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From Virtuality to Reality: Memoirs from a Reformed TV Addict

Alex Kurtagic
Occidental Observer
Friday, September 24, 2010

Ten years ago, I lived in, and worked from, a one-bedroom flat in East Finchley, London. I had a large, rectangular living-dining room area, part of which was my office. My day would begin with the arrival of the postman before 9 in the morning, which brought packets with CDs and orders from customers; it would continue with the daily processing of orders, answering of emails, and preparation and mailing of packets; and it would end with research and development work.

At 7pm, however, I stopped and switched on the television — invariably to watch the news. And from that time on, until I went to bed, and interrupted only by occasional bouts of guitar playing, I would remain seated or lying down on the sofa, in front of the television, watching show after show — anything ranging from the mildly entertaining to the least tedious of whatever was on offer. On Fridays I stayed up later than usual (watching television), and on weekends I switched the device on even earlier, and remained hypnotized by the screen into the wee hours of the morning. I calculate that between 1994 and 2001 I averaged over 7 hours per day, 50 hours per week, 2,548 hours per year, and 17,836 hours in total — a PhD takes approximately 7,300 hours to complete.

Fortunately for me, I was not entirely unproductive during this time: between 1995 and 1998 I composed three albums, drew many album covers, and taught myself high-end computer programs; I also weight trained three times a week, had girlfriends, and found time to read a fair number of cognitively-stimulating books. (The latter included Tipler and Barrow’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind, Preston’s Franco, Coveney and Highfield’s The Arrow of Time, plus some classic fiction.)

However, since the Summer of 2002, when I put an end to my TV addiction, I have often asked myself: How much more could I have accomplished in my 20s, had I not wasted so much time on an ultimately unrewarding and unproductive activity? And: How much better prepared I would have been to meet the challenges of the dystopian future I anticipate in my novel Mister (a future that is coming) had I spent that time learning about whom and what is behind the world I live in, instead of remaining submerged in (and distracted by) the feel-good fictions that have been designed to conceal them.

There were, of course, good reasons for this addiction. Because of moving and changing schools frequently (particularly during my teens), I would typically make friends one year and have to start all over again the following year. It also meant that all my girlfriends during that period moved away mid-way through a relationship. The frequent disruptions were aggravated by the fact that people like me, who have grown up in countries with different cultures, have a poor track record of making close friendships and keeping in touch with those with whom friendships are made (see: Dr. R. A. Bergemann’s Global Leaders: A Review of the Globalite Culture [forthcoming]).

The result was that, during the nineties, my having a thriving business designed around myself and based at home, away from family and friends, soon led to a hermitic existence. Television thus became a substitute for real human interaction — and one that suited me well, as not having to deal with people calling in, visitors, flat mates, or regular social or family obligations enabled me to work any and all hours on my business and my projects — which is what I wanted to focus on.

My television-watching habit formed during childhood. My parents were very focused on their corporate careers and I was an only child, so, from the age of seven onwards, I spent most afternoons after school on my own (before that my parents had a maid). The school bus would drop me off, I would let myself into our apartment, and from four o’clock onwards, I would watch television. My parents would arrive home in the early evening, my mother would cook me dinner, and we would all sit down to watch television until I was sent to bed around 9:00 PM. Of course, being a creative type, I could not simply sit there for 4 or 5 hours in a vegetative state. Throughout my childhood I made thousands of drawings while in front of the television. I also wrote down all the numbers from 1 to 10,000, twice; catalogued and memorized every American car model build between 1940 and 1979, plus all the Mercedes Benz models; and learned to tell which number code corresponded to which shade and which description in the entire Berol Prismacolor pencil range.

In the face of such intensive exposure to the medium, my view of the adult world beyond my parents inevitably came to be shaped by television — not so much the children’s programming, however, but the incessant cop shows my parents enjoyed watching: Kojak, Canon, McCloud, Starsky and Hutch, Columbo.

This is apparent in the cartoons, comic strips, and animations I drew as a child, as well as in my choice of Lego constructions: I drew and built cars, with which I then re-enacted the car chases I had seen on television (especially the ones from the 1978 film, The Driver; watch them here and here). It also influenced my writing: at the age of 12 I wrote a 15,000-word Columbo-style murder investigation story; and even over a quarter of a century later, my novel Mister ended up with substantial police interrogation, police station, and police detention cell scenes, satirizing the ones I must have seen on the gimmicky cop shows I was bombarded with during the 1970s. The degree to which my worldview became shaped by what I saw and heard on television, however, only became apparent years after I quit consuming its content.

I was always aware that I was an avid consumer of television, yet it was not until January 1995 that I first realized that I had become psychologically dependent on this medium, and that it filled an enormous cognitive space in my life. When my television set broke down and I was forced to leave it at the repair shop for a week, the sudden silence at home proved acutely unsettling. Access to a CD collection mitigated somewhat the oppressive stillness around me; but this was before I had access to the internet, and music could not replace the link to the outside world that the television had been providing for me — if in its own mediated and distorted way. And the grimness of my material circumstances at the time was certainly of little help. I quickly scrambled for a substitute, which I found in a small radio alarm, and this sustained me — barely — until I recovered my television set. I sighed with atmosphere-rippling relief when I was finally able to plug it back in and switch it back on.

From Virtuality to Reality: Memoirs from a Reformed TV Addict AK TV
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dept. of Labor, U.S. Government
American Time Use Survey (ATUS) 2003

Like many people, there were programs I would not miss for anything, and I structured my life around the television schedule. On occasion, this led to truly absurd situations. Later that year, for example, Creative Review, a monthly magazine showcasing some of the best contemporary advertising, design, illustration, new media, photography, and typography, designated me the best magazine illustrator of the year, awarded me a prize, showcased me and my winning illustration in their The Annual double issue, and had my illustration exhibited at the Royal College of Art, in London, where they held a reception. Instead of rushing to attend the latter, however, I chose to stay at home and watch a nuclear — but completely irrelevant — parliamentary exchange between the then Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard and his shadow in the Labour Party, Jack Straw, on an issue to do with the prison service. I did eventually make it to the reception, but it was near the end. And, sadly, I did not even regret my choice.

Another time I became conscious of my psychological dependence on television was when I moved to a semi-rural, Victorian three-bedroom cottage in Surrey in October 2000. Prior to moving, I had made sure to schedule with Sky (the United Kingdom’s largest satellite television provider) a dish installation the very next day after I moved in, because I was absolutely determined not to miss out on an edition of a particular documentary I was following at the time.

Awakening and Reform

Television had become for me — as it has for many in the West — an electronic drug, and, after 27 years of continuous exposure to it, had circumstances remained unchanged, I might have never cured myself of this habit — or even found a reason to try. Fortunately, however, three events took place between 2000 and 2001 that loosened the medium’s hold on my mind.

Firstly, I signed up to Sky in May 2000. This suddenly gave me access to hundreds of channels and led to an initial surge in television watching. However, in due course the effect of increased choice was to narrow my television diet to strictly circumscribed categories: in my case, it was mainly news, space documentaries, and science fiction films. Such a monotonous diet eventually made it easier to derive progressively less satisfaction from television — a process identified in 2002 by researchers investigating television addiction.

Secondly, David Irving lost his appeal to Judge Gray’s decision in his defamation suit against Deborah Lipstadt. BBC Radio 4 reported Irving’s defeat in the Today program, where he was aggressively interviewed by John Humphries. I had not followed the trial, or even been aware of it, until April 2000, when Irving’s original defeat led to his being interviewed on television by Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight. The radio report of Irving’s travails led me — because I like to hear both sides of an extraordinary story — to his website, which provided access to an alternative perspective on the world.

It was the interdisciplinary process of attempting to determine whether Irving was telling the truth or was indeed a forger — as was claimed by the mainstream media — that made me conscious of how histories, and historiographical methodologies, can be — and indeed are — a process whereby politicized factions with competing power agendas attempt to construct self-serving versions of reality, in the attempt to gain or perpetuate cultural hegemony. The interaction between this research and my undergraduate training in art, video, sociology, and media, encouraged me to take an increasingly critical view of what I was presented with by the television screen.

And thirdly, 9/11 took place. I had my own personal link to the twin towers, having stood inside them as an astonished 5-year-old in December 1975; but, most importantly, the moment I saw the smoking ruins on the television screen, and learned of the hijacking, I knew beyond any doubt that the attack was a consequence of the American government’s pro-Israel foreign policy in the Middle East. The research I conducted in my attempts to better understand the event brought Neo-Conservatism into relief and led me to the inevitable controversies surrounding Zionism in America and Jewish power and cultural and economic influence.

Not surprisingly in retrospect, enlightenment brought depression. On the one hand, it was fascinating to discover that there was an entire layer of reality about which I had been completely ignorant, and which imbued existence with a new level of complexity — and danger. On the other hand, it was depressing to find that the present historical trajectory led, not to the future of mind-blowing technologies, space exploration, and scientific discovery that I had come to imagine through my exposure to science fiction, but to a gloomy future of cultural decline, universal poverty, state-sponsored oppression, and intellectually-orchestrated racial extinction.

Once awakened to these realities, it became increasingly difficult not to notice a persistent and all pervasive pattern of semiotic bias and deception encoded in all Western television and general media content. Moreover, it became increasingly easy to identify how this content had been designed, sponsored, or otherwise shaped by plutocratic, ideologically-harmonious, and often tribal cliques, who had an interest in anticipating and neutralizing opposition to their nefarious order through conscious or semi-conscious strategies of public distraction, disinformation, enculturation, and infantilization.

I came to see, in other words, how television was not simply a provider of entertainment for its brainless audiences, a source of employment for its frivolous professionals, and a font of profits for its money-hungry proprietors; but also a cognitive anesthetic, which encouraged a non-threatening, system-preserving lifestyle of superficial and trivial knowledge, political conformity and passivity, and narcissistic and pleasure-oriented consumption. A society whose populace is ignorant, sedentary, and materialistic is not a society whose academic, political, and media establishment fears its dislodgement and disprivileging by violent revolution.

It eventually proved a normal and logical step one evening in the Summer of 2002 to make a conscious choice not to switch on the television, and instead attack the system that wanted get rid of me by educating myself and eventually becoming involved in some form of oppositional activity. I never looked back.

View from the Other Side

My new life as a non-consumer of television instantly yielded significant benefits. Suddenly I had seven hours extra per day to invest in learning and creating: I recorded my third album, and composed and recorded a fourth; I read hundreds of serious, non-fiction books, plus the Greek and Roman classics; I learnt a third language and began learning a fourth; I completed a postgraduate degree; I grew my social capital; I began writing novels; I met a talented and beautiful girl and married her; and much more. I believe I have achieved and contributed twice as much in my 30s than I ever did in my 20s.

The beginning of this new life was defined by a vehemently negative attitude towards television: Angered by having wasted so much valuable time, I was, as is perhaps normal and natural, possessed by the zeal of the converted. As time passed, however, this attitude matured into one of scientific detachment, and I was able to dip in and out of the medium, to obtain what I needed, without fear of a relapse. (Indeed, my wife, who never knew me as a television addict, cannot imagine me suffering from such a condition.)

It came to seem a sociologically interesting phenomenon how the television set is the physical and psychological axis of most Western living rooms; how evening news reports and analyses are often repeated — verbatim and unquestioned — in office conversation the following morning; how well-educated professionals vehemently reproduce attitudes that are often illogical or counter to their interests simply because the latter have been normalized by television; or how highly intelligent viewers develop obsessive relationships with particular shows and strong attachments to fictional characters, living vicariously through them.

What struck me the most, however, was the degree to which on-screen behaviors, utterances, and juxtapositions of sounds and images that I had as an addict accepted as normal suddenly appeared blatantly ideological, gimmick-ridden, revisionistic, and grotesquely artificial. I always knew that this was to be expected of any film or program by tribally-oriented directors and producers like Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee, but the fact was that this applied even to the most unlikely and seemingly innocuous of programs, where the same iniquitous politically correct, anti-White, hedonistic, materialistic, postmodernistic messages were encoded and disguised in quasi-subliminal metaphor. (In Mister I satirized this by writing into my dystopian future the existence of an underground, Esoteric Hitlerist version of Space: Above and Beyond.)

The medium’s style and content, in short, which in the past had remained invisible to me as a taken-for-granted property of the medium itself, subsequently became in my mind dissociated from the latter and distinctly foreign: It suggested a group personality that was over-verbal, highly-neurotic, emotionally intense, liberal, urban, cosmopolitan, and (despite the apparent contradiction) authoritarian — attributes that Kevin MacDonald has identified in various 20th century Jewish intellectual movements.

And, in this context, it became particularly alarming for me to see my neighbor’s teenage son avidly consuming episodes of Friends, and having his worldview subconsciously and progressively shaped by its writers and their ilk, for these had — by then to me obvious — views, attitudes, and aspirations that in important ways conflicted with those of European-descended peoples. The reverent references to Freud seen in shows like Frasier were just the tip of the iceberg.

A Simple Act

Given the pervasiveness of television as a medium in the West, and the dependency of its content on the munificence and toleration of small, interlocking cliques of individuals with highly compatible political, ethnic, economic, and/or cultural interests, it is difficult not to take a political view. Mine is that, if you are not satisfied with the status quo, if the future being decided for you in the top echelons of power seems bleak, if you believe you are ruled by a hostile or heinous establishment, one of the first acts of resistance available to you is the practice of an embargo on that establishment’s principal weapon of mass distraction: television.

A hypoglycemic coach potato dozing off in front of a televised boxing match, a metrosexual modeled after his twitchy counterparts in Friends, and, in general, a self-satisfied, superficially-minded consumer who is not given reason to question the modern myths of social progress and endless economic growth, may occasionally complain about lying politicians (meaning perhaps a little more than he dares to say). But such a person is unlikely to lead an armed insurrection or otherwise become actively engaged in ousting a noxious establishment.

And because it is a source of propaganda, television is particularly effective at neutralizing the most highly capable elements in a population (see Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda). Therefore, boycotting television is freeing up your mind, your body, and swathes of creative time that can be profitably invested in self-improvement, relationships, networking, preparation, opposition, and change.

It bears thinking that every minute that a person spends on a productive activity while everyone else is sitting at home watching television, that person has an edge and is taking control of his destiny. If he sustains the effort, and channels it effectively, he may one day come to shape events, while television viewers remain shaped by them.

Commentators and theorists on the right often focus on macro events, vast conspiracies, historical morphology, evolutionary trends, and civilizational collapse — and this is all well and good, as it needs commenting and theorizing upon. But the emphasis on metanarratives and metapolitics can infuse a sense of despair: Events are too large for a mere individual to have an effect, it seems.

This is a mistake.

The truth is that the great changes taking place out there had small beginnings, and often enough began with a single individual performing a simple act. That those changes have grown into an omnivorous monstrosity owes not to their inevitability, but to the absence of an informed, focused, and effective opposition.

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