February 17, 2011

We Are What We Watch

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You will spend approximately 15 full years of your life watching television. According to the Nielson Company, Americans are watching television at an all time high rate of approximately 151 hours of television per month. That’s about 1,812 hours —75 full days — of a year that we spend glued to the tube. As television programming continues to invade the Internet and be transmitted via portable devises, this statistic will likely rise.     While pure viewing statistics are overwhelming, not all television shows are created equal. From complicated action thrillers like Lost and 24, to musical comedy-drama series like Glee, to pseudo reality programs like the Jersey Shore and Real World, to channels dedicated to selling anything from religion to the Shake Weight, there is surely enough variety of television programming for everyone. Growing up, I did not watch an excessive amount of television and was specifically barred from having a T.V. in my bedroom (a rule I hated, but may have been for the best). However, in the last two years, especially this semester, I find myself watching more television than normal. Since I was never someone who felt the strong addiction of a television series or tuned in religiously to watch my favorite characters, I wondered what sparked the sudden change. After acknowledging my new viewing habit, I was curious which shows were responsible and why. As much as House makes me want to become a loving, lifesaving doctor and Glee gets me warm and tingly inside [read: sarcasm], none of the usual suspects were guilty of my newfound craving for television. The real culprits, as it turns out, are Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother. There is certainly a dash of Seinfeld, Entourage, Two and a Half Men and That 70s Show in the mix, but the majority of my television viewing can be credited to John Dorian and Barney Stinson.Admittedly, I’m no Sigmund Freud — I am not even a psychology major. Nonetheless, I assumed that there were rational and hidden explanations in my super-ego for my particular choice of shows. After giving it no more than half an hour of thought, I discovered that there was indeed a reason I chronologically watched every episode of every season of Scrubs last year and presently tune in every night from 7-8 to watch How I Met Your Mother reruns on CW6. Both of these shows share a significant underlying set of characteristics that explain my attraction to them, meticulously directed to mimic and examine our everyday lives, experiences and relationships. Using a delicate balance of ingenious comedy, philosophical examination and ethical discussion, these shows re-enact some of the most important aspects of our lives. Though I may have just sounded like an overly esoteric pitchman or someone who writes those fancy descriptions on wines, the essence of these shows is actually quite simple. As Seinfeld became famous for doing, both Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother use comedy to connect with the viewer on real issues. Though sometimes exaggerated, each episode addresses an activity, a dilemma or an experience that mirrors one of my own. It is for this exact reason that I personally have become so attached to these shows. Another distinct aspect of these shows is that every character has a clear stereotyped role. There is a part of me that both identifies and glamorizes each character, and in some respects, I see not only connections to myself, but also examples of who I wish I were. Barney Stinson is likely the most famous character on How I Met Your Mother. An absolute chauvinist and playboy, Barney could have walked straight out of a fraternity, suited up and taken a seat at MacLaren’s Pub. Though this is probably the character I am realistically most distant from, I will always have a partial desire to be Barney Stinson. No one has as much success with the ladies (besides maybe Charlie Sheen), and Barney has few concerns other than getting laid. Marshall Eriksen, the jovial tied down husband and attorney, comes closer to who I consider myself most similar to. Having just graduated law school, Marshall has a childlike humor, a good job, a loving wife and has settled down in most meanings of the word. Though I do not plan on following the structured white picket fence path that Marshall has, there is certainly a level of appreciation I have for his lifestyle. The last main male on the show, Ted Mosby, is the character I most identify with. A seemingly hopeless romantic, Ted is often both the voice of reason and the character most likely to take a leap of faith. In his pursuit of the perfect woman, he has an exciting career, lively friends and is Barney’s wingman of choice.My newfound attraction to television has taught me a few things, including why I feel so connected to How I Met Your Mother. One of my roommates is fascinated by the Discovery Channel and shows examining how complicated products are produced. My other roommate spends countless hours laughing boisterously at videos of people humiliating themselves on YouTube. Take a few minutes to pause your television DVR and think about the program that is on, because in many ways, we are what we watch.

Shaun Werbelow is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be contacted at swerbelow@cornellsun.com. Second Opinion appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Shaun Werbelow