuff doesn’t do real damage.

  11. OK, those of you doing without TVs and cable but streaming or watching DVDs from Netflix definitely don’t count among the snobby snobsters of the “I don’t watch TV” set. And Dame Eleanor, clearly you’re a fan of popular culture, even if it’s not televised.

    Oh, and I can’t simply have TV on in the background either. Bullock and I generally don’t turn it on until we’re settling down for the evening with the specific intent to watch something we like. But Prof. de Breeze, I hear you on the expense. Cable is getting ridiculous, especially the premium channels. But what would I do if I had to wait to see True Blood??? 🙂 I need my Eric Northman fix!

    Speaking of Vikings, Helm Hammerhand, you have the Coolest. Blogging. Name. Ever. (Well, Viking by way of LotR, anyway.)

    Ahem, and yes, I second everything you say, Helm. The only reason why I didn’t want to seem like I was picking on these particular bloggers is because I generally like what they write. (I only discovered them recently, however. And as far as I know, they’re not regular readers here.) And for all I know, maybe they are/were stuck in departments full of snobs. But the comments at one of these blogs is what I found particularly ironic. That is, if you’ve got 30+ people saying, “Oh, me, too — I love pop culture and can’t stand the snobs,” how long does it take you to realize you’re in the majority and not the minority?

  12. Oh, and PS (in general) about popular magazines. I *heart* Entertainment Weekly. And Bullock subscribes to Esquire and I often spend time reading that — usually over breakfast. There’s some seriously good writing of various modes and genres in both.

  13. Hmm, hippies?

    I can think of a couple people who don’t have tvs because they subscribe to High Culture Hipsterdom, but the two people I know here and the others back in grad school are Thoreau scholars. Seems to be part of going out into the woods etc etc. They’re my friends, so I don’t say that I would like for them to go out and be eaten Into The Wild-style … but sometimes I think it.

  14. Oh yeah, I forgot about Hippies. But hippies often like *other* popular culture, so I’m having a hard time hearing someone call a Hippie a “snob.” It’s possible, though.

  15. I have colleagues who fall into the “I don’t watch TV” mode every so often, so they’re definitely out there. I “don’t have a TV” in the sense that we don’t get broadcast or cable, but I *love* watching series via Netflix or hulu. For me, I just can’t stand the commercials. I will very happily watch six episodes of, e.g., “Firefly” in a row, but I will leave the room after the first commercial break if I am stuck watching “TV”. On the other hand, my mom, who is not an academic, claims not to like watching TV, but will watch PBS and the Weather Channel (the one, no commercial breaks; the other, information). So I suppose what I can’t stand is the imposition of things I don’t want to watch (commercials) onto the things that I do want to watch (the programs).

    FWIW, some of my thoughts about why I watch are here: http://fencingbearatprayer.blogspot.com/2011/02/watch-series.html

  16. I am more of a Truffaut gal than a Goddard gal (in fact, I don’t like Truffaut), and I will be happy to discuss with anyone why “Stolen Kisses” is my favorite Truffaut movie. I don’t particularly like Spielberg, but there are a lot of contemporary, mainstream Hollywood movies I liked. Crime fiction is actually the field of my scholarly research. I’m a subscriber to Lucky magazine.

    I’m completely with you on this post. I would like to add one more category of people I don’t like: academics that confess to watching TV/popular culture, but then add “it’s my guilty pleasure”, as if there was something wrong with it. There isn’t.

    • Hooray, another Truffaut fan! (I don’t like Godard much, either — though I can appreciate him.) I assume, btw, that you actually mean to say “I don’t like Godard” in you parenthetical, right, Spanish Prof?

      And I’m with you on the “guilty pleasure” bit — bleh!

  17. This discussion has reminded me of a former colleague (yes, in the English department!) who once declared that zie watched Survivor “ironically.” Oh, come on!

  18. You’re so right!

    I’m willfully ignorant of all things sports, but I mainline TV, movies and video games. The video game consumption reaches its peak around times of high stress because it’s a way of relaxing without actually relaxing. For me, reading books is just not fun anymore. It’s too bad, but that’s a small price to pay for a job that I actually like.

    People saying they watch things “ironically” irritate the shit out of me (and I knew a good number of those in grad school…I think those years may have been the peak of ironic pop culture consumption, though). I mean, you watch things or you don’t. While writing my dissertation I left TLC or VH1 classic on all day (Hipster cred: I watched Jon and Kate Plus Eight before they were…cool? no…divorced? in the tabloids all the time?). That was also the golden era of America’s Next Top Model and the awesome premiere season of The Rock of Love. Some of my friends didn’t have TV and did other things with their free/procrastination time. It’s all good.

  19. Oh, I was also going to add, NOT liking pop culture doesn’t make one a snob, either. I have a hard time with my family convincing them that, though I would rather stick a fork in my eye than watch sports on TV or even hear the commentary from the other room, it doesn’t mean they are bad people for liking it or that I have some kind of moral case against watching sports.

  20. You know I’m all over pop culture like butter on toast! If you like something and it isn’t illegal, what’s the big problem?

    I’ve had a few colleagues who affect the pop culture disdain but most of the academics I know are quite engrossed in some media property or another. Lots of us seem to inhale television shows on DVD or via DVRs, though, so it’s occasionally difficult to keep up a conversation about favourite shows that just aired as we try not to spoil others. On the other hand, it’s great to have co-workers with whom you can swap DVDs!

    Still, there are some shows that seem to fall in the category of “admirable TV” such as “The Wire” while few sit coms have that cachet (except for rare series such as “The Big Bang Theory”). I know a few more baseball and soccer fans in academe than pro football (American). I guess that it’s more like a pop culture spectrum where most academics can be found in varying combinations –

    Now, if you’ll forgive me, I have some Harry Potter fanfiction to read!

  21. Public finance blogs (when discussing the latte factor) often degenerate into “*I* don’t watch cable” and “People who say they don’t watch cable are elitist snobs.”

    Who cares?

    I watch anime, but nobody else I know these days does. It’s just a hobby, not a statement about anybody’s worth.

  22. Yes, of course I mean I don’t like Godard. I loved Breathless, and then any of my intellectual friends could convince me that any movie he did later on was interesting. “Alphaville” was boring, the stuff he started doing after the 70s was impossible to watch. In fact, besides Truffaut, from the Cahiers du Cinema generation (Rohmer, Chabrol, Resnais), my favorite movies are what they did in the 1990s and 2000s.

    Continuing that tradition, yesterday I watched “Carlos”, by Olivier Assayas, another Cahiers du Cinema critic turned director (albeit much younger, he is 55 now). It’s the fictionalized story of Carlos “the Jackal”, the famous terrorist. It runs 5 hours (in the version I saw it). I was planning on watching it half yesterday and half today, but couldn’t turn it off. Brilliant. French cinema is alive and well.

  23. Word, Dr. V. At first, I thought this was just a grad school thing, but then, when I got my first job, I discovered that my senior colleagues are often just as interested in tv and pop culture. In fact, they’ve turned me on to some awesome shows, like True Blood, Mad Men, and The Wire.

  24. As you know, I watch TV and have done this summer in the U.S., Sweden, England, and Spain. I can’t wait for Dexter’s new season myself.
    -the General

  25. I don’t have tv, but want to and should. My problem is never having liked it. We didn’t get it at home until I was 8, and I honestly think that is too old to train people to it. I really ought to watch it, know what is on it, etc., and I feel guilty about not participating, but when it comes down to it I always find something else to do rather than watch.

  26. Z – But you probably enjoy other aspects of pop culture, yes? Though my tongue-in-cheek title uses TV as the example, my bigger point was that I don’t really know anyone who falls under the stereotype of the professor whose tastes include only “high culture” and not popular culture.

    Honestly, I’m starting to think that said stereotype is more of a “straw professor” than a stereotype!

  27. I want to watch Swamp People on TV, and a few other shows that are mainly on HBO and would cost a lot. I want to watch Latin American soap operas. I like movies but mostly art films, and I listen to radio but not with ads or NPR which is too mainstream. I like to get out every night I can to see at least the first set of whatever’s live (I live in Louisiana, so there is true quality on that most nights).

    But commercial mass culture I really don’t enjoy, although I do take an academic interest in it in the countries I study. I don’t enjoy it because it’s so intrusive — very noisy and there always seems to be someone screaming and some announcer exhorting you and saying ha ha ha, and there is this mob mentality surrounding it. I like baseball games, though.

  28. P.S. They just had an actual casting call for Swamp People at a local restaurant, and I missed it! I could have seen some swamp candidates in person! I know about this from Facebook … does this count as something I do instead of tv, I ask plaintively?

  29. We don’t own a TV, and much of modern pop culture just passes by me without me even seeing it. But we do buy or lend DVDs from friends and watch these, go to the cinema (though very occasionally only), read books that may be “mainstream novel stuff” or not, and I occasionally indulge in webseries. Plus there’s some Youtube in our lives. And quite a few of our friends have no TV as well; in our circles, we’re much more likely to chat about board games, books and DVDs/films than about TV programme. But I wouldn’t see having no TV as a mark of me being a proper academic or so – it’s just a personal life decision which, to me, has nothing to do with occupation or intellect.

  30. I have lived most of my independent life without a TV, and when I moved into the current place, which has one, it took me a year to get round to trying to switch it on and finding it didn’t work. I basically discovered the Internet at the same time as I moved away from home and never looked back. I am bad at doing anything passive anyway, and TV is essentially passive entertainment. (I still enjoy films and would like to maintain the apparatus to watch them on but would never make the time to do so by myself.) I cover that gap with CDs/LPs/tapes, webcomics and Internet stuff.

    As to this:

    my bigger point was that I don’t really know anyone who falls under the stereotype of the professor whose tastes include only “high culture” and not popular culture

    Well. I’m pretty snobby about my popular culture! And this has its own consequences, in that I can’t find many of the things I enjoy on mainstream media. So I have the hipster thing good I’m afraid, but mainly because my music tastes are twenty years older than I am. I’m largely missing `high culture’ stuff, though; I read very little classic literature (who has time to read fiction any more? I read trash for relief), don’t listen to ‘classical’ music (except occasional Holst and Prokofiev) and can’t afford theatre or opera. So I guess I’m just up myself by most people’s standards, really.

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