February 9, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Talking-back-to-the-TV therapy

Cynthia DewesSometimes, when I’m in another room of the house, I’ll hear my husband speaking.

When I ask if he’s talking to me, he’ll grin sheepishly and say he was just talking back to the TV.

In these days of interactive computer programs and all manner of non-human communications, this seems quaint, but I’ll bet many of us still do it.

Once, I told my daughter-in-law that my husband talked back to the TV and she said, “So do you.” Chagrin. But we have to admit that it’s a definite temptation, even when we know it’s silly.

Think about the stupid, incorrect and even cruel things the talking heads say sometimes on TV news or commentary programs. My husband takes most umbrage with politicians and their official critics. He thinks they’re fair game and so do I. They seem to think that being outrageous is part of the American political process.

Personally, I favor talking back to whoever the incompetent is who writes closed captions. If I were a deaf person depending upon the captions to understand the program, I’d be mystified.

For example, when an actor remarked about the fuss, or “ado” over nothing taking place in the story, the captioner wrote “adieu.” I rest my case.

There’s such a thing as necessary talking back as well. When my grandchildren are watching a TV show with us, I often feel the need to step in as the moral editor of certain scenes and dialogue that appear on the screen. I’m kept busy reminding the kids that people like us do not drop into promiscuous sex in an instant or pepper their conversations with vulgar words. I can only hope they’re listening to me and not the TV.

Talk shows also inspire hostility in many of us back talkers. You have to wonder where the people come from who appear on these shows because they are certainly unlike anyone we’ve ever met. Addicts, sexual predators, negligent parents, out-of-control kids and others who display every possible kind of dysfunction are the “guests” who tell all.

Sometimes they get physical and have to be untangled by the host, and we can sympathize because we’d like to punch them out ourselves.

I once read that talk show guests like these are actually people who go from one show to another just for the attention or money, if there is any. What a relief because I’d hate to think they’re real.

Speaking of real, how about those reality shows? Those are programs that need talking back to if I’ve ever seen one. Shouting, in fact, especially when the situations are so contrived and the participants so obviously not in “real” trouble that it’s hard to watch quietly. So I don’t.

Mulling over this apparent need to talk back in what should be a passive pastime, I’ve decided it’s a kind of natural therapy. Most of us have problems of some kind, but we’re ordinary people, not celebrities or politicians or sociopaths.

Being human, we’re curious about these foreign behaviors so we observe them vicariously on TV, often on the sly because we don’t want anyone to know we’re interested in such stuff. If we don’t approve of what we see, it’s safe to talk back to it, and the louder we yell the more satisfying it is.

It feels good, and somehow our ordinary problems fall into perspective. It sure beats spending money for actual therapy.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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