TV: escapism or storytelling?

I’ve been wondering this pretty much since freshman year when one of my professors first brought that word into my vocabulary. Is my semi-addiction to television shows justifiable even on some small level, or is it a complete sign of laziness and escapism?

I’m a writer. Stories, and the art of telling them, are some of the things I think about most. One night, as I was falling asleep, I was contemplating the idea that conflict is at the heart of all stories and it is impossible to tell a story without conflict; it would just be a list of events. I routinely dream additions to my novels, and I don’t think an hour has passed lately in which I haven’t thought about my novel and how to make it better. Stories, and their execution, are the things I think about when I have a spare second.

I also think a lot about TV, probably because I watch so much of it, and naturally I’ve started thinking about how these two loves might relate. There are those whose perceptions of me might change if they knew that I watch a lot of TV, thinking it makes me lazy or something worse. How dare I spend hours watching TV instead of doing homework, hanging out with people, or, as every good writer should spend hours doing, reading?

“Castle”: the best TV show out there. Go watch it.

My perspective on that has actually changed recently. I used to feel ashamed every time I opened my computer, put my headphones in, and went to watch “Arrow” or “Castle.” Well, for a few seconds, anyway. Almost as soon as the first scene started rolling I forgot about all those other concerns and got all caught up in, “Oh my gosh, where is Beckett!?” or “Come on Oliver and Felicity, just kiss already!”

Then I realized…TV shows are really nothing more than visual stories. They, like movies, are the visual representation of words on a page, brought to life through actors, sets and dialogue. A good TV show will tell you a story, take you for a wild, spinning ride, and deliver you safely home, in one piece. For 20-40 minutes, it’ll take you somewhere you’ve never stepped foot, but somewhere you’ve traveled to in your mind time and time again.

And isn’t that just what books do? Without the visuals and sounds and everything else that makes TV shows unique? Books also take us on journeys, send us roiling through space or time and introduce us to new characters and places. From Westeros to Narnia to the little house on the prairie, books are simply stories that capture our imaginations and take us by the hand, leading us somewhere else.

The only* difference between a TV show and a book is that one leaves little to your imagination and the other allows you to do all the hard work of creating on your own. Granted, that is a big difference, and I completely understand people who prefer to do their own work. The reason I still prefer books to TV shows is that in TV you don’t get the beautiful descriptions; all you get is dialogue.

But don’t judge me for liking TV shows. Don’t call me an escapist, or lazy. My life, my entire future career will hopefully revolve around stories. So I write and I read, but I also watch TV. It’s just a different storytelling experience, and it’s equally as valid as reading a book.

(This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read books. There are things authors can do in books that screenwriters can only dream of. There is something incredibly gorgeous about reading a well-written book and allowing the author to take you with them. All I’m saying is, give TV a chance as well.)

* I’m being hyperbolic. There are a ton of differences between TV and books, this is just the only one I’m going to focus on today.

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