I watch a healthy amount of what most would call shitty TV. A lot of people feel embarrassed about this. Just as many people flaunt their ignorance about bad TV as though it were some kind of merit badge. “What is a Kardashian?” they ask. “There’s really a show where a lady brushes her teeth with urine? You actually wasted 22 minutes of your life watching that?”
Yes, I did. And I am not ashamed of that.
I used to tell people it was because I spent the day at my intellectual profession and “zoning out’ is a crucial state for your brain to be in. I know that there are better ways to achieve the “health benefits” of a Jersey Shore marathon like… yoga or meditating- but does anyone really feel as relaxed as they do after they get off the couch following three Law and Order: SVU episodes in a row?
Another way to think about watching shitty TV is like it is a story problem in math. If you watch the news or “intellectual” TV they give you a bunch of information and tell you how you should think about it. When you watch The Real World and see MTV beep out the word “tampon” it might get you thinking about feminism and why we’re so uncomfortable with the actual name of a hygiene product that we’re housing it with “shit” and “fuck” and “cunt.”
When you watch reality TV or scripted dramas you are watching people live their lives without commentary. You have conversations with your friends about whether it was totally unethical of Bachelor Ben to go skinny dipping with one of his ladies in waiting. This stretches your critical thinking muscle a lot more than 60 minutes does.
The thing is, people don’t really value critical thinking that much, they value facts. This is why “news junkies” read the paper and watch MSNBC so that they can participate in conversations about things that happened and pepper the conversation with details and related stories. This is fine, I’m sure there’s a great philosophical argument out there for being up on the world but I value the ability to process all those facts more than knowing the ‘right’ ones.