Tele-Visiting

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts. — Orson Welles

I wondered whether or not it mattered that I’d missed the first few episodes and decided not. It was still early enough in the season; by the end, hardly anyone would remember the first few disqualified competitors or their dismal efforts. This would be my first — I’d never gone to any of the Lost or Sex and the City parties to which I’d been invited, mostly because I can’t stand it when people talk during plot-crucial dialogue. But Project Runway has no plot, and if my memory served from the episodes I’d caught in past seasons, all the good bits are played over and over, so I needn’t be concerned about missing them. Anyway, this was more than a simple gathering of TV watchers. Enticements of alcohol and gambling promised to make it an interactive social event worthy of Vegas, minus the Vegas people.

I consider TV to be an isolating medium, something one watches to wile away the hours. Isolating and divisive; those who don’t watch television tend to think they are superior to those who do. It doesn’t help that avid TV watchers (meaning those who can provide without hesitation the names of characters on at least two current shows) tend to be overly apologetic and are unable to mention a favorite show without clarifying that outside of this or that, they really don’t watch much TV at all. I can’t decide which is more annoying — those who are ashamed of their hours on the couch or those who are proud. It makes me think of giant-car owners, as I often wonder which are more obnoxious — conscience-stricken SUV drivers who whine about how bad they feel but aren’t willing to alter their lifestyles or those bumptious Billy-Bobs who plow down the narrow city streets in souped-up Hummers. As with most things in life, the least offensive tend to fall somewhere near the middle of the spectrum.

The story of my childhood is punctuated by the cartoons and sitcoms of the day: elementary school with Thundercats and the Cosby Show, high school with South Parkand That ’70s Show, college with The Simpsons and Seinfeld, and living in Hollywood with reruns of Looney Tunes and Will & Grace. A good portion of my life has been spent in front of the television. Mostly, my TV was informative or entertaining. At times, it was merely white noise that filled the lonely silence.

Once I met David, my relationship with television began to change. As he had no interest in Animal Planet, I willingly gave up watching my usual in exchange for nestling on the couch with my new beau to view movies on DVD. On occasion, we would veg out to reality marathons on the Food Network or Bravo, the only two channels on which we agreed. Like candy, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Top Chef were scrumptious, but after imbibing too much at once, I was left feeling fatigued and a bit sick.

Because I could watch DVDs at my leisure, and because they were commercial-free and portion-controlled, I came to prefer the discs to scheduled programming. Soon, the television was rarely, if ever, turned on without the DVD player.

David and I have lived in our current home for almost three years, and we have yet to install any window coverings on the floor-to-ceiling glass panels in our living room. In order to see the tube without the white-blue reflection of sky obscuring the images, we must wait for sunset. This means that for the past three years, we haven’t watched anything — DVD or otherwise — on the television during daylight hours.

When we entertain friends, we use our 70-inch screen not to flip on the big game but as a canvas on which to display David’s video pieces (leaves swirling in the breeze, blurry taillights floating on a rainy night, fire licking at shiny glass, or fluffy tufts of snow falling from a black sky, all accompanied by a play list from his iPod). On those nights we find ourselves home alone, the great eye often remains switched off — we are just as likely to opt for a game of Scrabble as the latest selection from Netflix.

Still, like a sugar-deprived child, I sometimes crave the sweet confection of cliffhangers, reality competitions, or comedy shows. Even commercials, like short films, have an appeal when you haven’t seen any for a few years. One of the main reasons I hesitate to turn on the tube is that I know once it’s on and I’m plucking visual bon bons from the video sampler box, turning it off will be like ripping the mainline out of my arm. So when the invitation arrived in my inbox, I thought, What better way to satisfy my sweet tooth than to attend a party at which just one sensibly portioned hour will be spent watching TV and at which the focus of the evening is as much a social interaction as the reality show at the center of it?

As this was the same crowd that had competed in the infamous Mac Down, David and I were not surprised to encounter gourmet offerings upon our arrival. Being of a similar mind, David had thought to bring an offering of his own — a pecan-bourbon cake (heavy on the bourbon) — which he nestled onto the kitchen counter next to Michael’s turkey burgers.

Ame, our hostess, is a veteran Project Runway party-thrower. Apparently, at the end of last season, guests transcended the role of viewers. Those who didn’t compete as designers impersonated the show’s other personalities — Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia. The challenge for the “designers” was to dress a Barbie doll. Ame showed me a few from last year, and I was amazed at how well they were executed. One Barbie’s ensemble looked to be fashioned from a delicate silk, but Ame explained it was actually Elmer’s glue, dried on and then peeled off the designer’s palm.

We drank wine and nibbled Michael’s tasty burgers with spicy sweet onion chutney andlemon crème fraîche, Ame’s frittata, and David’s boozy bourbon cake. Thanks to Ame’s DVR, guests migrated leisurely from one room to the other without worrying about missing the beginning — Lloyd wouldn’t press play until everyone had shuffled into the room.

For the next hour, the TV was like a board game — rather than isolating or dividing, it brought everyone together. It’s interesting how invested people are in the outcome of a show when money is riding on the winner and loser. Before I met him, David had hostedIron Chef parties, for which he devised a complicated drinking game. Now he could see that the major flaw had been to not include gambling.

After Heidi Klum told the worst designer to go home, Chris was declared the winner of the jackpot for correctly predicting both the show’s winner and loser. Eventually, grumblings about Chris always winning and speculation about next week’s show tapered off, and the crowd dissipated. Already I was thinking about the week to come — who will win or lose, which outfits will amaze or horrify, and most important, which wine will I bring?


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