Because of the coronavirus, all of our lives look different these days. We’ve all been forced to make plenty of changes. But some of us have had to make fewer changes than others.
In my pre- (and hopefully post-) COVID-19 days at Plugged In, a typical workday for me included grudgingly waking up (what can I say? I like sleep!), going through a morning routine—or at least making myself appear human—and then heading to work where I’d watch TV shows and movies all day. After work usually involved hanging out with friends, running errands, catching up on chores and settling down at the end of the night with a TV show or book.
These past few weeks while sequestering myself from the world, it doesn’t feel like much has changed. I still wake up and start reviewing things for Plugged In (although the “appearing human” element has been largely neglected). I still do chores, and I still enjoy watching TV shows and movies in my downtime. Sure, hanging out with friends has shifted to a virtual format and running any errand now requires a face mask. But truth be told, I’ve always enjoyed my “alone” time and social distancing hasn’t made me stir-crazy just yet.
What really makes this such a strange time for me is how much more people think they can relate to and understand my life as a TV critic.
We all know people who’ve been severely impacted by the coronavirus, be it their physical health, their mental outlook and their economic well-being. (Focus on the Family offers plenty of resources, by the way, some of which you can find here.) So far, I’m a lucky anomaly. People who are close to me have joked that my life hasn’t faced any huge upheavals since we all started staying at home: I’m still watching movies and television as much as ever. And in a sense, they’re not wrong. I’m blessed because I can do my job just as effectively from my desk at home as I can from my cubicle at the office.
But as we compare our stay-at-home routines, I realize that people might not understand that “watching” stuff is different than “reviewing” stuff.
Yes, because of my job, I do spend an inordinate amount of time in front of a screen. But when I’m working, it isn’t the mindless escapism that some may think it is. As someone who studied film in college, I learned how to appreciate the thought and work and artistry that goes into filmmaking. I understand why a cinematographer might light a scene in warmer colors to convey a lighter, happier mood. I can analyze a director’s choices in shots to express the inner turmoil of a character.
As a reviewer for Plugged In, I’m taking note of even more details. Is that a church steeple I see in the background? Wait, was that a curse word or just a grunt? And when I say I’m taking note, I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean literally. We take copious notes when we review anything, be it a movie or a TV show or a video game. (There’s a very good chance that every member of the Plugged In staff will develop carpal tunnel syndrome at some point in their lives.) I take all of these meticulous notes and turn them into the reviews that you read on Plugged In’s website. And that’s where the line in the sand is drawn.
Many people, especially in this time of crisis, will use their multiple streaming options as a method of diversion and distraction. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As Kelly Lawler of USA Today put it, “[TV] can transport you…anywhere in time and space.” She stated that it has been a refuge from the hard parts of her life and the world and that she’s happy it can be there for everyone amid the COVID-19 panic.
However, something that I’ve realized, both as a reviewer for Plugged In and as a person who has sometimes used television to escape, is that I really shouldn’t just mindlessly consume. TV wasn’t created to just run in the background while we focus on other tasks (although, I’ll admit that’s sometimes what happens). It was created to immerse us in a story—to hook us so that we’ll keep coming back for more. Certainly, that’s what the men and women who pour themselves into the creation of these shows hope for. And if that’s their goal, then perhaps we should take a deeper look at the story they’re trying to tell.
Going forward, I’m sure many of us will continue to use TV as a tool to help us cope with these strange days. But we should also reflect on what we’re watching and really consider the positive and negative aspects, both within the story itself and what they tell us about our own lives.