How to Become Cultured and More Tolerant Like Me

I don’t know why HBO and Showtime don’t recognize how special I am.  Here I am, year after year, season after season, sitting rapt on the couch and acting for all the world like a shameless shill for them.

“Oh — but I never watch TV.”

Yes, well, fine.  Big deal.  I’m sure you’re quite busy memorizing sonnets and Shakespeare’s plays and growing icy watching Bergman, but — haven’t you noticed? — some of the best culture around isn’t at your local movie theater or museum.  It’s on that big, rectangular, HD television set you’re not watching.  So, you’re missing the Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Flight of the Conchords, Hung, Nurse Jackie, Big Love, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights.

There’s junk on TV, you say?  Sure, there is.  But there’s also lots of junk in print — but that doesn’t mean you stop reading, does it?  It just means you’re selective.  I mean, I can understand the appeal of swearing off books just because Dan Brown’s unleashed some new worthless tome — but why?  It’s like learning grammar from country and Western music: You can do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Here’s the gist of it.  Watching these TV shows has broadened my mind.  Yes, indeed, this is true.  Like everyone else, I started out thinking that members of the mob were just useless, thought-free thugs.  This is how I felt until I realized Tony Soprano was in so much emotional pain, he had to go into therapy for months at a time.  I think I understand why: Tony and his wife Carmela were parents of a daughter and son just the ages of our own daughter and son.  The two kids talked back as badly as our own, which led me to conclude that even when you’re a prominent member of the Mafia, your kids don’t toe the line.

More than anything, I learn tolerance and acceptance from these TV shows.  Take Big Love.  Oh, sure — I was like everybody else.  I thought plural marriage was just some kind of misogynistic stunt.  But, oh, no.  After a while, I began to understand that the main family, with its three wives and Viagra-popping husband, were more normal than much of the rest of the world.  They’re just doing their best!  Leave them alone, you slimy hypocrites! I mutter to all the sanctimonious snits who try to mess with them.  Live and let live!

For a while, I was a bit confused by Edie Falco’s (a/k/a Carmela Soprano) new role as Nurse Jackie in the eponymous series.  Yes, she did have a few flaws Carmela didn’t have — such as a rampant drug addiction, a boyfriend who doesn’t know she’s married, a husband who doesn’t know she has a boyfriend, and getting into a bit of a rush since she was in a hurry to harvest some organs from somebody who may or may not have been dead.  Oh, well, though.  Who am I to judge?  Maybe I’m just bothered by Edie’s new haircut, which I’m still not reconciled to.  You have to draw the line somewhere.  (Do something about the hair, Edie!)

So, go ahead.  Look down your collective noses at television.  I’ll nevertheless be right there, a couple of nights a week, absorbing culture and becoming a wonderfully tolerant person.  You should try it sometimes.  Tell HBO I sent you; they know where I live.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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9 comments… add one
  • Oh dear. I have only ever even heard of two of the shows you mention: Six Feet Under and the Sopranos. They were very well reviewed here in the UK though they were only on late at night.
    My son tells me that The Wire is also excellent.
    I don’t scorn television at all. My problem is that, whenever I remember to turn it on, I flick about aimlessly and find nothing. The night I think it would be good to veg out in front of the tele is always the night nothing is on.
    Books are, to use the jargon, on demand. You can read what you feel like reading at just that moment. Tele is delivered up to you, willy nilly. When they get a tele library I can choose from whenever I like I’ll be an addict.
    The truth is I don’t even have a useable set right now, because I gave my home one to my ex husband, and my boat one has no aerial ever since a passing boat sheered it off and it fell into the canal. If I stand and wave my arms in the air my body acts as an antenna, but my participation somehow takes away from Tony’s angst and I lose interest.

  • And then there’s AMC’s Breaking Bad, which had me feeling terribly sorry for a meth dealer, just because he was a nerdy high-school chem teacher and family man who was diagnosed with terminal, late-stage lung cancer. Poor old Walt started cooking meth so he could leave his wife and kids a nice nest egg to provide security after he’s gone.

    So what if he is now responsible (both directly and indirectly) for a whole lot of people dying? So what if his secret life of crime has corrupted him almost beyond recognition? Hey, Walt’s just taking care of his family — like Tony Soprano!  

  • I agree! I agree!
    I’m an addict to Weeds and my current rush, True Blood.
    There’s always something to learn and think about.

  • I’m already there!! I don’t get Showtime, but HBO and I are old friends. Have you watched their new show Hung? See it from the beginning. I love it.

  • Cindy A Link

    I’m secretly in love with Simon Baker of “The Mentalist” on CBS. He knows what you’re thinking just by watching you. How many men can do that? I know, I know. Unrealistic fantasy show…

  • I’m so glad you mentioned Friday Night Lights. It’s one of the best things on TV.

  • brenda bell Link

    I just have two words to add — actually, six. rescue me. rescue me. rescue me.

  • Chris Link

    Didn’t work Monday, turned on the TV, the channel was Oxygen, something I never watch – and there was a car wreck called “Addicted to Beauty” – what an obnoxious group of shallow folks!  Couldn’t take my eyes off any of them.  Several resembled Jocelyn Wildenstein (as does Joan Rivers) and there was one extremely pi$$y queen of a fellow.  Ugh.
    I miss 6FU – the best series finale I’ve ever seen.

  • cultureless Link


    So one is ranting and raving avout being cultured and watching television at the same time.  You must realisie that watching a colour pixelated box was  created by a boffin whom create the world we live in.  Boffins study and read whilst you are sat watching a box.  You must realsie that most sitcoms, episodes of sopranos, csi and whatever else you decide to melt your brain with do not bear in the slightest resembelence to reality.  So please could you stop blogging or should i said blagging abourt being culturred when you come across as being uncultured.  Yes we all know that watching some films are cultured but please stop being a phoney!!

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