Watching lots of TV is not a great moral failure on the part of the unemployed

This shouldn’t have to be explained, but it does. There is a cohort of very ill-bred people, probably present in every society but positively teeming in the United States, that likes to smear anyone who happens to be out of work as constitutionally lazy. Dealing with these people by stuffing a hearty old pile of rag into their mouths, Charles Cullen-style, would be a bit censorious but not entirely inappropriate and certainly not inequitable, but I write of glorious ideals, not reality. We’re Americans, so of course we’re too servile and chickenshit to so much as tell these people off for running crude social controls on their countrymen. Good God, most of us are too servile and chickenshit to say bad things about these asshats behind their backs. Isn’t it a funny country!

Mike Cernovich posted this graph from the New York Times the other day (source here), with the caption, “Unemployed Americans watch a lot of television.” This description amounts to a hot take on a flawed data set, but my problem in this case isn’t with Cernovich himself, even if his analysis is daft. He very much looks like a reasonable person of goodwill. He does a lot to encourage other people to get up off their asses and get some exercise, and meanwhile my 248-pound ass is sitting in front of a computer screen at my parents’ place, shortly to be nourished by another slice of pizza. Through my fault, through my most grievous, etc.

Also, it’s a North Country thing; I don’t drink like the locals do, or hold a candle to that rabble of vulgar North English in crashing into the region’s picturesque trees, cliffs, and lakes while totally fucking loaded. One often gets the feeling that there’s nothing to do up here but drink like Australians and sup like pigs all winter. My family’s oral tradition about fat Adirondackers and quiche (three Adirondackers, two ten-inch quiches, no leftovers) is at least a wee bit barfworthy, and that shit didn’t even go down the hatch in the Adirondacks. The fuckers had to go to Pennsylvania for that fressfest. My parents are still appalled: my dad had made the quiche, and they were planning to have a slice each for dinner. But this is what happens when one has to go to work and allows the retired (and pretired) access to one’s refrigerator. “Feel free to help yourself to a slice” doesn’t define “slice” or “free,” nor does it delineate liberty from license. One does not simply put the festively plump on a diet from a distance, unless one is responsible for agricultural policy at Whitehall or the Kremlin.

In any event, Cernovich looks legit. He clearly loves and practices the virtues that he preaches. Crucially, he doesn’t try to impose these virtues through crude social controls. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, Mike Cernovich would not eat me under the Round Table. He’s all about exercise and healthy eating. Limbaugh is all about self-control for other people. It’s only the rest of us who are fat, drug-addled sluts. We’d all be better off if that fucker retired to Cape Girardeau for a leisured Marlon Brando lifestyle of biscuits and Oxycodone. It’s not that I have anything against fat Missourians, mind you; Sam Dotson is all right, mostly, certainly more all right than Jon Belmar. Or fat cops from other states. Ronal Serpas? My God, that boy can eat, but my God, that boy can also drum thugs out of the department and run one of the best-disciplined police administrations in New Orleans history. Who dat! These two are all right because, whatever they’re eating, it hasn’t turned them into wonders of self-loathing who accuse other people of poor self-control because it takes one to know one. Then again, Dotson’s official radio addresses aren’t in danger of breaking the internet. It’s probably because he isn’t vicious and stupid enough for his own country. To channel Muhammad Ali again, no fat crackhead from Etobicoke ever accused me of drinking too much Tsingtao at the China Buffet.

Enough of fat people who have government jobs. What about those who are plumper than we are employed? For starters, the NYT time management chart is teeming with false binary choices: “Caring for oneself” vs. “educating oneself;” “caring for oneself” vs. “caring for others;” caring for anyone vs. housework; self-care vs. “shopping” at a dentist’s office. Yes, the Times included dental appointments under shopping. Gray Lady, be our light. That green bar could represent stress shopping at Neiman Marcus, or it could represent an afternoon haplessly trying to return small talk with one’s dentist through a mouth full of metal probes and mirrors.

There is, of course, the elephant in the room: “At 8:47 pm, 56% of men and 40% of women are watching TV or movies.” Obviously the boob tube by its very nature cannot be a form of self-care (more calming than doing something less pleasant) or care for others (entertaining and keeping company one’s children or infirm older relatives). These people are all about the prime time, but how strongly does this distinguish them from Americans who have jobs? The Times doesn’t offer a comparison graph, but you can bet the cable package that this won’t stop Randroid asshats from making baseless inferences. “Fuckin’ A, I’m too tired from work to watch The Voice, so these layabout assholes shouldn’t be watching it, either.” Okay. If staying up through crappy parts of the NBC lineup feels like a Station of the Cross, go to bed. It’s a free country. Over the summer, I sometimes fell asleep on the bed during the evening news and woke up an hour or two later because I was exhausted from vineyard work. My neighbors who held down the fort at the smoking chair a few doors down didn’t have that problem, but what, I was supposed to resent them? They were doing nothing with their summer but taking cigarette breaks on a residential motel balcony overlooking a Les Schwab tire store. As far as I know, they weren’t even walking to the other side of the building to look at the Sacred Heart hospital building and the buttes on the far side of the McKenzie River. I was earning above-market wages to get six hours of fresh air a day in a vineyard. Why on God’s green earth should I have resented them? 

If people really thought that sitting around the house all day watching TV were awful, they wouldn’t resent other people for doing so. Believe me, it isn’t as pleasant as it sounds. It may sound really fun if you’re steadily employed, but it gets old in a hurry. It’s no substitute for human companionship, but it’s cheaper. We get good value for our money by keeping our involuntarily leisured compatriots occupied with the telescreen. Why do you suppose the Soviet Union and its satellites invested so much more consistently in state television than they did in basic infrastructure? Why did the Ceausescu government put so much more effort into broadcasting Dallas reruns than it did into installing scrubbers on factory smokestacks and retrofitting boiler rooms for higher efficiency? These guys had some hubris, but they weren’t unremittingly stupid. The same is true of our leaders.

If TV is really that bad, one needn’t watch it. Books are still things. If the effort needed to read a book instead of passively absorbing broadcast propaganda is le hard, that’s your problem, not mine. The Chicago Fire/Chicago PD lineup is maudlin garbage, a pitiful attempt to restore to Chicago all the good things it never had, notably including detectives whose torture of suspects was good police work rather than a bottomless wellspring of false confessions. That I enjoy watching this rotten fare is my problem, not yours. That Elias Koteas is a significantly less sexy Canadian than Dagmar Midcap is NBC’s problem, but putting a pack of aging junkyard dogs on national prime time has not tanked NBC’s ratings for a change. Go figure.

Oh, but watching sentimental happy horseshit about the Chicago civil service will get in the way of my job search? Bitch please. Hour-by-hour job job search figures might exceed five percent of the unemployed population on that chart if looking for work all the live-long day weren’t manifestly a fool’s errand. Looking for work is totally not the reason that I keep tabs on multiple Craigslist jobs and gigs boards, Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder, CalJobs, Worksource Oregon, and Worksource Washington. It would be harder to keep an eye on these boards if there were anything of use on them. As a rule of thumb, I can completely exhaust them within half an hour, sometimes much less. Checking back more than twice a day is superfluous, although hope springs eternal. If you’re concerned that I’m tailoring my job search too narrowly to agricultural jobs, send me an interview offer, asshole. Seriously. The suggestion that those of us who are unemployed aren’t looking hard enough for work when some of us are regularly scouring job boards in at least five states and obviously being gaslit by managerial-class fuckwads can only degrade the legitimacy of the current American socioeconomic regime. Pray that it doesn’t degrade catastrophically.

If that sounds florid, ask the Bourbons for details. I mean the monarchs, not the liquors. Some of us should watch less TV. I’m one. But if I were going to the gym regularly and admitting that I’m not really looking for work, like this chick I talked to on the flight from Dallas to San Francisco the other day (I know, Wow Much Travels), I’d still have a chorus of resentniks lining up to sing my excoriation. If an unemployed Dallas Metroplex Millennial watches TV while running on a treadmill, is she watching TV or caring for herself? Don’t ask the New York Times for an answer; this is the organization that employs Tom Friedman and Nick “my name means fuck you in Arabic” Kristof. If you’re wondering why more crackers and niggas of all races aren’t doing the grunt work to keep the metroplex running, it’s because management would rather hire meek Latin Americans. As a white boy who has a much stronger track record of pruning that funky grapevine than of playing that funky music, I know these things. As I mentioned above, it isn’t just Charles Cullen who could use a rag in the mouth. No amount of self-righteous screaming by a a serial murderer at his sentencing hearing can have a material effect on my ability to secure payroll work. To once again paraphrase Muhammad Ali, not as a boxer but as a political commentator, no creepy-ass cracker of a male nurse ever called me lazy.

Section Eight is cheaper than the Seventh Army, and television is a cheaper than any of the better alternatives, like free bus fare so that the indigent unemployed can visit friends across town. They don’t tell us these things on TV. I can’t recommend watching Chicago PD, but if some leisure-for-me-but-not-for-thee shithead tells you that you’re too marginally attached to the labor market to earn your time with the boob tube, I can recommend handing him the K-Y Jelly and telling him to go care for himself.

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