This is the report from Yours, Truly, as I once again gaze back at our wonderful, sad culture in America from all the way over here in Europe.
I happened to catch a headline coming out of the U.S. about television ratings. “Nicole beat Paris.” Too much ink has already been spilled on the overexposure of these two celebutantes, but, nonetheless, a little bit more is about to be spilled because how is it possible that so many Americans care about what little drama the media has created about Nicole Richie? She is a silly girl famous for being Paris’ friend, then her non-friend, then someone who dropped too much weight, and now someone who’s pregnant.
I don’t know what’s worse, though. The fact that this was news in America or the fact that I have brain cells actively storing information about Nicole Richie. I carried those brain cells of mine all the way across the ocean and they are a part of me now as I gaze upon the Adriatic, with its small, listless waves. This information is useless to me, though, because no one out here cares a lick about Nicole Richie. Why is it I can’t remember who the 15th President of the United States was, but I can tell you who the father of Nicole Richie’s baby is (Joel Madden!).
The biggest shock of all, though, was that Diane Sawyer interviewed Richie. How the mighty have fallen. Was that really supposed to be a career coup for a woman who really did once have respectability?
Because it’s been a year since I was last out of America and gazing upon our television-watching culture from afar, it is again time to urge you, dear readers, and to make the commitment myself, to turn it off. And if you aren’t going to turn it off, be choosier about what you decide to spend your valuable Neilson points on. We can simultaneously decide that to be a part of our own community doesn’t necessarily mean that we all watch the same trashy programming. We can elevate ourselves by turning it off. How difficult can it be to refuse to buy into the hype? We are the people. We have the power. Turn it off.
Having gotten that off of my chest, it is also time to say that Americans aren’t the worst offenders of bad TV programming. The UK is responsible for some of the worst there is. Italian TV isn’t any better. The only thing we have to worry about is finding ourselves with something to do other than to plant ourselves or our children in front of our TVs at the end of the day. Many of us have instead turned to the Internet, which offers more choice, less advertising and more programming on demand. But not enough of us have turned to each other, to our world, to the great outdoors. It is a short life, a beautiful world and, as Dylan once said, we’d better get busy living or get busy dying.
As I travel through Italy, I am once again hit with the profound lack of noise that only the absence of television brings. What comes in its place, though, is a kind of loneliness. The truth is that television keeps us company and that’s why we watch it. That is why we probably won’t ever give up our TV sets. It has replaced community for a good many of us. I can say this because I am one of those people.