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A plan for a healthy TV diet

by Thomas Dillon

The world is going to pieces. I know because the television told me so. Global warming, economic meltdown, regional conflicts, partisan politics, Justin Bieber. Is there anything good happening? Anywhere?

“The problem,” says my luncheon mate, “is not the world. It’s you.”

Now how can that be? I only know what the television tells me. Or what I read online. I am a victim, a passive victim.

I am like a sparring partner without a helmet. Or gloves. Or even the idea that a punch may be coming. I turn on the TV and — wham! — I lay flat on my back.

“That’s just it,” I am told. “You’re too passive. You need to be more proactive about what you view.”

What? I just watch what’s on. It’s not my fault that everything I see either depresses me, infuriates me or makes me question the sanity of the program director.

That’s because, my friend says, I have no equilibrium. “The person whose sanity you should be questioning is your own.”

“Watching television,” he continues, “is like maintaining a proper diet. You need balance. When you eat, if you overindulge in sugar or intake too many carbohydrates, your body will react. Get out of whack TV-wise, and what reacts is your brain.

“In comparison, the Internet’s much healthier. There you can surf through vast smorgasbords of content. You can better pick and choose. But with TV your choices are limited. It’s far easier to lose balance.”

So what does he suggest? Avoiding TV altogether? “No. You just need a good session with a ‘TV Nutritionist.’ ” And, like that, he offers his services.

“First,” he says, “tell me your proportion of TV watching, percentage-wise.”

“Well . . . I put news at 60 percent. Then sports like baseball, sumo — make that 20 percent. And then, oh some detective dramas, maybe some game shows. Together that’s another 10 percent.”

“And the final 10?”

“The weather. I watch a lot of weather.”

“There you go. You’re completely out of kilter. It’s a wonder you haven’t lost your mind. For starters, you’re watching no music whatsoever.”

“But Japanese music shows drive me nuts — the enka warblers and the dancing bimbos. If you’ve watched a minute, you’ve watched a lifetime. It’s all the same.”

He shakes his head. “You have to think of music like mayonnaise. It helps the rest of the sandwich slide on down, no matter how dry. You need a bit to get you through the heavier shows. From now on, do 5 percent music shows a week.”

“And,” he says, “cut your sports intake. Talk about being the same! Just plug in different names and uniforms. Or in the case of sumo, different backsides. For the whining and hyperbole of the announcers is identical. Watch 5 percent tops. Any more and you might come to think that sports are somehow important. They’re not.”

“As for dramas,” he says, “they are also identical, no matter what the genre, hackneyed plots planked up with wooden acting. That goes double for detective fare. Over-watch and you might end up expecting Japan to be somewhat mysterious or even exciting. It’s not.”

“There’s no mystery? Anywhere.”

“Nope. Japan is mostly monotony, divided into four seasons. The real mystery is why anyone watches those dramas. Keep it to 5 percent tops.”

“Next, the news. You watch 60 percent? It’s a wonder you’re not in a straightjacket. No more than 5 percent here too.”

I ask why. “For one thing, domestic news typically contains nothing but political scandals, economic gloom and other assorted handwringing. All expressed in overkill, with the same video clips looping round and round. And international news is almost always light, like an after dinner wafer. No calories whatsoever.”

“How about variety shows?” I ask.

“What variety?” he answers. “They’re all the same. With nothing original either. Big mouths and big boredom. Big mistake if you watch too much. Rule of thumb? Only 5 percent!”

“Game shows?”

“OK. Here you can go to 10 percent. For you might actually learn something. That is, if you can stand the cliff-hanging cuts to commercial. Yet, if content gets heavy and you start feeling too highbrow, you can dilute the intellectual input by watching an added hour of variety per week. Or an extra two minutes of NHK news. Either will do.”

“And reality TV?”

“Again, 5 percent. As long as you understand there’s no such thing as TV reality. If you want reality, look in a mirror.”

I add it up. “That’s only 40 percent. Less than half. What do I do with the rest of my TV time?”

He shrugs. “What else — the weather. It’s like bread or rice, the ultimate staple. It has everything: suspense (will they get it right?), sexy buffoonery (weather girls), hard information (the barometer reading) and animation (flashing thunderbolts). Stick with lots of weather and you will always have a healthy TV diet.”

And the world won’t go to pieces?

“Well,” he says, smiling, “if it does, at least you won’t be caught without an umbrella.”