Television is driving me to madness, or to misanthropy. Or just to foul-mouthedness. I swear at it as easily as I switch channel and I switch channel all the time. It doesn't just bore me, or even irritate me, it causes me to erupt in obscene indignation every time I detect insincerity or an attempt to sell me something that I do not want. And given that television is driven by insincerity and funded by advertising, it has an effect on me as swift as Samuel Jackson's mushroom cloud and little less destructive.
A typical exchange:
TV: and here's Carol with the weather. Hi, Carol!
Carol, with enormous smile at half-past six in the morning: Hello!
Me: Fuck off, Carol!
I never used to be this bad. I used to shake my head all the way through the adverts, which irritated anybody else in the room far more than I was irritated by the original irritation, and which amused any rational-minded individual whether or not they actually told me out loud that:
(a) these were adverts
(b) they were only adverts
(c) they weren't important
(d) they would be over soon.
I couldn't help it. The first unlikely claim, or the first sign of people pretending to be enthused by a product which never enthused anybody in the history of the world, and my head would start vibrating side to side with sheer intolerance at the insult to my intelligence and integrity that it represented. This would go on all through the break, and through the next one. It would go on for years and years.
The next step was Friends, which made me so angry that I couldn't watch it in silence without, quite literally, biting into my arm in order both to stop my mouth and create some distracting pain. Nothing else has ever been quite so bad again, but nobody ever advised me, as they ought to have, that if I didn't want to lose my temper at loud, conceited and narcissistic airheads then I should neither live in London nor accidentally watch Sex And The City.
Possibly getting older, and hence developing a permanent mood of disappointed irritation, made it worse. That, the aforementioned move to London, and a certain general deterioration in both health and language - I swear generally rather more than I used to, which was never sparingly, and some of the terminology I use is terminology that I would never have used before. And possibly the invention of the remote control made it possible to pile irritation upon irritation when once - as when I used to hate listening to what passed for news during the miners' strike - it was as easy to leave the room as to switch the channel.
Or maybe the programmes really are getting worse, as there must have been a time when Friends did not exist and news programmes were not filled with the viewers' inane text messages and emails - which prove nothing more than that it is possible to produce three-second opinions for all sides of a question and for three-second opinions to be equally facile regardless of the merits of the case. And maybe they didn't always have weather presenters as stupidly cheerful as breakfast show DJs, and maybe they didn't always say "now back to you two" as if the simpering presenters were actually a simpering couple.
Or maybe car adverts actually used to be about cars. Or maybe the characters weren't always playing self-consciously smug twentysomethings pretending to like football while actually depicting the sort of person you would like to be if for some Godforsaken reason you wanted to be like the sort of people who appear in television adverts and you wouldn't actually rather die than spend fifteen seconds in the same café as them.
Or maybe it is just imitation on my part. Just as the Daily Mail school of "thought" imagines that we acquire all our bad behaviour from watching similar bad behaviour on television. I probably get it from reading about television. Specifically, this passage, from Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes:
Watching the Mercedes until it was out of sight, I walked slowly back to the ward and with Snow White [the nickname of a fellow inmate on the ward - ejh] watched Ed Sullivan. Snow White had a running dialogue with all his performers. Ed said, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen"; Snow White replied, "Fuck you, Ed."I read it two or three years ago. And ever since:
So wrap up warm everybody! I'm talking to you as if you were schoolchildren!
And now back to you two!
Jesus H Christ!
I'll be there for you!
Jesus H Christ! Jesus H Christ on a bike!
>click! click!<How can I quote you happy?
Jesus HR Haldeman Christ!
>click! click! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!<
I only got any rest in my room in Scarborough by working my way forward to Channel Six. There is of course no Channel Six. The setting consists only of static. I turned the sound off and watched the screen and beamed in the silence.