I don’t have a television. Or to be more precise, I do have a television (a DVD/TV/Video combination no less) but is not connected to anything. Hence, the only TV images that I see are movies, DVDs, etc. As a result, I get all of my news from either print or internet sources. (And BTW, I hate watching TV on the net, so I never do it.) Now I could wax very Neil Postman, and go on and on about the superiority of the written word. My decent into TV-lessness, however, was — as befits a student of the common law — considerably more ad hoc. When my wife and I moved from Boston to Little Rock for my clerkship, we never got around to having the cable hooked up. One evening a month or so after we had arrived there, we were talking and realized that (a) we didn’t have TV; and (b) we liked it. We found that we had more time, talked more to each other, and could limit and control our son’s exposure to TV. So we simply formalized our inertia and disorganization into a decision. On the whole, it has worked rather nicely. Still, at times I feel like I don’t live in America.
A case in point is Miers. I have read a number of stories about her, and I am not impressed. Her nomination strikes me as a waste. Any Supreme Court opening is a chance to pick someone whose opinions will go into the Big Books, and given the fact that as a lawyer I will spent much of the rest of my life slogging through any justice’s work product, all things being equal I see no reason to be excited about twenty years with Harriet. However, a number of my friends have commented to me on her poor verbal performance, or how awkward or uncomfortable she looks, or the sorry state of her hair, or so on. These are images that I just don’t see. I am blind to them. I don’t think that this makes me a better news consumer than my friends (almost all of whom are better informed than me). Indeed, no doubt Miers’s gait and appearance provide us with important information about her. I clerked for a man that I regard as a great judge, and there was definitely something about his shuffle and haircut that bespoke jurisprudential depth. I noticed that same loss of shared experience when Katrina hit. I read about the extent of the devastation and saw some photographs, but I didn’t have the immediacy of the television that my friends talked about.
Not experiencing shared television images is a good way of realizing how much of our shared national experience takes the form of such images. It creates this odd dynamic in which at times I feel as though I am in America but not of it. (Or perhaps I am of it, but not fully in it.) This may explain why I consistently find that The Economist provides the news coverage of America that resonates best with me. Both of us are — for different reasons — semi-detached observers of the national scene.