How Much TV Is Too Much TV?

Fill my screens. Fill them all.

Ask an older friend or relative to tell you about these. Photo: Stefania Toso

Is there too much TV now? In an age where we no longer even have the patience to sit through ads, you could make the argument that there is not enough TV, that until no second elapses without three new shows being launched for our uninterrupted consumption the market is still showing a marked inefficiency. Why are so many people talking about “Stranger Things” these days? Because there are not enough “Stranger Things” being launched into our empty, needful heads. There should be new “Stranger Things” happening inside every episode of “Stanger Things,” and even then it might not be enough.

I have a theory that the success of Donald Trump’s quest for the presidential nomination for one of the two major parties in the world’s most powerful democracy is in fact the manifestation of the desire for something to fill the infinite space available to those whose business it is to place content where there was once only air. I am not simply talking about the professional print and television media, whose idiot analyses and tired regurgitations of the conventional wisdom would have carried on in the same manner they have done every four years previous, or the “new media,” whose crass gimmickry is presented under the pretense that turning things stupider/more “relatable” makes civic engagement accessible to people who are so without genuine curiosities of their own that they will happily outsource the limited amount of mental space they accord to politics to the first organization that can provide them with a “here’s how” or “what we know about” explanation that doesn’t require any critical thinking and hopefully has a cat doing something funny to explain how terrible things are in Syria. No, I am also talking about anyone whose “brand” requires them to act outraged, or superior, or shocked, or any other emotion, on social media so that they can register their voice in the conversation. These people NEEDED Donald Trump, and in some kind of Jungian fever-dream made flesh, his ascension defied the odds so that we all had something we could cram into every open orifice to which attention must be paid. No field can be left fallow and everything is fields.

But of course that is an absurd explanation for the twin terrors under which we grudgingly endure these days: the horror of being alone with our own thoughts and the horror of what is there to distract us from them. Have you tried to read a book lately? I have, and it’s an excruciating experience. Every couple of minutes I need to go check something online, because God knows what important story a friend may have posted about her trip to the sparkling water collection at the Williamsburg Whole Foods in the brief period of time I spent struggling to achieve an understanding of why Europe went to war in 1914. There is too much of everything and it’s never enough. We can’t focus because they keep throwing more at us but we still feel empty when we’re looking at three things simultaneously. We’re shoving several different desserts into our mouths while at the same time we are vomiting and asking the waiter to bring us extra servings of something different. Is there too much TV now? There is too much everything, and we’re going to need a whole lot more if we’re going to get through it.