Worst Insult Ever: “I don’t have a TV”

This happens multiple times a week: I’m having a conversation with someone and they inevitably start talking about a TV show. I inform them I haven’t seen it, so of course they start talking about another show and I’m forced to say the dreaded words:

“I don’t have a TV”

It’s as if, in the middle of our discussion, I decided to wave around my genitals while singing “Deutschland über alles“. Later, on social media I see they’ve posted:  “I hate people who are always saying they don’t have a TV, it’s so elitist and rude.”

Fine. Fuck it. I give up.

An open letter to TV viewers who want to talk to me about TV:

How do you want to handle this because apparently what I’m doing isn’t working. You want to talk about TV, I don’t have a TV, but then you get offended when I tell you I don’t have one.

We are at an impasse.

Somethings gotta give. Let’s start with the fact that I’m not getting a TV and you obviously want to talk about TV, thus we need to figure something out.

Not getting one till they bring back 'Lidsville'

Not getting one till they bring back ‘Lidsville’

However, before we go on it’s essential to address the following point because it’s a foundational issue: The blowback against those who verbalize their lacking in this area seems to center around the absurd contention that people without TVs are somehow always telling everyone about it. I suggest the opposite: there are a lot of folks who want to talk about television all the fucking time and we without TV’s functionally can’t, and are therefore forced to mention it to people WHO ARE ALWAYS GOING ON AT LENGTH ABOUT FUCKING TV.

Look back on every conversation you’ve ever had with a non-TV owner and think if it really started with them offering out of the blue, “I don’t have a TV, let me tell you all about not having one…” Is that how it went? Really? You know what, those who don’t practice a particular hobby or activity are not prone to carrying on about their lack of participation. However, those that do a particular thing notably are. We’ve all been bored at a party listening to someone drone on about an interest after it’s been made apparent through easily detectable social cues no one actually wants to talk about that. When you’re talking to me about TV, that’s you.

Examples: No one says “Today I didn’t practice Ikebana, the traditional flower arranging art of Japan because I have no knowledge of its requirements or practice.” Neither do I describe my not boar hunting, my lack of a steam-powered gyrocopter or the fact that I don’t keep an alpine ibex for a pet.

Oh, you don't have one? Surely you'll want to discuss them at length then.

Oh, you don’t have one? Surely you’ll want to discuss them at length then.

Because I don’t watch TV I’m NEVER the one to bring it up as a topic. Why would I? So what do you want me to do after you’ve ask if I watch Game of Thrones? I’ve said I don’t, but THEN you inevitably have to ask if I watch House of Cards. I say, “no.” So then you ask about Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad? Are you not getting the picture here?

It’s a similar issue for people who went to Harvard I’ve found (I did not go to Harvard). People ask, “Where did you go to school?” They say, “Cambridge.” The inquisitor then asks, “Where in Cambridge?” and the one being questioned finally has to break down and say, “Harvard.” Next thing they’re dealing with someone going on about “I hate how people who went to Harvard are always throwing it around.” Well, what the fuck are they supposed to say when talking about college? She tried being vague, but you pressed her. Some people went to Harvard, get over it.

So in our imagined conversation I’ve just said I don’t watch the three shows you’ve offered. Three popular shows and I’ve never seen a singe episode of any of them. Huh. Yet the possibility I don’t watch ANY television at all has somehow not made it out onto the stage of the Cartesian theater of your consciousness (which may or may not have been addled by some passive, mindless activity you spend too much time at) so you keep listing shows like some kind of TV Guide girded in human flesh until you, exasperated, blurt out, “What shows do you like then?” And thus cornered I am forced to slap you in your very face with the the fact that I don’t have a TV.

My bad, I guess.

No other appliance seems to muster such affrontery. My foodie hipster friends without  microwaves don’t engender rage explaining their meal-warming life-choices. It’s not an insult for them to heat their coffee on a stove (for the record I have a microwave that I love the shit out of). Tell people you don’t have a stand-up mixer or even a dryer and no one gets huffy about it. But man, mention you don’t have a TV in context and they think you are making some kind of cultural judgement. Full disclosure: I am. But that’s fine, we don’t have to like the same things.

You're not into extreme ironing? That's cool.

Oh you’re not into extreme ironing? That’s cool. I guess.

It’s my choice and I’m happy with it. I’ve tried every possible way to inform you of this without offending you. I’ve nodded along. I’ve hoped you’d change the topic. I even said “I don’t watch much TV,” hoping you’d take the hint. But then you started telling me about the ‘educational’ TV you watch, how you and your significant other are really into ‘binge watching’ this one show, all the food programs you get great ideas from and then on to your ‘guilty pleasure trash reality TV’ you ‘hatewatch’ and you know what? WE ARE STILL TALKING ABOUT FUCKING TV. The only way to get you to shut up about TV is to tell you I have absolutely no knowledge about TV beyond what I casually pick up via cultural osmosis and no desire to obtain more. It’s just not a thing I do.

So how to handle this? Should we come up with some kind of agreed-upon physical gesture I can make when the topic of TV comes up as not to upset your sensibilities? A flashing lapel pin? An app that tells every smartphone in a 50 yard radius a non TV-watcher is nearby so they can avoid talking to me? Semaphore flags? Hipster beard and copy of “Infinite Jest” tucked under one arm at all times?

maybe just show you this?
Should I get this to show you?

You tell me, TV people. I’m all out of ideas.









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  1. Geezus Jim, you sound like a vegan.

  2. I have been without a TV set for 10 years and I hear you, Jim. (I also used to work at Harvard!) I make the distinction “set” because these days, you can watch TV shows on so many other devices. And I do. I feel like I’ve got all the “TV” I want and don’t have to orient my small apartment around an ugly appliance. But I still find people bristle or scoff. How can I possibly enjoy House of Cards without the magic of HD accentuating Kevin Spacey’s wrinkles?? My husband likes telling people he doesn’t have a TV because he enjoys seeing people act out entire programs. (Really, though, you must watch Bob’s Burgers.)

  3. I’m in the same club.

    But I perceive this as a manifestation of people losing “pump handle” affiliations: common experiences among people that can form the basis of community identity and orientation. When people of yore gathered round ye old pump handle to draw the day’s water, they also shared the news and gossip du jour. Radio and then teevee served as proxies in their respective heydays.

    The intertubes are so vast and varied, that the collectivistic identity sustainability isn’t there. But no one has developed an IRL current day means of accomplishing this.

  4. Or they just like to talk about TV.

  5. Martin Del Vecchio

    Breaking Bad was great, but The Wire was even better.

  6. Fascinating. I saw something about this on HBO.

  7. Stevens Brosnihan

    I’ll give you the number of our TV scribe. She and her apprentices can provide you with acceptable illuminated content in a yearly, leather-bound volume for only $10k. She has a vegan option, but I prefer the feel of goatskin parchment over crude cotton. The theme song to Walking Dead looks beautiful when scripted in square notation.

  8. So you watch on your iPhone right? 🙂

  9. I love your material Jim….you should be on TV with stuff like this!

  10. This is hilarious. How do you ever find the time to write stuff like this?

  11. This cracks me up! We have one tv, but every three or four years, I get annoyed with it and stop the cable. That’s why my kids power thru seasons of their fave shows in a week. They don’t know when or where their mother will get tv adverse. Then it’s the sweet pace of books and pleasant conversation. Uh, nope, back that one up, I have teens. I meant oftentimes churlish and unreasonable and profane and hilarious conversation. Which is better than tv, lol.

  12. Really the way to go I find is to take one item in the TV thing their talking about, and actually talk about that thing in its own right. Use lead ins like “Did you read about…?” and “Were you listening when…?” to see if you’re in the presence of someone that has books or a radio. As a last resort, talk about things you actually do, you know, here in the real world. That’s how I handle them at least.

    Sold my TV the summer before the O.J. trial. Has there been a reason other than the olympics to buy it back?

    • Actually, there have been many; and this comment embraces the sort of tone that pisses people who do have televisions, off. I do detest that sort of snobbery.

      I won’t judge anybody’s not having one – fabulous choice for yourself/selves! But point to the positives of not embracing TV culture, rather than dissing the culture, and – ergo, those that are part of it.

  13. I don’t like quinoa. I don’t like how it tastes and I really don’t like that I don’t know how its pronounced… Keen-WA, KEEN-wa, or Kee NOH ah? Nope, not on my shopping list.

  14. Television is like food: it’s all about quality and portion control. Used to be, you could just get over-the-air broadcast channels. Too little quality; too little quantity, i.e., no variety. Then, you get cable. It’s like going from a vending machine to a Super Stop &Shop. Too much of everything. You can “shop the perimeter” and find fine and useful programming. Problem is, it’s easy to let television become ( in the words of the late, great NYTimes writer) John Leonard, “Noisy furniture.”

    One of my favorite aspects of living a hyper-TV’d world is that my TV-free friends come over for certain critical cultural events: presidential debates, Downton Abbey, and Teletubbies reruns. As a host, it’s easier than cooking.

    • ‘Teletubbies’ re-runs, eh?

      Drug of choice: MDMA or LSD?!

      • I read someplace that Iris Murdoch, in the waning days of her Alzheimer’s disease, loved to watch the Teletubbies. That made them stick in my head. Who could be next.

  15. what happened to your tv? we could talk about that.

  16. I used to have this problem, I work at Harvard, did not have a TV, and my kids grew up as mutants who could not speak since they had never seen the purple dinosaur or Sesame Street.

    The cure is Apple TV and iTunes. Every other weekend we now gorge ourselves on one season of something. A couple of years ago we started with “The Wire”, Breaking Bad, and we just finished Friday Night Lights.

    There are two things I hated with TV. Commercials (iTunes does not have them) and the fact that most TV sucked. But if you let the stuff sit for a while people will tell you that the first and second year of the The Wire was awesome.

    A lesson: always listen. As a nerd I was attracted to “Scorpion” and thought the first one was great so we bought the season. The rest of them have sucked worse than watched Adam12 reruns.

    But the one take home message I have found is that TV these days is actually pretty decent entertainment rivaling movies in production.

  17. TV is in my life pretty much to give me a place to watch sports. And obscure educational shows, along with Top Gear. But even there, I watch virtually none of the shows that people use to define their worlds, so I might as well not have one at all.

    Except then I wouldn’t have my sports, and watching things only on my Mac screen would kinda suck.

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