Television certainly has an undeserved reputation for being the tool of the masses. Not only is it elitist and snobbish to proclaim, “Oh, I don’t watch TV,” when asked about your favorite show at a party, it’s simply a lie. The ratings aren’t fake, so it’s impossible that when millions upon millions of people tune in to watch a season finale, there isn’t a smart one in the bunch.
But even more than that, most people who act as if their HDTV is more of a decoration than a part of daily life can easily be pushed into admitting that they like whatever the latest accepted brain programming is. Whether it’s HBO’s sleeper hit of the season or something like “Mad Men,” there’s always something the snobbiest of people grudgingly admit they like.
It does not have to be this way. There is a whole world of television for smart people, and it is possible to spend an afternoon with satellite television and not watch a single program that can slow your mind. The old reputation that TV is just a dumb box is really a thing of the past, and even programmers are reaching out to try to pin down viewers who keep TV their dirty secret.
For starters, channels like History and Discovery have grown by leaps and bounds, with a number of spin-off channels devoted to single topics like science or World War II. It is possible to watch lengthy multi-part documentaries based on best-selling non-fiction books dealing with theories about how societies grew. It may not be the same thing as a law degree, but much of The History Channel’s programming looks at famous court cases and presents them in such a way that part of your homework in law school might be to watch something on TV and also read a book.
So the days of pretending there’s nothing important or worthwhile on satellite TV are long gone, and it’s up to people to admit it. But even more than just television programming, there is a whole world of dark cinema that can only be accessed through your HDTV. For example, several independent movie channels, such as Sundance and IFC, offer unique screenings of films by emerging directors that would be impossible to see anywhere else. It is now possible to live in the middle of nowhere and have a high cultural IQ only thanks to satellite television and the Internet.
No one is doing more for television and film than HBO, which has crews at all the major and minor film festivals alike, looking for big works that aren’t going to make it to wide distribution. HBO then collects and shows them as part of its documentary series. Whether it’s a footnote in the schedule or not, it’s one of the only ways people who aren’t on the film festival circuit can see some of today’s best documentaries.
So the next time you’re at a cocktail party and someone snorts or scoffs when the TV comes on, just start talking about an amazing documentary you saw. Watch their eyes light up and bring them into the conversation. When you finally wrap up your description and are enthusiastically asked, “Where does that sound?” then you can happily tell them the truth: on their satellite TV, of course.