December 18, 2017

"I think one of the reasons that I feel empty after watching a lot of TV, and one of the things that makes TV seductive, is that it gives the illusion of relationships with people."

"It’s a way to have people in the room talking and being entertaining, but it doesn’t require anything of me. I mean, I can see them, they can’t see me. And, and, they’re there for me, and I can, I can receive from the TV, I can receive entertainment and stimulation. Without having to give anything back but the most tangential kind of attention. And that is very seductive. The problem is it’s also very empty. Because one of the differences about having a real person there is that number one, I’ve gotta do some work. Like, he pays attention to me, I gotta pay attention to him. You know: I watch him, he watches me. The stress level goes up. But there’s also, there’s something nourishing about it, because I think like as creatures, we’ve all got to figure out how to be together in the same room. And so TV is like candy in that it’s more pleasurable and easier than the real food. But it also doesn’t have any of the nourishment of real food. And the thing, what the book is supposed to be about is, What has happened to us, that I’m now willing—and I do this too—that I’m willing to derive enormous amounts of my sense of community and awareness of other people, from television? But I’m not willing to undergo the stress and awkwardness and potential shit of dealing with real people."

David Foster Wallace, quoted in "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace," by David Lipsky.

I'm reading this book after watching the movie based on this book, "The End of the Tour" (which is free on Amazon Prime). The movie is good for those who (like me) enjoy watching 2 people have a long conversation.

ADDED: "I mean, I can see them, they can’t see me." But just the other day, on one of his Periscopes, Scott Adams deadpanned the joke that the app had been upgraded to enable him to see his viewers. And remember how "Romper Room" regularly assured children that it was able to see them through the TV:



And of course the TVs in "1984" were spying on everyone everywhere, and who doesn't worry that our computer/phone screens are 2-way?

DFW was expressing sadness about the 1-way quality of television. But that was in the context of also feeling sad about using TV as a substitute for in-person human interaction. He confessed to an "addiction" to television and — in the book — says "I’ll watch five or six, I’ll zone out in front of the TV for five or six hours."

50 comments:

rhhardin said...

Relationship has been nominalized a couple of times, which means it's a TV word. 1950s psychology jargon.

v. relate n. relation n. relationship

John Lynch said...

Television is a friend simulator. So is a comments section.

james james said...

"I'm reading this book after watching the movie based on this book, "The End of the Tour" (which is free on Amazon Prime)."

I loved that movie.

I am primarily a reader of non-fiction. I think the only fiction I have read over the last fifteen-plus years are Wallace's novels.

And his non-fiction, of course.

I name-dropped him just a few days ago: that is here.

I think of him often, frequently when reading an Althouse post. There are similarities. I belive he would fully understand Cruel Neutrality.

- james james

Ann Althouse said...

"So is a comments section."

DFW proceeded to talk about the way the internet would serve this function in the future:

"And that as the Internet grows, and as our ability to be linked up, like—I mean, you and I coulda done this through e-mail, and I never woulda had to meet you, and that woulda been easier for me. Right? Like, at a certain point, we’re gonna have to build some machinery, inside our guts, to help us deal with this. Because the technology is just gonna get better and better and better and better. And it’s gonna get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable, to be alone with images on a screen, given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. Which is all right. In low doses, right? But if that’s the basic main staple of your diet, you’re gonna die. In a meaningful way, you’re going to die."

Ann Althouse said...

"I am primarily a reader of non-fiction. I think the only fiction I have read over the last fifteen-plus years are Wallace's novels."

I've only read his nonfiction, which I love.

I've looked at the fiction, have IJ in my Kindle, but it turns me off. And I know from reading the Lipsky interview that DFW intends the fiction to be very entertaining to read, just really really fun. I can't get there.

Ann Althouse said...

"I loved that movie."

Did you notice the actress in the movie who looks exactly like Meryl Streep and is, in fact, the daughter of Meryl Streep? Did you realize the other young woman in those scenes is the daughter of Sting?

Good thing acting talent is inherited or we might be deprived of somebody from the outside who might be better.

james james said...

"Good thing acting talent is inherited or we might be deprived of somebody from the outside who might be better."

Which can bring us to the actor Paul Sorvino's child Mira Sorvino entering show business.

And winning an Oscar.

And then...

- james james

Kyzernick said...

Pretty sure Genesis sang about this concept in their song "Turn It On Again".

I've loved that song for awhile. It was on a loop in my head the day I returned my cable box to Comcast, cancelling that service (along with the never-used telephone landline service). Now our house only gets high speed internet, but neither me wife nor I miss the TV. If she wishes to watch something, we have Netflix and plenty of DVDs and BluRay discs. Personally, I find most movies formulaic and predictable, so I stick to watching YouTube videos. In the past year, I've taught myself welding, greatly improved my woodworking skills, studied and diagrammed plans for a backyard forge (next summer's project), and learned many useful home repair tips. I've also been watching car repair videos on YouTube for about 5 years now, and saved our family somewhere in the range of $5-8k doing every repair myself (except for changing out A/C compressors - I don't have a refrig recovery system - yet).

TV is a time-suck that only entertains. There is very little real information. And for the news, I turn to the internet and am much better informed than those who strictly watch TV.

AllenS said...

If you want to get into Hollywood, and your a good looking nobody, you just need to put out.

Saint Croix said...

What has happened to us, that I’m now willing—and I do this too—that I’m willing to derive enormous amounts of my sense of community and awareness of other people, from television?

One thing I've noticed is that when this sex harassment stuff hits one of my actor friends I do not know--like Dustin Hoffman--I'm like this:

oh no!

I've lost another friend!

Darrell said...

It's a substitute for personal relationships--and it's a good one. I don't have to help people move anymore or fix their shit.

tim in vermont said...

DFW called it in his book, that’s for sure.

tim in vermont said...

It’s a substitute for personal relationships--and it's a good one. I don’t have to help people move anymore or fix their shit.

I was going to ask you, but I guess that’s a no then.

Paco Wové said...

Internet how-to videos are great. Almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.

tim in vermont said...

DFW intends the fiction to be very entertaining to read, just really really fun.

I couldn’t believe how funny it was to read. Hadn’t seen anything that good since Enderby by Anthony Burgess,

Good thing acting talent is inherited or we might be deprived of somebody from the outside who might be better.

Another joke from a girl sighted in the wild! Actually, Tina Fey, if you can set politics aside, is as funny as any man.

rhhardin said...

Those "remove roof and temporarily set asside" home repair chores aren't likely to be as easy as claimed.

William said...

I like my friends on television. They're better looking and have more interesting lives than those losers I know in real life. I like my tv friends on Game of Thrones the best. They take their clothes off. How often do your good looking friends take their clothes off in front of you, presuming you're not Harvey Weinstein........I suppose that post Harvey there will be less nudity. No matter. I'm not superficial. I liked my friends on Downton Abbey even though they never took their clothes off, even though on many occasions Lady Mary could have taken off her clothes to enhance the plot line and encourage viewer interest.

tim in vermont said...

Television is a friend simulator. So is a comments section.

Comment sections are better in a lot of ways, but TV and Movies let you stare at beautiful people for extended periods of time, just like we all want to, but in ways that at best would be impossibly rude, and at worst might get us arrested in real life.

james james said...

Television has a way of finding you. It is typically in your home, of course. The remote control is on your bed-stand, perhaps. It is in the airport, it is in the hospital waiting room, it is in the waiting room of the auto repair shop while you are getting your twenty-thousand-mile service. That car was new, once; now it is just your car. Television and waiting go together. And it is at the bar.

It is on when there are sports, obviously. But when the game is over it usually stays on, muted, because: jukebox. When the game is on a local station what follows is some off-brand show that the local stations buy to put on after games to fill air. A lot of shows about animals. People drink their drinks, look at the animals. The off-brand animal show makers should probably just put on cat videos from the internet: perfect for watching with the sound off. Drinking alcohol and watching cats act like jerks; it is a pleasant combination.

During the weekday afternoons, before the deluge of ESPN shows that show the same clips, in the same order, just with different hosts, there is Jerry Springer. I didn't know his show was still on the air. Maybe it is just repeats, I don't know.

Jerry Springer works well with the sound off while drinking a drink. I first found this surprising -- I thought the show was mostly about people yelling at each other -- but you don't need to hear them yelling when you can see them yelling. Yelling with poses that convey anger, indignation, and -- well -- mostly anger and indignation. But they helpfully put the title of the episode on the screen so you what they are yelling about. Cheating boyfriends, cheating girlfriends, questions of paternity. A certain strain of America that is in good context at the bar.

At these times the television chiefly serves as a light source, some movement to catch out of the corner of the eye: a fish bowl with brightly colored fish by turns hyperactive and hypnotic. Because if the televisions are off it makes it seem like the bar is closed. Sometimes you need televisions on so as to feel that at least something is happening. You are doing more than having a drink at the bar: you are having an experience. There is immersion.

And you have a dive mask on, snorkeling.

- james james

tim in vermont said...

Listening to baseball on the radio while working on an engine? That activity was designed by God Himself for men’s pleasure, even if it is simulated belonging to a group.

Ann Althouse said...

"Which can bring us to the actor Paul Sorvino's child Mira Sorvino entering show business."

She sees where the door was closed but not where it was opened.

Who are the women who she got ahead of when she entered through the offspring-of-an-actor door?

They are too obscure too see. Just part of the masses of benighted plebes who wanted to get into show business.

Darrell said...

even though on many occasions Lady Mary could have taken off her clothes to enhance the plot line and encourage viewer interest

Godless solved that problem for you. And Good Behavior, if you have an imagination.

tim in vermont said...

They are too obscure too see. Just part of the masses of benighted plebes who wanted to get into show business.

Which is why it is impossible for me to work up any sympathy for an aging actress (unless she is really hot, then she can come cry to me about it personally) complaining about the unfairness of getting old as a woman in Hollywood. In a couple of years, Tom Brady is going to be finished, and look how hard he worked to get where he is, compared to any given actor.

Brad Pitt went to Hollywood, gave an agent his photo, and was working the next day making money. Not a lot at first, sure, but there he was, in the door. Tom Brady spent his entire youth developing his skills to get a look from the business that might never pay off. All Pitt did was out swim some other sperm to the right egg.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

DFW about television It’s a way to have people in the room talking and being entertaining, but it doesn’t require anything of me. I mean, I can see them, they can’t see me.

So how is this much different than sitting quietly reading a book?

I understand that there is a lack of immediate interaction in TV or book reading because YOU are the only 'real live' entity interacting, but sometimes it is great to not have to interact.

My husband and I will often be reading books separately together. He reads his book. I read mine. When we come to an occasional profound passage, funny dialogue, we share and discuss. Until one of us says "STOP...don't spoil it. I may want to read your book". Same thing with the internet. His computer. My computer. We share stories, jokes, videos and links to discuss in the morning over our coffee.

Now that we have the fabulous PAUSE button on the remote, we can stop the show, stop the TV talking head and discuss what is going on, make comments about peripheral things about the show...or yell at the news talking head. Yeah...Chris Wallace can't hear me, but he does get a piece of my mind :-D

People on the internet who participate in discussions aren't in the room. We can ignore them at will or interact if we want. I can do that at a cocktail party too....move to the other side of the room. On sites such as this one, the people on our screen can become known to us as real people with real personalities.

Too much virtual interaction is not a good thing. However I believe the internet has put us into real contact with real people with whom you would never had had the pleasure or displeasure to ever meet IRL. How is this a bad thing?



Darrell said...

Perhaps Meryl can stand at the podium and tell us what SHE had to do to keep getting those lead roles. Somebody described Harvey by saying "He doesn't do nothing for nothing." An Oscar didn't protect Mira Sorvino. Dues never end.

MayBee said...

DFW is a beloved author, but I don't think he had a clear view of relationships or the value of self and life.

Darrell said...

SPAM SPAM SPAM

Put that in your fucking algorithm, Blogger. That is the first and only time I posted SPAM. I still think it's political. There was a commenter using a name I didn't recognize last week that confronted me out of the blue last week. And then the deletions stared. I suspect that person worked at Blogger/Google/Alphabet. There must be a way to enter a name into Blogger's Spam algorithm. And take it out. Putting my comment back hours later doesn't cut it, especially in a lively thread with points and counterpoints. Nobody goes back to re-read. But thanks, Althouse, for going through the trouble of doing something for me. I do appreciate it.

EDH said...

The teacher could see Harvey Weinstein masturbate and shower in front of the TV during the Magic Mirror portion of Romper Room, but she didn't say anything.

Her silence was the problem.

Ann Althouse said...

@Darrell

I don't know why the spam filter has it in for you. You and one other regular commenter.

Thanks for not double posting.

tcrosse said...

The Britcom The Royle Family views a working-class family watching TV from the point of view of the TV.

mockturtle said...

So how is this much different than sitting quietly reading a book?

Beat me to it, DBQ!

james james said...

tcrosse said...
"The Britcom The Royle Family views a working-class family watching TV from the point of view of the TV."

Brilliant.

- james james

Kate said...

Dang. I literally shied back at that Romper Room clip. I haz triggerz.

Leslie Graves said...

I have a subscription to Audible. They are giving subscribers a free download this month called "Gather Round the Sound". It includes "The Signal-Man" by Charles Dickens, which is a ghost story with no connection to Christmas except that it reminds one of the alleged tradition of telling "scary ghost stories" during the holidays.

If you read around the internet on that tradition, you get the idea that when folks gathered together around the fire in the cold, dark and dreary winter months, it wouldn't take long before people would be trading stories.

If you're trading stories, you're not really relating. One of you is on stage, and the others are spectators. The story is the thing, not the relationship.

I'd say that for me, when I zone out on television (or Facebook), contra DFW, I'm not feeding a relationship hunger with some pseudo-relationships. I'm feeding my story hunger, which is a different thing.

walter said...

"Jerry Springer works well with the sound off while drinking a drink. I first found this surprising -- I thought the show was mostly about people yelling at each other -- but you don't need to hear them yelling when you can see them yelling. Yelling with poses that convey anger, indignation, and -- well -- mostly anger and indignation. But they helpfully put the title of the episode on the screen"

I wonder if there is tracking as to how many CC users are bar dwellers.
Though..I've seen more examples of movies playing with sound AND CC off...folks still staring at the "fish tank".

TerriW said...

That was the real magic of Blue's Clues -- Steve talked to the kids, and paused for them to respond, and replied to their most obvious responses. He also let the kids be smarter and quicker than himself.

(Joe just wasn't the same.)

Anonymous said...


Ann Althouse said...
@Darrell
I don't know why the spam filter has it in for you. You and one other regular commenter.


Moi? (pronounced "moy").

Thanks for not double posting.

When it first started it seemed like multi-posting real fast would cure it...turns out that was just an anecdote.

For now I'm sticking with "Anonymous" - if I'm logged into blogger, but choose "Anon", it doesn't present any "captchas", and the posts apparently don't disappear. I would not want to deprive the world, etc...

William said...

Many professional athletes are the children of professional athletes. It's not just the inherited talent, nor even access to the right coaching. They have the confidence to know that a professional career is within their grasp and is not some kind of fantasy. Thus so with actors. There are even Nobel Prize winners who are the progeny of other Nobel Prize winners. I'm sure there's a trick to winning Nobel Prizes, and their parents clued them in on it. It also helps to be the son or grandson of a President whilst pursuin that office. A sibling relationship doesn't seem to work, however.......There has been a star actor in the Barrymore family for several hundred years. That can't just be connections. Maybe acting ability is a dominant gene in their family. In any event, of all the iniquities of life and Hollywood, few are more tolerable than the special attention that the children of movie stars get whilst pursuing their careers.

walter said...

Blogger William said...I like my friends on television
--
kinda reframes that long running series.

JJ,
Does your bar ever have Cheers on the tv?
Sitting in a bar, looking at people sitting in a bar.
I don't remember Cheers having college girls, though...

Tim at large said...

Does your bar ever have Cheers on the tv?

No, but my coffee shop sometimes plays Friends.

Robert Cook said...

"That was the real magic of Blue's Clues -- Steve talked to the kids, and paused for them to respond, and replied to their most obvious responses. He also let the kids be smarter and quicker than himself."

My best friend worked on BLUE'S CLUES for several years...until VIACOM decided not to produce any more episodes. My friend was there when Steve was there, and he remained through the transition to the other guy. I visited him up at the offices and studio several times. (It was on Broadway at 50th Street.)

walter said...

With all the drinking games connected to Cheers and the still the rage 80's fascination, a good move for a bar. Roll it into a theme night.
After enough shots, one might think they're hearing Cliff holding forth on "aggressive cameltoe".

Gahrie said...

The only things I have watched on TV for several years is sports and Game of Thrones.

walter said...

I think Blues Clues would be more a show for nostalgic stoners.

walter said...

Duuuude!

Char Char Binks said...

Do people ever feel empty after reading books?

veni vidi vici said...

Without all three names, he probably wouldn't be nearly as famous. There's a certain pretentiousness to the 3-name thing; "David Wallace" seems to lack the panache, and "Dave Wallace" has a comfy-familiarity to it that might work for a writer (see, e.g., "Dave Eggers") but not for a writer who thinks big thinks and writes big words for people to masticate on at wine and cheese parties.

But is it spoken with the emphasis on the second or third name? Is he "David FOSTERwallace", or "David foster WALLACE"? Either way, just hearing his name makes me think "pretentious twat".

And through it all, the tone of the quoted DFW writing in this thread delivers a gut-full of whine and cheese.

Ann Althouse said...

As he explains in the movie, DFW had to add the middle name because there.already was a famous writer named David Wallace. He didn’t identify with the pretentiousness.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I will often be reading books separately together.

Sometimes when I'm typing here I'm near my husband playing MMOs.

We make time to eat meals together, to talk, to do things together - and sometimes he just likes to play World of Warcraft and I like to read books, or argue with people on the internet. (Better than arguing with him, which I don't do much any more.) It's nice just to have him near. It makes a difference that he's in the same room.

Blue@9 said...

I'm rather convinced that the spike in autism is caused by putting young children in front of screens at too young an age. Couple this with a dearth of actual human interaction and you create a person who has not developed any sense of empathy or understanding that other people are actually people. Their experience is shaped by two-dimensional people who do not react to you.

Even as an adult I find it difficult to watch TV outside of sports. I do like Game of Thrones, but for the most part I find it tiresome to be thrown in the spin cycle of someone else's emotions. And as DFW noted, it's lacking nutrition, "the real." Whether I feel good or bad, the feeling is induced by something fake. Mourning over a TV character is hollow compared to mourning over a real friend. The real is real and those fake feelings can't compare.