“I may be the only person on FB who is not watching GOT,” read the Facebook post that I saw at least a few times last week. I’m hip enough to have instantly known what both FB and GOT stood for (which is to say, I’m alive and have Internet access), but unhip enough that I could relate to that meme.
It began when our youngest daughter left home for college. For an exhausting and increasingly futile six months, I tried to stay abreast of contemporary music. But since I didn’t like hip-hop, when she sent it thumping out from the car radio, there was no way I could make myself voluntarily tune it in. Absent the coercion of eye rolls or heavy sighs, I gratefully set the dial to news or jazz instead.
But I now see that this seemingly innocuous act of defiance marked the beginning of my slide down the slippery slope of cultural isolation.
Dragons, shorn limbs, carnage and political machinations by competing tyrants -- all but the dragons were too reminiscent of the nightly news.
When Ryan Seacrest soared to stardom, I didn’t know it. I never once voted for the next great singing sensation. Most of my American idols were dead writers and activists.
Next thing you know I was not watching "Lost." And you know what? That was easy; it actually felt good to slip out of the room, to feign other commitments, or yes — I tell you this because recovery starts with acknowledgment and truth-telling — to watch "The Mentalist" and "West Wing" and all those network shows targeted precisely to my demographic and completely bereft of social media buzz.
I knew I was falling far and fast. And I swear to you, I tried to straighten out and get with the program. When "The Sopranos" debuted, I showed up for every murder, every lasagna dinner, and of course, every therapy session that Tony had with Dr. Melfi. And the morning after the series finale, I flew into work, fit and ready to fight about what the series-ending blackout really meant.
Then Don Draper, in his elegant shoes, stepped in to fill the void left by Tony Soprano, and for years I easily joined in the premium pod coffeemaker conversation about "Mad Men" every Monday morning. I knew who Elisabeth Moss was, even knew that she’d been briefly married to Fred Armisen from "Saturday Night Live." Who’s out of the mainstream? Not me, baby!
But old habits die hard.
On a fateful Saturday night one January — and without thinking twice — I didn’t tune into "Breaking Bad." Then entire seasons of "House of Cards" aired without my even so much as trying to watch them. I saw a few Beyonce videos, but only when my predecessor on the elliptical left them looping on the machine’s tiny television. "The Walking Dead," "Stranger Things" — these cultural phenomena were and are as ephemeral in my consciousness as yesterday’s breakfast. In fact, even the shows I loved — "Silicon Valley," "Veep," "The Americans," "Masters of Sex" — failed to maintain my attention year over year.
And then came the juggernaut. Even the title, "Game of Thrones," turned me off, let alone the grunts, howls and splats I heard emerging from the television that my husband sat in front of, transfixed. Dragons, shorn limbs, carnage and political machinations by competing tyrants — all but the dragons were too reminiscent of the nightly news.
“But the female characters are really interesting,” my husband told me, “really powerful.” (Yeah, and guys read Playboy for the articles, I silently retorted.)
But I knew I was being closed-minded, and vowed to watch the first episode of this season. After all that build up, after all those years of genuine disinterest, I found it to be … OK, but probably not compelling enough for me to watch it again.
And so I’m resigned to another season of cultural cluelessness.
Not watching elicited that most natural, non-technically mediated human activity -- storytelling.
Am I a snob? A victim of adult-onset attention deficit disorder? Just reflexively averse to zombies, wizards, magic and men in armor?
None of the above. I think I’m just resisting yet another compulsion, defying the idea that there’s another endeavor — even if a pleasurable one — that I must complete. I spend so many hours in obligatory activities — going to work, caring for loved ones, cleaning the house, reading the news through half-covered eyes — that the notion of unstructured time and the promise of spontaneity hold greater allure than ever.
And it turns out that not watching holds another, deeper benefit. On a recent car trip, in preparation for watching my first episode of "Game of Thrones," I asked my husband to fill me in on the plot. What transpired was 60 miles worth of narration, and I realized he could have been conveying the history of quantum physics or synopsizing the drama of "Project Runway" (which I will never abandon). It didn’t matter. What mattered was that his imagination had been excited, and with nothing but his passion, his words, and the pleasurable sound of his voice, he animated mine. Not watching elicited that most natural, non-technically mediated human activity — storytelling. And that turns out to be addictive, even with a cast of one.
This segment aired on July 31, 2017.