Television. Really?

Every now and again I wonder: Why do people watch television? I include myself in this. In fact, let’s rephrase the question: Why do I watch television?

I love watching television shoes and movies. I don’t own cable; I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, and whatever I can cadge off the Internet. My question ponders the act of watching other people pretend to live other people’s lives.

Personally, I like getting lost in other worlds. I usually watch shows that have little similarity to my own life; so, it is an escape. Fortunately, I am aware of this.

I have just finished watching Bosch Season 3 on Amazon Prime. I’ve read most of the Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. Titus Welliver is the perfect actor to play this sardonic character and Jamie Hector looks and acts exactly as I pictured J Edgar. Perfect casting makes the characters real for me as I watch people pretend to be other people, who are themselves figments of an author’s imagination.

Thousands of years ago, would humans have even thought about such a phenomenon as television and streaming video? Well, they went to see plays or listened to stories about historic figures– watching (or listening to) people pretend to be people that may or may not have existed. This fascination with imagining and enjoying other people’s lives is nothing new. Perhaps television is an inevitable evolution of our artistic enjoyment, embedded in the human genes. Those who don’t watch TV or videos might scoff because they read books. However, even reading books represents the same phenomenon: experiencing other people’s lives, some of whom may exist or have existed at one time; much of the time, fictionalized lives.

As I watch Titus Welliver, I realize that he is the actor doing a fine job playing Bosch, the character himself, Bosch as depicted by or deviating from the character as conceptualized by Michael Connelly. I consider the artistry that makes me believe that Welliver is Bosch. Camera angles, soundtrack, lighting, all work together to create a mood and narrative as depicted by the director (among so many others).

When watching televised performances, I frequently consider technical aspects. So much is involved in creating even the shortest film. The other day a colleague showed us a 15-minute film of herself folding paper cranes while reading a poem she’d written that used cranes as metaphor. A few months before, she had read this poem to us while teaching us how to fold cranes.

These events are totally different. We shared this with her after she showed us the film. For me the film was a performance. Some people would view it as an art installation. I asked her about camera angles. I assumed that someone else had filmed her. However, she had filmed and edited everything by shooting and reshooting from different vantage points, editing and re-reading, editing and re-reading, until she acquired the effect she wanted.

I was fascinated by the process and her talent. Reading this, you probably are thinking that watching someone folding cranes isn’t the most interesting thing. However, it was very meditative watching one segment of a person’s life, while listening to her read a poem about the history of indigenous people. I have taken all the juice out of the experience with these flat words. Yet, at bottom, that is exactly what went on.

And if I were to flatten out the scenes from Bosch, the words would be something on the order of watching a police detective go about doing his job. Many of the scenes are just he and his partner driving around talking. Every now and again, there is a chase, gunplay, or other physical action emotionally intensified through music. Scene after scene. It is a performance that many, such as myself, find enjoyable enough to spend hours watching.

Our ancestors might not have been able to imagine television, but I think they would have understood the fascination.

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Ruth Farmer
Farmer Writing and Editing
Offering coaching, editing, and writing services
Specializing in personal essays and scholarly personal narratives
rfarmer@gmavt.net
802-377-3001