My family didn’t get cable television until I was in the sixth grade. Until then, I resented my parents for depriving me of this simple luxury. It was unfair to me that all my friends could enjoy a buffet of television options whenever they wanted while I had limited choices which included weekly airings of Wishbone and Full House.
I didn’t realize it then, but the lack of options made it so that television was never part of my routine and rarely my first choice for entertainment. Instead, I’d opt for writing stories or doing art projects (leaf pressing, stone polishing, sand designs and anything else sold in a D-I-Y kit at Target). Family time around the television was similarly sparse, and occurred only after we’d exhausted other post-dinner group activities like board games or going for a walk.
These television alternatives always served their purpose in entertaining me. At the end of any of my self-directed episodes of fun, I was completely beside myself with happiness. I walked away satisfied.
I still remember the miraculous day that I returned from school to learn the miraculous news: we had cable. It was like a dream come true and I imagined that now, by association, my life would be just like a sitcom, with lots of laughter, superficial beauty, and whatever “perfect” was supposed to be. I spent that Friday night binge watching shows on The Disney Channel.
Over the next few weeks, I was slowly sucked in by the characters and worlds that I considered to be analog to me and my current or aspirational life. I couldn’t wait to experience high school, college, and adulthood in the ways these characters did.
But by the end of high school, my appreciation for television had taken an inexplicable turn. At the end of an episode of most anything, I felt not entertained, but empty. It was back to reality, and a reality that was more and more distant from what I saw on television. I was stressed about academics, intimidated by social dynamics, nervous about my future, and uncomfortable in my own skin. Immersing myself in episodes of perfect families, perfect friends, perfect students, perfect bodies, perfect skin, and perfect comforts for even characters that were supposed to be “struggling,” only reminded me of what I was not. Though most of their worries and problems could be solved within a thirty-minute episode, all mine were only aggravated during that time.
Finally, I did what my pre-cable self could have never imagined possible: I effectively stopped watching television. Though I misinterpreted the reason back then (I told myself I just didn’t have time), I now realize that it was because television made me feel insecure about every aspect of my life, from my body to my day-to-day experiences.
To this day, I don’t feel compelled to watch television and follow only countable shows. The Office was one in college, and now it’s The Mindy Project. There are several unsurprising reasons it makes the short list including the fact that I find her laugh-out-loud hilarious and that I identify with her given our shared ethnicities.
But the main, and more subtle reason, is that she has established herself as a human off-screen. Be it through her open admissions about the importance of hard work or via her raw and authentic instagram, she is unlike many celebrities and lifebloggers out there who rarely break the fourth wall.
And it’s not just other celebrities. I’ve increasingly noticed the seemingly curated life I, and all of us, share on our various social networks. We don’t necessarily deserve all the blame, as these platforms tempt us with opportunities to filter the world around us and compete for recognition via likes, making it easier than ever for us to portray our lives as the ones we see in media. They encourage us to live lives of self-compsure and photographic exposure.
Mindy’s transparency is refreshing and in some ways, has helped me begin to build an adult appreciation for television and its entertainment value (ignoring for a moment that her show doesn’t actually appear on conventional television).
Though I often worry about the ways in which social media and technology will affect current and future generations of insecure adolescents (and adults), people like Mindy make me hopeful about the ways these channels enable humans to connect at the most fundamental levels.
Instead of ending this article with a bow like every thirty-minute television sitcom episode, I’ll instead leave you with one way in which Mindy’s life is exactly like the one I live, and am living at this very moment: