“I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room & read a good book.” – Groucho Marx
It was pouring in Split, Croatia. My roommate and I had plans to climb a mountain outside of the city, but had to rethink our afternoon as the heavy rain came down. Having seen most of the sights and wonders of the city, and without many options that would keep us dry, we decided to do something we rarely do: go see a movie.
When we got to the theater, we learned that the movie we wanted to watch – Minions – was only in Croatian. Dang. The next available movie they had in English? Vacation, a sequel to the classic National Lampoon movies with Chevy Chase. We bought tickets, found our seats and settled in.
When we walked out of the theater ninety minutes later, I was left with an odd, unsettling feeling. The movie was terrible – this was obvious – but that wasn’t the source of my unease. Rather, I came to the realization that I could no longer relate to the archetype, embodied by the affable and bumbling Ed Helms in the lead role of Russ Griswold.
I couldn’t sympathize Russ, laugh at his terrible jokes, or cheer for him in the end when his desperate wife came back lovingly and accepted his faults.
Yet, it’s this archetype that makes such a movie successful; there are enough people in the world who relate to this type of humor and level of thought that they truly enjoy the movie. It wasn’t always this way — this brand of comedy (the old vacation movies in particular) were the movies I loved watching in high school and college. Walking out of that theater, it dawned on me that I’d outgrown that phase – and was much happier for it.
I did. Griswold was someone whose behavior I could no longer identify with:
- He’s an example of mediocrity being praised
- He lacks emotional control and vulnerability
- He doesn’t take the lead with his family – mentally, emotionally, or physically
Being that I actively try to cultivate the opposite character traits in myself, it’s no wonder that Helms’ performance left me unsettled.
But how did I do it?
Simple: I unplugged. I stopped watching bad TV and bad movies. Around my junior year of college, I made a serious change: no more TV, no more video or computer games, and no more shitty movies. I don’t decry anyone who partakes in these activities, but they weren’t – and aren’t – for me.
“We got sidetracked and diverted into these boxes, these cubicles in offices,” he says. “So instead of investing your time in a passion, you’ve sold your life to work for an uncaring machine that doesn’t understand you. That’s the problem with our society. And what’s the reward? Go home and get a big TV.” – Joe Rogan
Since eliminating screen time, I’ve noticed a few things: I’m more present with others, I tend to value my own thoughts over the opinions of others, and I’m generally in a better mood throughout the day.
Google the phrase “stop watching tv” and you’ll find a lot of people who have had also gone on similar “TV detox diets” and had similar results. In my own experience, unplugging from TV and movies started a long process of unplugging from group think.
There were 3 distinct phases of this process that brought me from where I was to where I am now:
- Identifying with group think (ie, mainstream consciousness) and characters like Russ Griswold
- Unplugging from group think and feeling superior to other people because of it
- Recognizing that I’m not superior to others, enjoying the story anyway, and empathizing for people who are still stuck in group think.
Going from one to three means coming full circle. Being able to enjoy and appreciate parts of life without identifying (or actively non-identifying) with them. There were parts of the move where I felt totally awesome for being aware of the idiotic humor, but other parts where I recognized that and just laughed anyway because it felt good.
Unplugging was the first step in a long journey of disconnecting with low-quality consciousness entertainment that’s spoon fed to the masses and taking responsibility for my own thoughts. It’s by no means over – in fact, it’s just beginning.
Recognizing this and still being able to laugh (at the movie and at myself), I walked home from the theater with a smile on my face.