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It's okay to metafandom or link to this post. Feel free. My finals are almost over anyway.

One of my posts recently got metafandomed, and I had a commenter tell me that it's not a problem if women are inadequately represented on TV. This is a surefire way to get me to end a conversation, as I'll just throw my hands in the air and declare it hopeless. That discussion didn't really go anywhere.

But I do feel it's entry-worthy. As it's apparent to anyone that I'm feminist girl and getting awesome female characters on screen is one of my big wishes for TV. And it's not just because I, personally, want to see more. It's because, yes, it's important. It's important for the same reason it's important to show racially diverse characters or characters of various sexual orientations or gender identities.

There's a simple fact: TV influences our world.

I recently went into this a bit with a friend, but that was a digression, so here. It gets its own topic now.

TV is an incredible invention. Most of us watch it from the time we're children. It's there with us throughout our life. You do not live in a bubble. You are part of society. And society is affected by the media. Yes, even you.

How much does your average person in America know about China? Without TV? Maybe they learn something about it in school, though just in relation to the US. They might know someone of Chinese ethnicity, though odds aren't good on that. They might hear the typical stories about China. But the conclusions they draw will largely be based on ignorance. They've never been.

How about if that person watched TV their entire life and watched some shows that had episodes set in China? How much more would they know? Would they be any more knowledgeable than they were without TV?

In a way, they would. They'd have more information. But most of that information is fed to them through the glossified fiction that is TV.

TV shows us a warped view of reality. As TV affects our world, our world also affects TV. However, the media takes our world and glamorizes it, changing it so as to be "marketable" or more entertaining.

Odds are, most of us are not world travelers. And yet, we feel we have knowledge on the world. We've seen different countries on TV, and we base our opinions on these cultures partially due to those images.

I've never been to Italy. But I've seen countless depictions of the country in various TV shows and movies. Do I know anything about Italy? Not really. All I know is whatever fictionalized version of it I've seen on screen.

I realize that. However, not everybody does. Some people will take the common tropes as TRUTH. On top of that, while I recognize that my view of some things may not be correct, I've been watching TV since I was a child. Who knows how much I picked up from it that gives me a false view of the reality? Especially as there are so many experiences I haven't had to counteract any of those beliefs?

Okay, you do live in a bubble. It's a shared bubble. It's the bubble that TV has created. The bubble is the world as the media shows it to us. The real world is outside, and very few of us will actually move outside the bubble to experience it.

*has established that point, moves on to next*

Given how extensively TV affects our perceptions of the world, what do we make of the fact that women are underrepresented or poorly portrayed? Ditto with racial and ethnic minorities and people of minority sexual orientations.

The latter are often invisible. Gay people don't exist to some people because they don't exist in much of our media. I spoke to someone who honestly believed that gay people didn't "exist" until the 70s cause that's about when she started hearing about them.

Racial and ethnic minorities often get the burden of stereotypes. The urban gangsta, the smart Asian, the lazy Mexican (And now the terrorist Middle Eastern person). If that's what we see portrayed on TV, without real-world examples to show us differently, this is what will oftentimes be believed. And some people don't have real-world examples to tell them differently.

The same happens with female characters. If females are always being rescued or only there to be the love interest, this will affect people's perceptions of women. Even with women around them because, the sad thing is women aren't immune to this, either. It affects their perceptions of themselves, making them think the most important thing in life is for them to find a man to marry. Because that's all the media shows them. The highest station in life a women can aspire to is to find a good husband.

I used this example with my friend, but it's a good one, so I'll share it with the rest of you guys.

It's hard to comprehend how much of an influence TV has on us. We're immersed in it. Our society has been immersed in it for a very long time, now. We have no point of comparison in our own culture.

So let me give you something to think about in that respect.

Fiji is an island in the South Pacific well-known for its bottled water and as the place that Dave Lister was planning on living in Red Dwarf. It also lacked widespread access to TV until 1995.

Some really shmart researchers decided they wanted to see how Western media influenced the society, especially eating habits and body images. Previously, the people there supported a body image of full-figured women with robust appetites.

They surveyed young girls both in 1995, before TV was introduced, and in 1998, three years after. The percentage of girls indicating an eating disorder jumped from 12.5% to 29.2% in those three years. Additionally, the number who reported self-induced vomiting as a form of weight control rose from none to 11.3%. Finally, 83% of the girls surveyed reported that they felt television "had specifically influenced their friends and/or themselves to feel differently about or change their body shape or weight".

Becker AE, Burwell RA, Gilman SE, Herzog DB, Hamburg P. Eating behaviours and attitudes following prolonged television exposure among ethnic Fijian adolescent girls. The British Journal of Psychiatry 2002.

We are not immune to these influences just because we're special. We're not immune at all. We're in the bubble. Most people just don't recognize it.

This is why it's so important to me to see more and better depictions of female characters on TV. This is why the treatment of the women on AtS upsets me. This is why there's imbroglios about the depiction of racial minorities going on around the blogosphere. And this is why I'm actually happy with RTD's "gay agenda" in New Who, despite my lukewarm feelings about the show, itself.

TV is a powerful tool. It takes our world, replaces the "fat" women with beautifully flawless ones, white-washes the racial minorities, relegates the gay people to the background and then sprays a bunch of glamor polish on it to make it "palatable" to the masses. It reflects our world in the most twisted of ways. And we accept that depiction and take it to heart. When a subject comes up that we have no personal experience on, we turn to what we've seen on TV to fill in our knowledge. We don't even know we're doing it. It's subconscious. "Facts" learned from TV are mixed in with years and years of other bits of knowledge, and we can't even distinguish one from the other. When we meet something in reality that contradicts what's been drilled into us by the media, we cling hold to our old perception and think of the real thing as the "exception".

You're wrong. Let me explain my lifelong experiences with television to demonstrate why.

I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about society.

Even in Fiji, 2 out of every 10 girls would tell you that TV didn't affect her. Congrats. You're one of the 2. But your existence doesn't negate the 8 girls who were affected.

Fine. There's a problem. What are you gonna do about it?

Whine and bitch on my LJ.

Listen, the problem is simply this: We're filling our ignorance with distorted information. The easiest way to rectify this is to find other ways of learning about the world. Reading books, talking to people, traveling. Instead of trusting the depictions of South America that we see on TV, read a book about South America or, hell, take a trip. Instead of learning all you need to know about Japan from anime, read about the country or visit, yourself. Talk to gay people. Know no gay people? Visit a PFLAG meeting. Odds are, there's one in your area. And read about feminism. Yes, women are all around, but we're stuck in a morass of discriminating perceptions and "traditional" ideas of gender roles. In order to break out of that, you need to educate yourself about the problem.

I still prefer watching guys more than girls.

Fine. I don't care. But don't fucking tell me it's not a problem that there's so few women on TV.

You are not the world. It's not "not a problem" if it doesn't bother you.

Isn't it reverse sexism to want to watch women more than men?

Don't make me smack you. Seriously.

Well, this entry has been fun. It was nice to take a break from studying Sociology to...talk about sociology. *headdesk* I am such a nerd.



( 65 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 11th, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
It's a pet peeve of mine whenever someone says that something is just a tv show and doesn't matter.

Like it didn't matter to a young Whoopi Goldberg (African American actress) and Mae Jemison (first African American women astronaut) when they saw Nichelle Nichels playing Uhura on Star Trek and realized that they could be something other than a maid.

For better or for worse, TV has more power on our cognitions than we'd like to think.
May. 11th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
You know, I meant to bring up the Whoopi Goldberg story (for the two people who haven't ever heard it), but somehow my ramble never quite got there. Hmmmm.

And, yeah, I hate the "it's just fiction" or "it's just a TV show" thing. It just...gah! TV doesn't exist in a vacuum. It has influences on our society. You can't just ignore that.
May. 11th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)
We are not immune to these influences just because we're special. We're not immune at all. We're in the bubble. Most people just don't recognize it.

Yes, yes, yes. It's the same thing with racism, and a whole host of other -isms. We are soaking in it. It's like fucking air pollution, and unless you're goddamned Glenn Beck, don't pretend that you're special and just aren't breathing it.
May. 11th, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
Very much word. I think some people put so much emphasis on their individuality that they overlook the ways they are influenced by the world around them. It's inevitable. Even if you're aware of it, you're affected by it.

Air pollution...good analogy. I like it.
(no subject) - lady_ganesh - May. 11th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
I'm impressed that even in the middle of a rant you paused to properly document your sources. :-)

(Also, that survey's results sound really, truly scary and fucked up. What sort of TV programmes were they broadcasting in Fiji? I'm guessing they weren't made there and didn't reflect Fijian culture and standards of beauty, anyway...)

Instead of learning all you need to know about Japan from anime, read about the country or visit, yourself.

Although it's worth saying that most people who visit a country rarely come away with more than a totally superficial view of it, probably even less accurate than they would get from watching TV. But that's a whole other debate.

In before the hordes from metafandom!

Edited at 2009-05-11 01:59 am (UTC)
May. 11th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
I'm impressed that even in the middle of a rant you paused to properly document your sources. :-)

Well, I did have the study in front of me to get the stats right. And I hate it when people pull stats out of their ass with no sources. So...

What sort of TV programmes were they broadcasting in Fiji?

It's my understanding that they were being broadcast "Western" TV, not TV made there. And we have some very unhealthy notions of beauty here. It's especially scary and fucked up when you realize we've had that programming for decades now and the effects on our culture and standards of beauty are so widespread that we barely even notice we are affected.

Although it's worth saying that most people who visit a country rarely come away with more than a totally superficial view of it, probably even less accurate than they would get from watching TV. But that's a whole other debate.

Hey, you're messing with my conclusions! ;)

I think there's pros and cons to each method of learning about another country. You just have to recognize what they are so that you're aware of them.

In before the hordes from metafandom!

What hordes? I didn't get metafandomed again.
(no subject) - eowyn_315 - May. 11th, 2009 02:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - May. 11th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2009 02:59 am (UTC)
Instead of learning all you need to know about Japan from anime, read about the country

This gave me a huge LOL. It also reminded me of this article, which you've probably seen before.

May. 11th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)
Actually, I hadn't ever seen it. Thanks for the link! :)
May. 11th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
Here from metafandom
You were linked in the comments. *g*

What I find interesting is people who will insist "It's not just a TV show/book!" when talking about racism or sexism , but say "it's not reality, it's a fantasy!" when the subject is something like rape or chan in fanfiction. All four examples are issues Western society holds as (officially) unacceptable. Fandom seems to hold a contradictory view on what can and can't influence people. It's fascinating to watch.
May. 11th, 2009 03:31 am (UTC)
Re: Here from metafandom
You were linked in the comments. *g*

Oh dear.

I don't think the racism/sexism of the media and rape or chan in fanfiction really are that equivalent as fanfiction has much, much less of a societal impact than TV does. Whereas TV influences our world on a macro level, fanfiction, simply, does not. So it's not as concerning to see those taboo subjects in fanfic because the societal impact is largely insignificant.

If, however, it were common to show such things on TV or in movies, then there'd be cause for concern.
Re: Here from metafandom - dinpik - May. 11th, 2009 08:01 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from metafandom - gabrielleabelle - May. 11th, 2009 08:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from metafandom - dinpik - May. 11th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from metafandom - lady_ganesh - May. 11th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from metafandom - alixtii - May. 13th, 2009 02:15 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)
Thank you for all that you've written here. I agree with pretty much all of it, and Fiji example, is something I read about quite a bit.

I think something similar happened in my childhood (obviously not to the same extent). I grew up in country Australia, and up until I was 15 years old we only had one television station airing, the Government channel, and I grew up in the early 80s, and in that part of the world we didn't even have VHS or many movies, and hardly any cinema (the closest one was three hours drive away).

So my ideas about the outside world was mostly Australian and British television, and books, although we did get Sesame Street. I read way too much golden era science-fiction (which didn't have very many examples of female characters either).

My childhood influences culturally are world away from the average American, or Australian who live in the city. The shows I grew up on, I used play act characters from them, in the school. For goodness sake, I play acted Tripitaka for years, she was the only girl in that action show ;) (and hello to all the British and Aussies in that generation who'd get that reference).

I did watch some American movies, wasn't totally cut off, but they were rare treat.

And then, when I was 15 years old, we suddenly got more television, we got American television - and I was at high school at the time and that year a program came on air, called Beverly Hills: 90210 and another one called Melrose Place, and it was such a huge hit with the girls at school, suddenly we all wanted to have hair like Shannon Doherty. We wanted to know why we didn't have cheerleaders, or proms, or lockers, or why it was that we had to wear school uniforms. Our world view changed.

And it's never been the same since. Hello American culture, hello different ideals of teenage beauty.
May. 11th, 2009 05:20 am (UTC)
Interesting comment. Thanks so much for posting it. It is very telling how soon things change after you get more American TV.

I hate to criticize TV because I'm not anti-television. I think it's a necessary tool in this world, and I think it can be used to produce some truly great things. However, I think more care needs to be taken by the producers as to what they're putting out, as they seem blissfully unaware that their shows do affect us. And it's telling that the vast majority of writers are white males.

As it is, while American TV is bringing with it the image of idealized high school teenagers, it's also bringing with it its subtle brands of sexism, racism, and homophobia.

We just need to do better. That's why I love the shows that try. Shows that have an equal gender balance (Firefly and BtVS and Farscape). It's not hard to do, though I suppose it's hard for the networks to accept as they don't believe female characters are marketable as anything beyond sexy eye candy.

You know, I'm on the start of a ramble here. I'm just gonna quit. I loved your comment. Thanks so very much for sharing. :)
(no subject) - ms_maree - May. 11th, 2009 05:30 am (UTC) - Expand
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May. 11th, 2009 05:29 am (UTC)
At the risk of sounding like "I'm special" let me relate a little personal history.

As long as you're not using the "I'm special" as an argument to disagree with me, I don't care. I find these stories interesting.

I completely understand where you're coming from. In all honesty, I never watched much TV growing up. I watched a few genre shows with my parents, but that was basically it. Well, sitcoms at the times (Full House and all). In high school, though, I was only watching Star Trek, so I managed to avoid that mirror, but I got it from friends who were big TV watchers. They set what's popular and what's standard in the schools. And I didn't fit in because I wasn't like the people portrayed on TV.

Watching TV is like looking in a "should be" or "could be" mirror. "Should I be that thin?" "Should I be wearing this?" It lead to a lot of problems during my high school years. It took a long time before I was able to feel comfortable in my own skin.

Not to say that every normal person doesn't have periods of glancing at themselves and grimacing. Life can be tough and sometimes it's hard to keep up a healthy lifestyle 24/7. But no one should hate themselves for the way they look. No one comes to that conclusion on their own unless they have some sort of mental issue that should be dealt with. When ordinary girls think this it is absolutely something external that has been internalized.

This is just absolutely spot-on. I have body image issues. Nothing severe, but they're there. I see models in magazines, and I know they're heavily altered and airbrushed, but I still wonder why I can't look like that. And then I see Jessica Simpson at a pretty healthy weight getting berated by just about everybody for "letting herself go" because she didn't want to stick with the grueling physical workouts and diets that were required for her Daisy Dukes' figure.

And I love Simpson for that because I think she looks lovely with a full-bodied figure.

Unfortunately, the media doesn't think so. And, again, we get the message that you have to go through hell and high water in order to be thin and beautiful. It's very frustrating when you get right down to it.
May. 11th, 2009 10:09 am (UTC)
Wow, that Fiji example was scary.

I think I've noticed a difference between American media and Scandinavian media (probably a lot of others as well, but we import more American shows and movies, so that's where I've seen enough to get an impression). While actors in Scandinavia are still pretty, they seem more like the sort of pretty you can see on the street every day.

One thing that pisses me off about female representation is something I read on comics blogs about Teen Titans. At one point, there were two more girls than boys on the team. I think the ratio was 3:5. And people started whining about how it was now a "girls' team".

It's like, if you have a group where there are equal number women and men, people say that there are a lot of women. If there are two more women than men, they're dominating the group. But if there's six men and two women, no-one says anything, because that's normal.

This was disjointed. Sorry.
May. 11th, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
You know, somebody did a fascinating breakdown of the cast of BtVS, which is generally thought of as a female-dominated show, and found that, actually, the cast was basically equal male-female ratio throughout. We're just not used to that so we perceive it as being "a girl show".
Here via metafandom - lothy - May. 18th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here via metafandom - gabrielleabelle - May. 21st, 2009 01:37 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 11th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
The Fiji thing is one of the scariest things I've heard in a while. I would never have expected something like that to take hold so quickly!

Personally I'd be a lot more thrilled with RTD's gay agenda if it didn't come packaged in some of the worst racial stereotypes and genderfail I've seen on tv in recent years. One out of three is better than a lot of people are doing, but it still grates when you've got a show runner who's only willing to think about positively portraying one group that's usually hidden. And once a show runner does get one group right, I have higher standards for them the rest of the time. Thus the genderfail on Ats and the race fail on Firefly bug me more than they do on Supernatural, because I expect Joss to think about those things while my expectations for the SPN writers are pretty low. (Also Joss does seem to be willing to learn from his mistakes, one of the good things about Dollhouse is that there are several Asian women on it, one in a lead role).
May. 11th, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
You have a point on New Who. The gay agenda is just something I've seen criticized a lot which always makes me raise an eyebrow. And I think it is important to recognize it because it really is one of the only shows that so consistently includes gay characters. Even shows that are good with women and race don't often have that.

That's not to ignore the massive gender and race problems with the New Who series (cause...wow, are they there). And I'm not really even a fan of the new series. I watch it out of nostalgia for classic Who. But it does make me, a gay woman, feel a bit warm and fuzzy to see fellow gay characters on screen so much. That does have to be commended.

I'm very happy that Joss is learning from his mistakes. I've been very, very pleased with the racial diversity of Dollhouse (after the painfully white Southern California of the Buffyverse).
May. 11th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
Reading the comment you linked to I have to wonder (re: that comment), when the hell was Scully not religious??!

That was one of the essential dichotomies of the X-Files. Mulder would believe in damn near anything except God. Scully, on the other hand, was skeptical about most everything except her religion. It was the contradition that spawned the stories, both between the two of them re: their differing views and as a internal contradiction within their own psyches. It was a source of a great deal of characterization. It wasn't just something thrown in at the last minute on a whim.

Seriously, that's just WTF territory for me.

Edited at 2009-05-11 07:03 pm (UTC)
May. 11th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
lol. I've never seen the X-Files, so I couldn't comment on that. I found most her commentary on female characters I am familiar with to be questionable. That and her declaration that there are no "heroic and noble" female characters, which I tried to call her on but she neatly side-stepped. Once she flat-out refused to recognize that there was something wrong with the fact that there are so few capable women on TV, I had to shut down the conversation. I'd rather write a long-ass entry to my flist at large than waste my time writing an in-depth response to one person who probably wouldn't get it.
(no subject) - shipperx - May. 12th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - May. 21st, 2009 01:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 11th, 2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
lol. I like the comparison to Wikipedia. I tend to use that site as a starting point for more thorough research (always check the reference links). It's good for general information, though.
May. 11th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
You got metafandomed again ;)
Thank you for saying this. You are so absolutely right. Most people don't realise how the medias influence us. And when you get too many stereotyped version and not enough real, you get people like the comment you write about in this entry. Or you get one of my best (female) friend telling me, after I've made the mistake of agreeing to see "He's just not that into you" and I'm bitching about the female characters in the movie "But we're really like that!"
It's so freaking much easier to just stay inside the bubble and think that this is the truth. Until this supposed "truth" start hurting you.
May. 11th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)
Or you get one of my best (female) friend telling me, after I've made the mistake of agreeing to see "He's just not that into you" and I'm bitching about the female characters in the movie "But we're really like that!"

Gah! It's such a vicious circle. We're influenced by what we're shown on TV so we start to act like that, as that's all we know. So, in that way, TV does somewhat reflect reality at the same time it influences it. The only way to break out of that, really, is to read up on feminism and understand what's going on. It's just so pervasive, it's hard to see past it.
May. 11th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC)
Very well said. And beyond body issues and ethnic stereotypes, it scares me how many people get their political and legal ideas from television dramas, who honestly believe every tired cop show trope, such as That Woman Who Lied About Being Raped or The Ticking Time Bomb Which Demands That the Hero Torture Someone to Save Millions!

You are not the world. It's not "not a problem" if it doesn't bother you.

May. 11th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
You know, it really is amazing how much information about the world we get from TV. And how much of that information doesn't quite fit reality. It's very odd when you think about it.

I remember reading somewhere that the number of false rape reports is actually very very low. I have no source for this, and I'm too lazy to look it up. Regardless, I typically believe anyone who tells me that they were raped without question.
May. 11th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
When it comes to women in media, British television series were like a revelation. I hardly watched any German TV, even when I was a kid (most of the good stuff is geared towards older people anyway), most of what I watched was American TV until a few years ago. And then I figured out how to illegally download episodes, and a few people on my flist loved these British shows.

Et viola: The women there actually looked like real people! They didn't all have "perfect" bodies and were still gorgeous. Not all of them were young and yet still hot. It was surreal, at first, because it was such a different world for me, despite the fact that these series were actually so much closer to my reality. They just clashed with the imagined reality that is still very much alive in my head. That reality was shaped by American TV shows and teen magazines. To me, at least, it is just as real as reality, and that's fucking scary.

Re Culture: I have no idea where the American ideas about Germany come from, but no, not all of us are Bavarians. In fact, I don't know any German who has ever been to the Oktoberfest. We don't all wear lederhosen either. And no American I talked to about it knew any of the weird German customs I grew up with.
May. 12th, 2009 01:15 am (UTC)
Oh, there is such a difference between American TV and other countries' shows. Unfortunately, American TV is so much more prolific and well-known, and it has the most insane standards of beauty. That's something that's always struck me because I did grow up watching British TV on our public television channel. I always noticed the difference between the "The look like real people" actors on those shows and the "Damn, I wish I could look like that" actors of the American shows.

We don't all wear lederhosen either.

Germans don't all wear lederhosen? You do all drink beer, though, right? ;)
(no subject) - doro_chan - May. 12th, 2009 01:27 am (UTC) - Expand
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May. 12th, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)
I don't have a lot to add here, I just have to give you a big, huge word on this entire post. I was once a communications/women's studies major in college... so yeah, I believe this stuff matters.

"Even in Fiji, 2 out of every 10 girls would tell you that TV didn't affect her. Congrats. You're one of the 2. But your existence doesn't negate the 8 girls who were affected."

See, now, I'm also one of the 2... and when I look around me at the 8 women checking their make-up and trying to fit into clothes that are too small, it just about breaks my heart. That's the reason I get so angry with misrepresentations on TV.
May. 12th, 2009 01:17 am (UTC)
See, now, I'm also one of the 2... and when I look around me at the 8 women checking their make-up and trying to fit into clothes that are too small, it just about breaks my heart. That's the reason I get so angry with misrepresentations on TV.

Word. I honestly don't watch much TV. I didn't watch much TV growing up. While I'm obviously still affected by the media, I tend to think I'm a lot less affected than a lot of other people. That's just because the TV was rarely ever on in my house when I was a child.
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