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Guilty Pleasure at What Price?

12/11/2013 05:14 pm 17:14:29 | Updated Feb 10, 2014

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Scandal, betrayal, revenge. This seems to be the hip trend in prime-time television series: one-word titles, an acronym for salacious drama sprinkled with some truly disturbing content. Is this what the race for ratings and the vying with cable TV for viewers has produced? How far can it go, and how much are we willing to consume (especially before bedtime)?

This isn't a high-horse, soapbox rant -- I promise, merely a little commentary on mental and energetic consumption.

TV is my junk food, my guilty pleasure and indulgence at the end of a long day -- a mindless escape in the privacy of my own home. Shh -- no one has to know. Fine, I've put it out there. Sometimes when I cross over to the dark side and melt into the screen, I momentarily chastise myself, thinking I'm sure the likes of Wayne Dyer or other spiritual teachers I admire, would never succumb to mush before this electronic device each night, like I do. They would be so disappointed with me... shaking their heads disapprovingly. Tsk, tsk. But then I brush that thought off and just carry on, merrily clicking away through the channels.

I direct fervent consciousness to many other aspects of my life -- eating lots of leafy greens, drinking glasses of water, exercising regularly, reading spiritual inspiration, meditating -- yet when it comes to late night... I reach for the remote control and the rest is history, as I slide down the slippery slope to never-never land. Before I know it, an hour or so has passed, it's lights out, hopefully my glasses are off my face, not stuck between the sheets and the TV is off.

But what energy did I take with me to sleep -- what accompanies my brain to slumber as I lay my head down on my fluffy pillows?

Just the other night, while watching a favorite show of mine, Scandal (created by Shonda Rhimes of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice) - my body actually began to have a visceral reaction to a scene that suddenly shifted gears to violent torture before my eyes. ABC, the self-proclaimed reigning champ of OMG-TV.... Really and since when? Is that what prime-time drama programming has come to? Do the writers sit around the table and decide that they better throw a little traumatizing torture in there to keep up with the cable-TV Jones?

I thought I signed up for some mindless nighttime soap opera drama? Besides, what's not to like about Scandal's heroine, Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington)? She's a stunning, intelligent, modern-day Wonder Woman in designer duds who can march into the Oval Office at any moment unannounced. She portrays a powerhouse political "fixer" -- making other people's problems disappear (in this case, the high-powered political elite). Poof. Waving her magical PR spin-doctor wand around, she even influenced getting the underdog president of the U.S. elected. She personifies the modern day "I am woman hear me roar," helping me tune out the world around me. That is until last Thursday when dare I say, I watched my final episode.

It forced me to ask myself, is this what I want to be consuming before I put my head down on the pillow? Visions of a naked woman bound with duck tape having her teeth extracted one by one by her captor, with a primitive-looking dental plier, as she pleads for her life. Need I say more? Just writing this recounts my disdain and makes me squirm as shivers run down my spine. It's a free country -- I could have turned the TV off, and now I wish I had. Why did I keep watching? Now that gruesome scene is embedded in my consciousness and I am left to delete it from my psyche. This isn't a diatribe on network TV. Frankly I can't do anything about programming, but I can direct a little more accountability towards my media consumption and get very clear on how it impacts me.

No matter what we tell ourselves, television is a form of self-medication. I recently decided to abstain from alcohol during the week. My love of a glass of red wine at the end of the day inevitably led to my night melting, making me too sleepy to read a good book, too tired to play a game with my son, or do much of anything else. I made excuses for myself, saying things like they do it in Europe and no one frowns upon it. I deserve it, etc. These were my rationalizations, but at what cost, when my consumption began to interfere with designing the life that I wanted to lead.

But this is how it would go down for me -- tired at the end of a long day, a glass of wine in one hand, the clicker in the other, I stood face to face with the ominous flat screen. There it stood before me, calling out my name, luring me with another guilty pleasure -- reality TV. Come on people, I'm certainly not alone here. No one admits it, but the ratings show otherwise. If seduced, my remote -- as if on auto-pilot -- clicks to The Real Housewives of somewhere... New York, New Jersey, Beverly Hills. My name is Kristen and I'm a reality TV voyeur. Hello, Kristen.

This summer, my partner, a professional photographer, shot a book cover for one of the housewives. Bravo decided to cover the photo shoot in one of the season's episodes. Apparently, no one watches reality TV but me (or at least admits it). However, when the episode aired, people stopped me everywhere I went telling me how they had seen Bill on the episode. Hmm. A bit curious, don't you think?

I subscribe to People magazine, but I also meditate, read spiritual books, light candles and try to maintain some sense of Zen on a daily basis. It isn't my intent to vilify TV, electronic media, red wine or reality TV programming. I celebrate a world of choice and diversity, but don't want to be asleep at the proverbial consumption wheel and end up in a ditch. No judgment -- we can read the New York Times or our subscription to the New Yorker, say our daily mantras, take our yoga classes, drink our cocktails and find what I like to call our take-it-to-the-street Zen reality.

I'll miss you Olivia, but I can't go to sleep with all that scary business in my head. I know it's going to feel like detox. I'm going to yearn to reach for the remote. It's a habit, but I have to get real about what I am willing to consume and when. It all matters.

Sweet dreams.