What A Turn Off

Emily Mulenga

I am a visual artist and writer, although I should probably have a degree in doing silly faces instead. Despite this, I have some solid opinions on serious things such as consumer culture, the concepts of kitsch and bad taste, and which flavour Fruit Pastille to avoid.

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When you’re a poor student, barely surviving on a combination of egg mayonnaise sandwiches and jelly snakes, certain privileges you enjoyed in your pre-uni life have to go.

For many, one of the biggest downsides of living away from home during university life, other than not having a loving parent around to iron your underpants, is the possibility of not being able to afford a TV license. However, having chipped in with friends for a license during the first two years of my higher education, I witnessed myself roll down a slippery slope, one littered with guilt, addiction, and Judge Judy.

Each day during first year, after a hard day at uni being confronted with tutors telling you with pursed lips that they don’t quite get your work, putting on the television became a nice dinnertime distraction. The television didn’t judge, instead simply welcoming me with open arms into its cosy embrace. It carried me off well into the wee hours with its enticing tales, like a cool, older friend, with its cap on backwards.

During second year the situation had escalated. For some reason, Channel 4’s Beauty and the Geek became essential morning viewing, and Jeremy Kyle became a true friend and life companion.  Add to this the wonders of CBeebies and you had my arrival time at uni averaging out at around 2pm. The discovery that both Horrible Histories and repeats of Fun House aired at 4pm compounded the problem. I worshipped at the altar of Extreme Makeover, whilst a further low point was watching Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, and enjoying it. It was as if the cool friend I had before had started to offer me meth.

The feeling of panic I experienced when finding out we wouldn’t be having a television at our flat this year was an indication that something had to give. It was time to Talk to Frank (Butcher), and go totally telly cold turkey. And lo and behold, after an initial hollow feeling, the television-shaped chasm in my life became a refreshing freedom. The world, contrary to my initial anxieties, carried on turning even if I didn’t watch BBC News, and became a less depressing place in the process. Several hundred thousand of my brain cells were saved from a BBC Three-induced sticky end. Along with the rest of my year I used to look upon the only kid in school whose parents didn’t own a TV with bemusement, but we all had egg on our face when he landed a place at Cambridge.

That isn’t to suggest that giving up on watching your favourite shows will automatically make you a genius, especially if they happen to be The Culture Show, or Countdown. But it helps, even if only to give your brain a spring clean and free up some valuable mind space.

One of the biggest reliefs of all is not having to be forcefully subjected to advert breaks every fifteen minutes. With television advertising’s perpetual bombardment of stuff and noise in the name of consumerism, coupled with the way in which, in many households, the television is left on constantly, I am surprised more members of the public haven’t been driven to insanity. This also applies to the TV shows themselves, where viewers will watch the slow motion car crash that is ITV2 because they feel that anything is better than the sound of silence, and peace, and real conversation with other people in the room.

Of course, there are many reasons to carry on watching the ol’ gogglebox. Fascinating documentaries and brilliant dramas are aplenty, if you know what to look for. But when the internet exists, the need for a million channels filled with nonsense is thankfully snatched away. In the age of iPlayer, downloads and Blu-Ray box sets, all you have to do is make a beeline for what you really want.

Which, in turn, has led to a new downfall. Be right back, I’m off to feed my YouTube habit.