FOR THOSE EVEN marginally plugged in to national news, it’s tough to get through a single day without being confronted by the societal thin line between reality and fantasy. But I wonder how many of us spend time mulling the degree to which the screens we stare at serve to blur that line more every day.
That was on my mind recently in conceiving today’s cover story about TV, the death of civility and the threats to American democracy.
It’s sort of tongue in cheek. Really sort of.
I’m not a TV critic, don’t play one on the pages of The Seattle Times and don’t pretend to be expert at the inner sausage-makings of the content — some of it good, some of it awful, too much of it offal — that streams at us from the fire hoses that are online streaming services, 24/7. But as someone who grew up as a latchkey kid, hooked on probably more TV than is healthy, it’s an undeniable part of my life.
For many of us, it became even more so during the past year of what amounted to, for some people, unprecedented isolation, with TV as our all-too-convenient partner in escapism. And the threat of future bouts of the same inspired me — a self-admitted connoisseur of bad television — to at least ask the question: Is all this a problem, and if so, to what degree?
The inescapable backdrop to all this, of course, is an ongoing national culture war, waged largely by forces allied with Donald Trump, a literal fictional TV character who walked out of our Samsungs and into the White House.
The resulting essay delves into the Big Question about our infotainment industry — one that will feel familiar to those who lament the societal impact of social media: Is television’s version of reality in some way driving the bus of what feels like a breakdown in community, despite its potential to do the opposite? Or is it just reflecting broader, stronger societal trends underway for other reasons?
I don’t have the answer, but I do hope this week’s excruciatingly self-deprecating glimpse at my own TV viewing habits will at least serve to offer up the question. Let your conscience be your own TV Guide.