What I Learned From Binge-Watching TV for One Weekend

A few weekends ago Josh and I took a little getaway trip and I unashamedly binge-watched TV for a couple days. (Or maybe there was a bit of shame involved, actually…)

As someone who doesn’t have TV or even Netflix at home, I like to catch up when I’m in a hotel relaxing. It’s part of the experience.

But this was the first time that I really noticed some things that disturbed me. It made me wonder: what is TV really teaching us?

Shows Leave Us Wanting More

Almost all the shows I saw while flipping channels focused on materialism and wealth. It’s no wonder most Americans feel poor in spite of their wealth compared to the rest of the world.

We feel like we will never have enough because the shows feature people with more.

And, to make it worse, these shows are enjoyable.

Maybe they fulfill a fantasy we all have deep inside.

I felt guilty that I enjoyed shows with themes I’m morally opposed to.

“You won the lottery so now you need a bigger house even though you were happy with your small house.”

“It’s acceptable and normal to spend the same amount on a wedding dress as I would spend on a car.”

Are these things normal?

No. And that’s exactly why they’re on TV. 

It isn’t “normal” to spend that kind of money on summer homes and wedding dresses.

Many shows take the lives of the super rich and normalize them to the point that the rest of us, in spite of our great wealth, feel empty.

When I was in Haiti my eyes were opened to how rich I really am.

I have a roof over my head, money in the bank, clean drinking water, and food in the fridge. According to Haitian standards, I’m wealthy.

That mindset didn’t last long though. As soon as I was back in the Miami airport, I saw things to buy. Things to want.

Materialism and “poverty mentality” immediately reappeared after 10 days of complete mental abundance.

I realized how important it is to keep that Haiti mentality.

To remember that I’m rich even when I don’t feel like it.

To remember that I live a life of abundance even though it feels restrictive at times – and then do something about it by giving to causes that help those in need.

Everything is About Money

Even the thrifty / crafty resale shows that I saw were about making the biggest profit and winning money.

Game shows are all about winning money.

And the ads!

Ads are unavoidable at this point. You can’t avoid the ads by DVRing or flipping channels because now the shows themselves are ads. 

Everyone is selling something – either overtly or subversively.

I’m not immune to it either. That’s why I try to be careful about my exposure.

According to the doctrine of television, money = success and happiness. 

But I can honestly tell you that beyond having my basic needs met, money doesn’t bring happiness. It’s been scientifically proven.

And if money brought happiness, why do celebrities lead such dysfunctional lives, falling into tragic situations of drugs, marriage problems, and suicide?

Why do we idolize and aspire to be like the rich and famous – when the rich and famous are hurting too?

No matter how glamorous it looks, I’m convinced hitting it rich isn’t the key to happiness.

Josh and I don’t play the lottery, but we talked about what we would do if we ever won.

Maybe we’re boring, but if we won the lottery our lives wouldn’t look much different.

We’ve established that we wouldn’t inflate our lifestyle. We already have more than we need. We’d inflate our giving, but not our living.

Frugality has helped us learn how to joyfully give up little pleasures so we can have more options in life.

These habits have become engrained in us and we aren’t in a hurry to change.

It’s difficult to explain to people who aren’t living the joyful frugal life, but there is joy in contentment.

There is satisfaction in spending as little on yourself as possible to invest in things that truly matter.

Money is nice. But the best thing isn’t spending it – it’s using it as a tool to meet needs and open up possibilities.

It’s Easy to Get Addicted

I’m an outsider, but I can totally appreciate the attraction of TV.

It’s nice to turn our brains off sometimes.

It’s an easy way to kill time.

Sometimes I need to unwind at the end of the day but I’m too tired to read a book.

I can see why it’s addictive – and that’s why I’m thankful we’ve decided against TV in our home.

It was nice to unwind with some “mindless” entertainment and decompress while on our little getaway.

Sometimes life is stressful and we just need a “harmless” way to escape the pressure and unwind.

I get it.

But some types of self-care are damaging. (Here’s a list I made of good, healthy ways to take care of yourself when you need to de-stress.)

Let me be clear: my problem isn’t with TV itself. I even worked in the TV industry for a short time!

Media can be used as a powerful tool to change lives.

My problem is the themes of the shows and the addictive nature of mind-numbing entertainment.

This isn’t limited to TV, but TV is largely to blame. 

My problem is the materialism and the consumerism that TV promotes. Shows that focus on rich people will inadvertently leave us feeling underprivileged – even if we’re wealthy by global standards.

No, TV isn’t evil. But whenever I get a taste of it in a hotel or at someone’s house I’m usually left feeling a little sick.

Is it just me or have shows gotten more shallow than they used to be? I feel like there used to be more PBS – style shows of substance but now it’s all gone downhill.

And I’m not even touching on the sexual content of shows. We all know that’s out there and can have lasting consequences too. We’ll save that for another post.

I don’t mean to sound like a prudish parent here. But to me, TV is a no-brainer.

We save money, time, and sanity by not having TV in our home. We still watch movies on the computer occasionally, but most of the time we’re “forced” to be more creative with our free time.

To create rather than simply consume.

To read and learn and play games and even talk to one another!

So maybe you think we’re crazy, but I think it just makes sense.

What’s your stance on television? Do you use a subscription service, cable, network, or none of the above? How do you set limits and guidelines – for yourself and for your family? What are your thoughts on the direction TV is going? Have shows changed or is it my imagination? 

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2 Comments

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  1. Great post! The news channel was on at a restaurant the other day, and it was shocking, after a couple years without television, to see the number of ads, the sensationalism, the constant subtle and not-so-subtle messages.

    I used to read lifestyle magazines (Real Simple, Good Housekeeping) as a kind of guilty pleasure, but I stopped for a similar reason: I didn’t realize how many ideas were getting in under the radar. I began feeling like, “Wow, we are SO minimalist to have the size house we do. Wow, we are really sacrificing to eat the diet we do. Man, everyone else gets new clothes and I am so thrifty to not buy these frivolous things…” All of these, of course, create the idea that we are somehow poor or martyred to life a live that most of the world would consider ridiculously extravagant. Not healthy.

    I don’t regret giving up TV or lifestyle magazines, and Zach and I are talking about giving up Netflix as well (but we’ll see!). Good food for thought.

    • I’m with you, Lisa. I’ve had to give up or limit Instagram and Pinterest for the same reason! It’s more than just television for sure – and whether it’s materialism or martyrdom it isn’t healthy.

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