This is the year that television viewing declined, according to the Nielsen survey. So perhaps there is hope that next year those of us who do not watch television may make it back into the mainstream cultural America.
Not all non-viewers want to get back in. Some regard their non-watching as an achievement for which they ought to get academic credit.Others speak of it as a sacrifice for the children. Many people say they hate television for its violence or insipidness in a manner which is otherwise only used by betrayed lovers.
But the people who are changing the statistics in the Nielsen and other surveys are apparently not bragging about watching less television - they are just letting it slip a little. Maybe some day they will make it socially acceptable to neglect this duty entirely.
It isn't, now. Television has been the only common cultural experience of the society since the Odyssey and Silas Marner dropped out of junior high school, and therefore it provides the country's mythology, from which jokes, object lessons and rituals are made. It has also generally been conceded to be so seductive that anyone who doesn't succumb is suspected of maintaining an offensive, and probably hypocritical, moral stance.
That's assuming that the people who don't watch, hate it. But there are those of us who just don't like it very much, or, if we must confess everything, have trouble following what is happening on it.
It's not all that easy to concentrate on little bitty figures scampering about. The sound has an irritating evenness. The pace is so jumpy that it's hard to keep up with it.
If you have a book, you can put it down if your lips get tired. If you go to the ballet or the opera, there's a plot summary in the program. I can even follow what's going on in the circus if I remember to pick one of the rings and watch just it.
You see? The humblest statement about this comes out like showing off. It sounds as if I don't watch television because I prefer "better" entertainment. I promise that I don't like better television because I can't see what anybody's doing, and I don't like opera on television because the sound is all the same, and I don't like exotic foreign circuses on television, because I don't believe it isn't the camera doing all the tricks.
"But surely," everybody says, presuming it's still a matter of snobbery, "you watch the news." No, I don't like the news. If a person tells me cheerfully about a tragedy, I don't know which to believe. It makes me nervous to see all those people standing there is front of buildings, cheerfully etting rained on or wind-blown, especially if I can't see how close the traffic is coming to them. And I can't follow what they're saying, because they always tell me they're going to come back in a minute and tell me the rest, and when they do, I've forgotten the first part.
It makes us non-viewers feel very left out. It's not that we can't find out what happened in the world some other way, but we can't find out who said it on television, which ismore important culturally at the moment.