Friday, February 25, 2011

Cutting the Cord

After many long, loyal years together and much soul-searching, I've finally decided to end my long-term relationship - with my cable company. With a cable service, period.

I tried to make a clean break a year ago, but was lured back in with a year-long promotion rate, but with that ending, so did any desire to pay $700-plus a year. With my hard-earned (and limited) income, I'd rather give to companies that are more in tune with my values, like public radio. Cablevision doesn't come close.

It's not you, it's me.

Okay, honestly, it's mostly you. Television, in my opinion, is at the lowest standard I can remember ever seeing it, and yes, I mean all of those reality television shows. The Kardashians, really America? I don't think women fought through the rights movement to plunk themselves on the couch night after night to take pleasure at the dysfunction or vapidness of others, which seems to be the latest national pastime. People need all these high end television screens for that? These social climbing swindlers simply want to exploit their fame for profit.

I'm staging a television intervention and I'm looking at you, fellow Americans. I understand "guilty pleasure" - but is pleasure defined by Botox-riddled housewives so we can feel better about ourselves? Thinking about the time people spend watching them leaves me feeling worse.

Family sitcoms and programs - remember those, the ones parents could watch with their children without either being embarrassed by a line? My sister and I loved watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie and The Brady Bunch. Later, The Wonder Years was a cherished show. One of our beloved shows we always want to see - I Love Lucy. What are some of your favorites, and are you as disappointed as I am?

As I get older, I realize how truly fast time goes and how precious it is, and don't want to waste it on mindless television. Wynton Marsalis is so right - what a rich cultural heritage we have and I feel a better person having seen James Cagney and Ruby Keeler tap dance in Footlight Parade (from a library copy). My new favorite movie star: Dick Powell. I've also been reading far more often (the latest, Laura Hillenbrand's World War II epic, "Unbroken," which I believe should be taught in American schools).

One hiccup: reception is a major issue. All I ask is for the basic channels: CBS, ABC, NBC and Thirteen, and I'm struggling to get them. As my boyfriend likes to say, much like bottled water, they've sold the public on what they once got for free. But I'm not paying for a service - I can watch 60 Minutes or the nightly news online.

Cablevision - you and I are through.


  1. Have you read Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer Pozner? It's all about media literacy and basically everything that's wrong with reality TV. While I think you and I both already know what's wrong with reality TV, it was still a really interesting read.

  2. Hi Cate. I have not but that sounds fascinating. My "to read" list is growing longer by the moment, but I'd rather covet books to read than watch the latest of whatever housewives season they're on now.

    The state of New Jersey I live in has been so slandered by these shows. People not only watch them, they buy their products. I saw a young girl's mom buying her a copy of Snookie's (from the Jersey Shore) book at my local book shop. Overheard recently: tourists in New York City looking for the Kardashian's Dash store. A reflection of the highly impressionable, "celebrity"-obsessed culture we live in. I say Americans deserve better.

  3. Um, Snookie has a book? WTF, AMERICA?! Ok, I've never actually watched that show, so maybe she is a mental giant and I'm just a jerk? But I can't stand the "reality" shows. They're mean. Why watch folks be mean to each other?

    Anyway, you nearly had my heart in my throat with the opening of this. Don't do that again! Gah! Gah! I was worried there was a love bust. Evil!

    I loved "Little House on the Prairie" so much! But we really didn't watch much TV as kids. I think it's common (or was, anyhoo) for kids living in the sticks to spend more time outside than plastered in front of a glowing rectangle. There were berries to pick, creeks to play in, woods to explore, and dogs to play tag with, for crying out loud.

    We have rabbit ears and a converter box. I can get 2 out of 3 PBS stations, all the local networks and some really fascinating foreign-language channels. I still watch way too much TV, but at least a good portion of it is helping me become a better cook (thanks, America's Test Kitchen).

  4. Only recently, the last 3 months, did I start regularly watching television again. So far, this return to the tube has not hurt my reading habit since I read on my lunch hours at work and in the weekend evenings at Barnes & Noble. I have my Sony Daily EReader, and it has helped me maintain a convenient reading continuum. I just finished Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and right off the bat I went into John Muir's recollection of his childhood in Scotland. Both are pretty insightful stuff with the former achieving the status of masterpiece.

    The caveat here is that I watch Netflix, and not broadcasted shows. For nearly $10 a month, I get to choose from a ton of quality television and movie productions. Usually, I find my gold in the documentaries and foreign movies section. My pleasure was so great that it moved me to purchase a 55-inch LCD television set, and " Everest, Beyond the Limit " was just fantastic to watch on it, among others. You must see "Tapped" which is a docu about the bottled water industry. What a shame!

    I pay like $12 to Cablevision for broadcast channels (so I don't have to rely on rabbit ears) and another $40 (I think) for my internet connection. My son said that I don't need to pay for the cable tv at all. I watch Netflix through his Xbox which is connected to the 55-inch. I don't know. I have lost interest in knowing any of the technical details regarding these newfangled electronic appliances. I have become a minimalist in that sense; show me how to get to the good stuff and that's all I care about. I can say with certainty that the Kardashians have nothing to do with good television, and so with all other shows of a similar vein. I noticed on the side of a NYC bus an ad for the "Army Wives." Lord, another desperate housewives type show!

  5. Thanks for the comments and stories! I'm glad to count as company the well-read and creative set watching all this diverse programming and devouring great books.

    I'm only cable-free for a month, so hopefully I'll figure out the reception. I've considered Netflix, but I can get just about everything for free from the library, just patience is needed sometimes since demand is so high. Once in a blue moon Steve and I get a $1 rental from Redbox.

    My major issue with the television upgrades is that people are constantly irresponsibly dumping their old sets in the garbage instead of recycling them. There's one next to the dumpster right now at my apartment complex. What's going into our Earth as they rot in the landfill? What about the labor who is producing these sets?

    I also think the constant upgrading and that viewing all these ways of life (like higher end cable packages) as "necessities" has led to living beyond our means for many fellow Americans. Who has planted in our heads that so much of what we have is "essential?"

  6. I lived with my mother after my parents divorced at 8, and we never had cable. My cousins' father, and my father (his brother) both lived in the same city, and when we'd go visit them we thought it was so cool to be able to watch MTV and VHI. I moved out when I was 15 (with one of those previous cousins) and our apartment had a TV, but no cable. When I went to college at 18, we had a TV but no cable all 4 years, but I never watched it. After that I just gave up having a TV at all, since I could watch DVD's on my laptop on the rare occasion that I wanted to watch a movie.

    It's funny when people come into our house and something seems "off", and they can't place their finger on it and then they say "oh, you don't have a T.V.!" haha.

    I don't think TV watching is unilaterally bad- I still have very fond memories of watching Sesame Street and the Muppet Show at my grandparents' house growing up, and to this day seeing old clips brings back waves of yummy, fuzzy childhood nostalgia- but as you mentioned, nowadays there is just not much that I can justify spending my time on.

  7. MTV - I fondly remember during my teen years when they actually showed things related to music, such as 120 Minutes with all the great alternative music I discovered and the Unplugged series (R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs were some favorite performances). The Real World, which partly started all of the reality craze, was a great commentary show in the beginning about the melting pot of America, and I still recall Pedro's story of living with H.I.V. and his path as an educator. Now it's seven strangers hooking up at the latest bar. Think of the shows with D-list celebrities showing off mansions and million dollar sweet 16 parties with a BMW at the end. What a waste.

    I definitely think there's some great programming on cable, but so much of it is available online or via DVD if you have the patience to wait. I adored the John Adams HBO series and am devouring Mad Men - for free from the library.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. I can't remember when I last had cable TV and I don't miss it a bit.
    I HATE TV in this country with just a few exceptions and I catch them online or at Netflix for $9 a month.
    There was a big story in the NYTimes about living without cable and what a rippff it is. And how you can get a cheap antenna at Radio Shack to get better reception or even any reception - I do miss PBS :(

  9. I was kicking myself over not having gotten rid of it sooner, but as my boyfriend pointed out it's only in the past few years the library has gotten such an abundance of DVDs and now there's such inexpensive options like Redbox or Netflix. I can't believe the days of $5 a piece rentals a Blockbuster!

    I think I'm going to try out Netflix. As an avid film watcher who is trying to brush up on all the American classics I haven't seen (far too many), I can't always justify driving to the library. With budget cuts, library hours are reduced and getting there to return DVDs in time can be an issue.

    It's so great to hear all these cable-free stories! I haven't even played around with my reception since I'm relying on library DVDs (namely, all those seasons of Mad Men!)