We haven’t had television, now, for about twenty years. And aside the occasional binge watch of certain classic series – Twin Peaks, The Sopranos, The Wire, and, ahem, Dynasty (all on dvd – so twentieth century), all we ever watch, really, when we choose to, are films in our projector room – ‘The Videodrome’: jungle plants, mirrors, and a plain, white wall that at night becomes our cinema screen.
Duncan has a phobia of TV sets: he hates them with a passion, finds them hideously ugly, the way that they eat up a room and dominate all social proceedings and become the locus of any household; on all the time in the background, needlessly like an insidious drone, the ‘news’ on repeat in the same ominous, OMG! or faux-compassionate tones……….
And yet when we go home, back to the UK, it seems unavoidable, watching TV, for a while, just the thing to do, because that’s what people do, and then I start getting immediately drawn, despite myself, into certain programmes anyway (it usually only takes me one episode of something to already start planning my vacation around when I can see the tantalizing next one): all of this always enjoyable, kind of, for a while, as a novelty that we can dip into: the zeitgeist of our homeland (or that’s what I probably tell myself, in any case).
Ultimately, however, TV, for me, is, and always will be, a mindfuck. Which is why it was such a pleasure when the NHK TV man mistakenly cut the wires all those years ago in our old house round the corner from where we live now and we never looked back. Life was immediately much better just without it. The way it slowly, but insidiously, takes over the brain and the soul, plugging up the brain stem with fudge, filling up the pristine waterways with commercialized, if enjoyable, cement that severs intelligence; eats up creativity: leaves you ‘pleasurized’.
I am undoubtedly a hypocrite. Despite my supercilious attitudes to the medium, writing here as though I am above it all, I know that I am in fact very easily addicted. I am prone. I am a person who, for instance, on the twelve hour flight back to the UK from Japan, usually watches five films in a row without pausing for breath, and I love every minute of it. I love long haul flights, and sometimes don’t even want them to end. Just the sensation, which I always enjoy, of being unbounded by time, the feeling that time zones don’t make any sense any more when you are flying high, high above them over Siberia or the north coast of Sweden; that responsibilites have been erased (the best part), and you are strapped into your seat helpless and at the whim of hostesses and hosts you can bring to you whenever you want with drinks and salted snacks at the press of a button; that it takes away the primal fear somewhere below, that you are flying in a heavy ton of metal and plastic through the air.
I have terrible powers of absorption. I get engrossed in what I am watching to the extent that I totally forget about everything else. I don’t regret having this aspect to my character; I know that some people cannot concentrate on anything and have a million and one things at the back of their minds when they are at the cinema, or in conversation, or trying to pretend that they are enjoying a show at the theatre when there is a whole lot of drama going on inside their own heads instead; whereas I, like a child, am quite easily enthralled. I lose myself. Even when we did have a phone that worked in the house, I would often disconnect the thing when I was watching the film, reality be damned. I like this feeling. And I am thrilled, in truth that I have all this new, potential entertainment. To be happily, and mindlessly drugged. I just worry about the dosage.
The reason I am fact writing this is that yesterday was the first time that I have ever used the movie and TV show streaming service Netflix, something that is becoming a way of life for millions and millions of people now: yet another unexamined and unquestioned part of twenty first century life that takes over many people’s lives. A friend of mine was saying the other day that she truly realized the power of doing things and staying fresh and young and spontaneous and offline when away with her husband for her birthday in Hamburg a weekend or two ago, when so many couples our age now she knows just stay in at night at the weekend with a take away or call in pizza and wine and watch Netflix as a matter of course, and, I suppose, when you think about it, why not? It’s cosy, that nesting feeling with your partner, or your cat, or alone, doors locked, programmes on, your life at the end of a remote control. Just so damn easy.
Moreover, again in its defence, having all this potential numbing and absorbing programming at the end of my fingertips will be extremely helpful for me over the next few months when I am hospitalized in a claustrophobic Japanese medical environment, where I will bored out of my mind, and from what I read about the operations themselves, in excruciating pain as well – and where having these benign, amusing, addictive TV shows will be a boon; a cocoon for me to plug into in my native tongue as the grim babble of the wards around me go about their business, but I, in my mind, dimmed in my painkillers, will be drowsily ensconced happily in LA, or Miami, or wherever I happen to find myself instead. An old friend who came to stay with us last week from the UK, very kindly, and generously, put her account, probably illegally, onto my computer (she also said that when going through a very difficult time last Autumn, it was Netflix that saved her: to avoid the rawness and the pain of a difficult breakup, she would just get under the bedclothes at night and watch episode after episode of Narcos), and I must say that I was absolutely delighted in truth to have this option there, even if on closer view the content struck me as somewhat unthrilling. A bit run of the mill and standardized. Of a certain ilk.
Still, yesterday, when waking up alone on my Monday day off, I couldn’t resist.
In fact, I had woken up at 6am after just four hours sleep feeling alert and creative, words streaming through my brain ready to start working on Notes On My Notes Volume III (still so much to say!), a sun-filled, late February morning, plum, and peach blossom budding on the trees, the morning light filled with beautiful possibilites, but ‘just a bit longer in bed’ I then lazily thought to myself as I woke up, overslept and groggy, at the far later time of 10.45 with nothing on my mind but the Cheddar cheese that our friend had brought us in her suitcase, melted on toast, with coffee, and the paper, and lethargy… and then Netflix. There was simply nothing else whatsoever that I wanted to do. I couldn’t have written a word about anything, then, if you had paid me (amazing how the time of day you wake up affects your brain and its powers – in my case it is entirely unpredictable; it could easily have been the other way round. Sometimes I leap out of bed dreaming perfume reviews – the other night I even dreamed about the non existent Chanel No 41 extrait and was dying to tell you about it because I had smelled it; other times that side of my head is completely and utterly switched off as if it had been bashed in with a giant rock).
So access the Netflix I did, with my password, and soon found that the entire day had been spent watching various films, and shows, and ‘browsing through’, right up until bedtime. And I had, yet again, that familiar sensation I get at these times: that I was sated with something that had given me a certain level of pleasure, had let me forget about the day (not that it needed necessarily to be forgotten about), but that had very definitely addicted me : in truth, I am itching to get back to it to find out what happens next in various storylines…..but then before going to bed last night I did write about this, I had to as I felt this peculiar new unease, like a physical feeling in my body, and put the original version of this up ( different words, but the same ideas) , but somehow it got erased, which enraged me, one wrong press of a keyboard button and your endeavours just vanish into ether – along with some people’s comments – my apologies : my panic – well, that is perhaps too strong a word for it – but my dis-ease at the feelings in my brain potent enough for me to want to write about it and get some feedback from those that are reading this now, a fair few of whom I imagine are also subscribers to ‘Netflix’, and know, instinctively, perhaps, just what I am talking about. That potential feeling of willingly losing yourself to it.
It would be unfair to suggest that watching TV is in itself bad in some way, particularly when the quality of so many series now is on par with, or better than, most of what is put on at our cinemas and when so much of it is so well made and genuinely informative. I do realize this. And people need escape, something to focus on (and I definitely will be charge up to this new alternative world of mine probably most of the day, unless I am reading, which I hopefully will be as well, and preferably writing, when I am chained to my hospital bed watching the swellings and the metallic implants and the drips and the syringes and the masked nurses and all the rest of it, and I know that some instant trips to other places will be exactly what the doctor ordered.)
At the same time, though, even from just one full day of it, yesterday, my brain, in all honesty, felt changed.
With TV, or the internet, I really do feel plugged into the Matrix, at the mercy of unseen forces that want to control me. And I know that I can be easily controlled. (Is this paranoia? Discuss: I don’t actually believe so). Proof lies in my current use of my iPhone 6s, which I was forced to get after eighteen months off it (documented in my piece on the subject, The Rosy Trail of Ms Pusy if you are interested in hearing about the virtually unplugged life), a time when I felt unshackled and purer; calmer in my spirit, more contemplatative and easier to sleep (there is no doubt for me that even just having your smart phone in the room with you at night somehow disturbs the quality of your sleep, and dreams….)
Yes, it was a nice time, for a while. I lost the phone, looked for it very halfheartedly, and then enjoyed not having it so much that I literally delayed getting another one for a year and a half. Quite a long time in this age when people panic if they accidentally leave it at home for even one day. It was nice, though. I felt more human, or at least what being a human being used to feel like. More in the physical world of air, trees, and flowers. I was always one to literally stop and smell the roses anyway, but without my phone, even more so. I moved more slowly. I read far more novels and loved it. I was more organic, solid, less fractured, somehow, and in one sense, more connected.
Reality then eventually took hold, however, and it became necessary for me to get a phone to be contactable for work, the hospital, my family (it was, in truth, very selfish of me, in a way, even if the fact of being wilfully incommunicado, as a gesture of defiance against the general brainwashing of humanity, secretly, as an unabashed rebel, did rather please me).
And I can’t pretend, either, that I haven’t enjoyed it. Being back online, being constantly contactable, in the moment, and in the grid, I am feeling sociable: am lucky to have lots of friends and acquaintances the world over, and do like the instantaneous spontaneity of being able to quip a line here with an old friend now living in Turkey on Facebook, of chatting with someone else back home or in Iceland or in India, putting up photos I take whenever I feel like it (this I love: the immediacy of this ‘art’ and the capturing of a moment) of checking (too constantly, in fact) what is going on in the world, of being able to message people and organize meet ups whenever I want to. It has its downsides, undeniably (its addiction, its sheer and absolute compulsiveness, which seems, almost to be built inside the device itself, as though it emits this), but I still know that it will be an absolute godsend when I am taken in and sequestered in for weeks on end in my hospital bed. How else am I going to be able to contact anyone? How else will I regale you with the horrors I am experiencing, live and direct on the Black Narcissus?
Yes. If you gave me the choice of going back to my prior state of Nature Boy, or maintaining my current one, I have to disappoint some readers perhaps in saying that I would definitely go for the latter. With the world the way it is, I don’t want to feel isolated or out of the loop but right in the middle of what feels something like a revolution. We are actually, it would seem, at the beginning of dystopia, of some nightmareish, fascistic, takeover. The scent of the plum blossom (beautiful, incidentally, the quintessence of Kamakura), just somehow isn’t quite enough.
But at the same time, though, when compounded with the easy allure of Netflix and its endless streams of entertainment, after just one day of it I can already feel my brain going. I can imagine, from now, just receiving, not producing; of gradually being subsumed by all the ready made programming and buzzlines and memes and trending news, and ‘fake news’ (already the sinister gaslighting of the administration has started working a little inside my head and I am starting, against my instincts and better judgement, to believe that Bastard about the ‘lying media, the enemy of the people’, even though I know in my heart that The New York Times has some of the very best writers in the world and I can’t live without it on a day to day basis just for the beauty of its language, its humour and humanistic poigancy); a whirl and a maelstrom of noise, unreal, saturated colours, and easy pleasures, like junk food, that will fill me up stodgily and happily for short periods of time but still, under the skin and in my cerebellum, leave me feeling unsatiated and brainless: an unthinking, one-of-the-masses, stupid, media-ized
Z O M B I E