The Root of Criticism

by Sam Van Eman

Transcript for this recording:

I haven't watched TV since the Super Bowl and the result is that I'm low on blog content. I do have a sizable stack of ads and related quotes, articles, links, notes scribbled on Subway napkins and squares of toilet paper—a travelogue of potential material. But fasting through Lent did what it usually does to my advertising sensitivity: it put the critic to sleep.

Months away from TV and I forget what used to be on and who sponsored it. I go to bed earlier, realizing that Leno and company lack real stimulation power. I miss the 30-second appetizer bites and celebrity influence. I read more, like pieces from Fiction 100, a short story anthology; and from Deuteronomy 31 where the decision between light and dark, life and death, seem so obviously easy yet so surprisingly hard.

I'm out of content because I've been taking a new mental path to work. I'm not still simmering on last night's musings; on the death-knell of simple living, or the faux-invigoration of card-swiping for things I couldn't possibly need (but really do want).

This isn't to say I've been entirely unplugged, just filtered. I caught a handful of movies since February. Hugo was cleverly done, the French-made Microcosm captivated us with its ants drinking water, and both Art & Copy and Objectified—two documentaries up my alley—kept my ad-mind more on standby than a full snooze. Still, a month of blogging inactivity?

Fasting from too much TV inside also coincided this year with an abundance of growth outside. Our late winter and early spring were exceptionally warm, feeling more like late spring and early summer. I've exercised more, mowed more, walked the kids to school more, pulled weeds more. All good, like a thorough cleaning.

Clutter in general has a way of forcing me to tolerate limited space. If your desk is busy, like mine often is, you know exactly what I mean. You haven't got an entire desk, just something the size of a legal pad. The rest is for clutter. Lent, in a way, wipes it all clean. It helps me see what's there, what isn't, what could be that usually can't be. I'll go back, of course. Back to the mental confines. I do every year once the weather changes. By mid-fall, I'll be looking forward to this or that sit-com, and sitting around on Sunday afternoons watching football.

And that's when I'll get more material.

Just in time for Christmas deals and my own reawakening of consumer lust, I'll get more material because it will be material for me; for my own struggle to tread what feels like shoreless water, a commercial-made sea of desire and want. I'll want to drown in it like the humans in WALL-E, who lounge in chairs with, as one reviewer described, a "constant feed of TV and video chatting. They drink all of their meals through a straw out of laziness and/or bone loss...."

That material, the hyper-critical kind I'm prone to invoke, often comes from me trying to push the straw away. In those soap box moments I'm treading desperately to avoid being one of those people; I'm playing the preacher who rails against pornography only to be discovered as the audience to his own sermons. We fight against what we know best, right?

This is the root of criticism. It is my own struggle to keep from drowning in pleasures that pull me beneath the surface. For now, I'm enjoying dry ground. But I'll go back. It's inevitable, this draw toward heaven when hell offers the easiest substitutions.

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