I could never escape the fact that television separated us. It divided us from each other by occupying the space where we should have been communicating. Now, when I look back all I have are memories of television programmes and commercials when I should remember you. Even on those rare occasions when we did communicate to each other it was mediated through the television; the recognition of a fictional character that seemed to share the same values as we did, the acknowledgement of a product that we believed would make our lives easier or the consideration of a public event we believed would affect us in specific ways. I never turned to you and looked you directly in the face and asked you how you were feeling or what you were thinking, and you never did the same to me. Instead we would just watch the television and wait for the next incident to dance on the screen that prompted a comment or even a brief exchange, with our bodies turned away from each other and our gaze somewhere else, usually more entertaining.
We could have gone for a walk, had an interesting discussion, played a game or fooled around, in the real world. We could have been living our lives instead of watching other people live their imagined lives inside of an illuminated rectangle. We could have got to know one another instead of getting to know the television programmes we both liked, and watched again and again and again. It's not coincidental that the word television refers to an activity that is remote and detached, if you consider that the tele- part in television means at a distance in Greek. So yes, the vision was at a distance and remote, on the other side of the room, but for me it wasn't only the vision that was at a distance but also a sense of self and of each other, which was enabled every time we switched the device on.
I don't blame you for ignoring me and I don't blame myself for ignoring you. How could we not ignore each other when the TV was on? I guess we had to die a little in order for the screen to come alive. It needed something to feed off. But you weren't the only one who believed in television. Even my family used to use the idiot box (as it was called then) as a means to sit with each other, converse superficially and pretend we were communing in a familial way. It used to drive me crazy. So crazy that I would often go to my teenage bedroom to do something else, like read, listen to music or masturbate, just to feel alive again. But every time I stood up to leave the family room, the place where all the furniture was organized to face that entertaining centre of televisual attention, my parents would ask me where I was going, as if there was nothing else to do in this world but watch television. They were offended because I gave them the impression that I had something better to do with my time than be with my own family when in actual fact I had something better to do than watch television.
I should have known better when I met you. You liked to watch television and I liked you, so, at first I pretended to like watching it too, just so we could do something together. But it wasn't long before I grew to like watching that machine. It grabbed my attention and overtook me, possessed me even, rendered me motionless and silent on a comfortable chair. It was so powerful, so insidious and so seductive that I no longer noticed that the television wanted to pacify me. It had pacified me so well already that I can't even remember when I became so passive. There's no turning point that I can recollect, no moment when I thought to myself, despite my former prejudices, that television seemed for the first time to become appealing, engrossing even. I just ended up sitting obediently in front of the screen every night until I had to go to bed. Before long I ate TV dinners, bought TV guides and talked about TV programmes. This is where the problem between us began. When I didn't notice the hold television had on me, and I no longer noticed myself and I no longer noticed you.
We could have ended up transfixed by that TV screen for the rest of lives, covered in cobwebs, dishes multiplying in the sink, paint peeling off of the walls, furniture crumbling, bodies getting bigger and older but the television remaining the same, always on, always holding our attention, until we were dragged out from in front of it feet first. But our lives didn't develop that way for we did have some self-control beyond the remote control. There were times when the TV wasn't on. But, when the television wasn't turned on neither were we, and not just in a sexual manner. We didn't talk that much or do anything meaningful. We discovered that we had nothing between us but our television, so of course we turned off when it did.
It's strange looking back now. We didn't meet and bond over a love of television. We didn't have a water-cooler moment together, at work, when all our colleagues were discussing the shows that were broadcast the night before. We didn't meet through a dating website that listed the TV shows we liked on our profiles. We didn't bump into each other in a store where a bank of televisions transfixed us. Our eyes didn't meet drifting upwards from a DVD rack stacked full of popular TV shows. There was something that brought us together, initially, and it wasn't a mutual interest in whatever seemed to be entertaining the nation. The thing is, I can't remember what it was. All I remember is the television and the programmes and the commercials we watched together. The TV obliterated all memory of a life outside of it, both before it was consumed and after, so the idea of us as a unit outside of the television unit became inconceivable.
But now you have gone and it is too late to ask you how we met or decided to get together or why we couldn't stay together. I didn't know you and you didn't know me and we didn't know one another, but we knew about television and that was all that mattered, until it was turned off and then we were, eventually for good.
Christian Martius (2015)
Talking About Morality at a Party Might Change the Way You Think About Yourself
Some people seem to think the world is a terrible place. Someone will talk about crime and selfishness as if it is a novelty act and it's reasonable of you to respond by suggesting that violence, cruelty and immorality are the same as they ever were in the past, that the world hasn't necessarily become more ruthless and chaotic, not in the lifetime of the person who seems to be disturbed by the publicized tragedies of the modern world, and is recoiling so adamantly from a random topic that coloured this particular party conversation. This person may wish for a not-so-abstract time when the world seemed simpler, purer and innocent, when people were good to one another, or at least seemed to be, and this probably has a lot to do with this person coming from a middle-class family and this time in the past, which might have been better than now, being their childhood, when they were protected from the accumulating horrors of the world. The outraged person probably hasn't completed their first decade of adulthood either and seems to think that the violence in the media multiplies in front of their eyes as each year passes, as they become aware of the world in front of them, as it really is. You've heard this kind of complaint before, and every time you hear it you respond and say that the modern world isn't any more violent than Ancient Rome or considerably crueller than Nazi Germany. Violent movies and video games don't necessarily turn people into brutal savages, and that maybe those inclined to act aggressively after watching horror films or dismembering pixelated characters in a video game are going to do something suspect anyway, even without the stimulus. You interject this opinion to add something worthwhile to the party conversation. You think it's right to say these things, maybe not morally so, but your comments can be absorbed into the discussion and accepted as a valid contribution. But you also notice that it's not ok for you to also say to the morally outraged one that you accept immorality because it has always been there, which suggests to his binary consciousness that you are somehow passive in the realm of cruelty and abuse, when all that you are trying to communicate is that the human capacity to inflict evil doesn't surprise you.
It makes you look like an indifferent monster.
You will come across as a thoughtless idiot to the easily outraged one, and maybe a few other people too, and then you will become the object of all this moral outrage, and seem to represent the selfish malaise of the human race, and you can see this just in the way the person reacts, which makes you feel guilty, as if you really are indifferent and selfish, because you know that the capacity to be evil is within all of us, and maybe it is within you after all? And this conversation has revealed your true self to the party, the self that you didn't really know you were, until now, and then by extension you feel as if a larger consciousness is watching you and knows all of this already, even though you are momentarily unsure, in the reflexive sensation of your conscience, who this larger consciousness is. It is indifferent to you, it sees you as you truly are, wretched, spoiled and mortal, with all your actions and behaviours that you think make you the individual you are. You really are not that different from everyone else, you have inherited behaviours that have been passed down from your parents, and your parent's parents, and your parent's, parent's, parents, and you realize there is nothing about you that is really unique, and this larger consciousness doesn't care who you are, and what you do in your life has been done before by people you've never met, and what you feel has been felt before, even though the feeling feels unique, and you realize that by the time you are halfway through your life you won't amount to anything more than being just another human being, despite the achievements that are important to you. And in that moment when the party conversation changes into something else, you realize you will never convince the outraged person, no matter what you say and do, that you maybe have a greater or even a more generous understanding of humanity than they do. But still you feel as if that larger consciousness is holding you in its gaze, even though you know it doesn't really exist outside of yourself because this larger consciousness is actually you, and it makes you feel guilty, even though you haven't actually done anything to feel guilty about.
Christian Martius (2009)