Wednesday, December 10, 2008

 

A Mixed Marriage

I'm increasingly convinced that there are two ways of watching television, and that The Wife and I are firmly planted in opposite camps.

The first way treats tv as the home equivalent of a movie. You don't start watching until you're ready to focus on it; then, once you start watching, you focus cleanly until the program ends, you lose interest completely, and/or you fall asleep. (In practice, 2 sometimes shades into 3.) The purpose of the DVR is to skip commercials.

The second way treats the television as one input among many. This way involves watching for a few minutes, starting multiple conversations along various topics, getting up every ten minutes or so, and generally treating the program as something close to background noise. In this approach, the purpose of the DVR is to back up and replay lines lost to other distractions, and/or to stop the program for ten minutes at a time while you go and do something else.

To be fair, either style works well enough when it's the only one. When I watch tv alone, which isn't often, I focus on it. A program like The Daily Show lends itself well to this approach, since the jokes are quick and verbal, and reward close attention. When TW watches tv alone, she's all over the place, but it really doesn't matter. She's happy, I'm elsewhere, it's all good.

The catch is that the two styles don't mix well.

I first noticed this when we were engaged. I'd be sitting on the couch, contentedly reading an article or book. Soon-to-be-TW would walk in, turn on the tv, sit down next to me, and start a detailed conversation. I considered this inexplicable. If you want to have a conversation, why turn on the tv? If you want to watch tv, what's with all the conversation? And wasn't I reading?

For a while, we almost couldn't go to movies. The first ten minutes of most movies involve unexplained action by unidentified characters gradually becoming clear. I'd wait for the clarity. TW would keep asking questions. She has gradually dropped the habit, to her credit, but the impulse is still there.

When we went house-hunting, one of my desiderata was a living room separate from a tv room. We got that, and it makes a tremendous difference. It gave the kids a playspace without a tv, which we both considered important. When the kids go to bed, she can 'watch' her Bravo reality shows, while I contentedly blog on the laptop on the living room. Alternately, if I'm watching Family Guy, she can retreat to the living room and read Jane Austen.

(Sadly, this doesn't work in theaters. We saw Australia last week, which is basically three long hours of the camera lingering over Hugh Jackman. TW was entranced. I was bored out of my mind.)

In the best of all possible worlds, which happens sometimes, the styles meet in the middle, and we form a Mystery Science Theater style running commentary on whatever's on. We used to do that when W gave his televised addresses, until neither of us could stand to watch him for even a single minute more. (Fun trivia fact: he's actually still the President! A lot of people don't know that.) Several years ago, when my team was on the way to the World Series, we watched some games like that. Sometimes we'll do that during 24, although her appreciation of Keifer Sutherland far surpasses my own.

For whatever reason, we also both like to play the “who's that actor?” game. When there's an actor that one of us almost recognizes, everything stops until we can place him/her. We've had entire conversations along the lines of “isn't he that guy from that show? You know, with that other guy from the thing?” She's scary-good at placing actors, even in voice-overs. And hairstyle or fashion commentary is always fair game.

We both like the idea of being a one-tv house, so when there's something we both want to watch, we have to find ways to mesh gears. And we're getting better at it, as we're each letting go of the idea of converting the other.

I don't know anyone else I'd spend an hour with, watching a half-hour show. Time well spent.

Comments:
Ha! My husband and I have a similar problem. I like the TV to talk to me while I do other things (this may come from years in a news office with CNN as constant background), and even when I "focus" on the TV, I'm usually embroidering, so every time there's visual action with no narrating sounds, I have to say, "Wait, what just happened?"

My husband, OTOH, likes to WATCH TV when he watches TV. This makes me sort-of crazy, as I don't know how he can waste all that productive time just staring at the television when he could be doing six things at once.

The primary upshot of this is that I NEVER remember the plot of any Law & Order I've seen, even if I've seen it six times. I love that show, so even reruns are like a surprise! My husband, however, who does NOT particularly like the show, remembers EVERY episode. He has finally figured out, tho, that he should just tell me I've already seen that episode and not tell me how it ends in an attempt to remind me, because then I get mad that he wrecked it.
 
This is one of the many reasons I have long suspected I am actually a man. I am a "When I am watching TV that's the only thing I'm doing" person, unless it's something like a ball game, or a presidential address.

My husband is like TW. When we started dating and went to movies, this almost made me want to break up with him. Who talks DURING MOVIES? SUSPEND DISBELIEF MUCH?

Anyway, like you and TW, we've worked it out.
 
I love to play the "what else was that guy in" game! But I think it drives my husband a little nuts (only because I'm better at it.)
 
Our house has an open layout, so the teevee is hard to avoid entirely. To counter this, I bought a pair of construction site ear protectors. They're giant sound-muffling earmuffs that cost twenty bucks. Now my wife can enjoy "American Idol" and I be with her without having to hear mediocre singers' abuse of melisma. Everybody wins.
 
OMGOD what is it with men and *Family Guy*. Also, I'm like you and my husband is like TW -- he'll turn on the car radio and then start talking to me about travel plans or financial plans. Does it during tv shows too.
 
Oh, this is so an introvert / extrovert experience. Being a fellow introvert, I'm so on your side. My wife, on the other hand, likes to turn on the TV and then call up a friend to talk about something entirely different.
 
You forgot the flip channels on the remote every three minutes type, though. I can handle the other two, but I hate having someone else flipping channels!

(Yes, it's a power thing, no doubt.)
 
Heh. I do the same thing your wife does, at least with most TV shows and movies. I have to be moving around! And man, do I EVER talk during movies. But I've managed to narrow down the cause: Fake suspense. 90% of movies (esp. horror films and romantic 'comedies') leave me feeling wound-up and miserable. If I can leave the room, look away, go flip whatever's on the grill, it's great. But if I have to sit there and experience this guy being humiliated, or this woman walking like six blocks with the serial killer breathing down her neck...

Game shows, OTOH, I could totally stand to sit down and watch, but what's the point? I can pick up most of the content while getting stuff done anyway.
 
As your commentor Maggie posted... this is proof that I am also really meant to be a man. My partner and I are just the like DD and TW, only flipped. He turns the TV on as soon as he enters the house and then doesn't pay any attention to it. Worse, sometimes he does and wants me to watch some news story, video clip, etc. and then becomes annoyed that I am engrossed and don't want to talk about it!

And movies - yeah, I go with friends. We went together once. Never again. We don't like the same movies and he wants to talk the ENTIRE time! Aaargh.
 
I agree, it's a male/female AND introvert/extrovert dichotomy.

BTW, there's a whole new way to watch TV now, best with news coverage like elections and debates and watching your Prime Minister play chicken with the Opposition: Twittering with friends while watching. Like liveblogging, but chattier. My husband is perplexed, but then, he still doesn't quite get my blog habit either.
 
I can relate, I can relate. Different viewing styles in my marriage as well. And we have shared your trajectory of first mocking, then avoiding, then forgetting about -- what was that bad president's name? But hey. Go easy on Keifer. Keifer is cool. At least my spouse and I can agree on that.
 
This woman walking like six blocks with the serial killer breathing down her neck...
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