Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bars and TV

I recently became embroiled in a discusion about the role of TVs in bars with some friends. Personally, I think TVs are nothing more than a distraction, except in sports bars where that is the point of going there. TV has such an intensive power over our lives and in few places does it come through more strongly than in the bar. When there is a TV around, I almost cannot look away. Even if I am having a conversation with someone else I am constantly looking at the damn TV. It doesn't help that it is usually sports that is on so that's why I am watching. When I am by myself, I easily control my TV watching. In fact, I don't even watch very much TV at all. Once baseball is over, I will watch even less. But if it is on, it's like having a big bowl of ice cream in front of me. I don't really want it but I can't help myself.

Note here--if you are thinking that this is just some problem I have, you're probably right, but what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't universalize from my own experiences?

One friend pointed out that a) there were TVs all over this bar and people were talking about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with the sports on them and that b) TV gave people a conversation starter when they were at a bar by themselves. The first was definitely true but also shows the irrelevancy of the TVs. Imagine how good the conversation could have been if it wasn't for the television. The second may be true, but is just a prop--people would be talking anyway. After all, are we so addicted to television that we can't make conversation without it? What did people in the pre-TV era talk about?

I guess the question is one of benefits--does the television provide more than it detracts from people's use of bars as a social space. To me the answer is unequivocally yes. It is true that going to a sports bar to watch games that you can't get at home or to watch games with fans of your team is a nice thing. But if you are not going to the bar to watch TV, it is purely detractive. When I go to a bar, I want to a) drink and b) socialize. TV doesn't hinder drinking but it does hinder socializing. Maybe we (I) cling to TV at bars as a social crutch to get over whatever problems we have talking to each other. But it's a crutch that we shouldn't have (I wish wasn't there).

Perhaps some of this is generational, perhaps it is related to the kind of people who I spend time around. For most of the people I know don't even have cable and they don't miss it. For my parents and family on the other hand, TV is central to their lives. When my parents wake up in the morning they turn on the TV. It remains on until they go to bed. They watch things they know are shit but they watch them religiously (Nancy Grace in the case of my parents, something that I cannot fathom). I imagine this is something that is probably more about the kind of people I associate with since I don't read a lot about people watching less television than they used to.