Stop Watching Netflix
I’m not really into watching television shows. For me, it’s something I do only when I’m home alone and need some background noise in the house. Or when I’m not feeling well. Even then, I pretty much stick to reruns of 90s-era sitcoms such as Friends and Will & Grace.
As a result, I frequently find myself “behind the times.” Left out of conversations with friends and colleagues that center around the shows everyone is watching, the seasons they loved, the ones they hated, the unexpected episodes, and the new series everyone should be watching, if they aren’t already. I let these conversations happen in the background, as I wait for the topic to turn, but I always find myself wondering the same thing: “where does everyone find the time to watch all of these television shows?”
According to TechCrunch, United States adults consume close to six hours of video content each day. That includes content viewed via traditional cable services, streaming services, online video content, and DVD players. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend more time watching television than they do on any other activity, apart from work. That means, on the pie chart of how our time is spent, the largest slice goes to work, and the second largest slice goes to TV, with the rest of our lives relegated to the small sliver of our time labeled “other.”
Before I get off track, allow me to be clear on one point: I am not anti-television. I enjoy the occasional binge-day as much as anyone else. This article is not going to end with a diatribe about the perils of TV. Rather, I believe excessive television watching has become a symbol of the declining culture that accompanies it. And that, to me, is the real tragedy. I don’t want my life to be a big pie chart of work and TV. Instead, I want my life to be colorful, with big slices of experience, something that begins and ends with culture.
Culture. I view culture as the wealthy sophisticate who reigned supreme in eighteenth-century salons. With a pocket watch in one hand and a staff in the other, this person was knowledgeable of the arts: the opera, the ballet, the symphony, and he expressed his opinions with well-rehearsed eloquence and aplomb.
Ample experience of art, travel, knowledge, and conversation form a character both witty and intelligent. The kind of enlightened personality once heralded “The Renaissance Man.” In modern times, I can’t help but feel he has been eroded by a sort of societal laziness. One that has replaced fine art, literature, and philosophy with endless streams of conclusion-less drama for only $10.99 a month.
“I’m as guilty as everyone else when it comes to Netflixl but live performance is the thing. At the end of it, you come away feeling different because of that shared experience.” -Paul Meecham | President and CEO | Utah Symphony
Sure, there’s an upside. Studies have shown that binge-watching a favorite show has the same advantages as other addictive behaviors: it increases dopamine in the brain, thereby producing a stress-relieving and happy-inducing effect. But it has the same drawbacks as well, binge-watchers have higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than their non-binging counterparts. Additionally, binge-watchers may experience amplified isolation.
On the other hand, exposure to the arts (in all forms) has been shown to improve academic performance and mental health, increase creative thinking and problem solving, increase intelligence and social interaction, decrease aggression and violence, and even delay the onset of dementia. All without the drawbacks associated with watching television.
In other words, a show might make you feel happy for a moment. But an experience of the arts can produce life-changing effects that last, not to mention, improve conversation besides.
Utah is famous for its art. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I moved to the state. My husband wanted to mountain bike after work and I wanted to experience the arts after work. Salt Lake City provided us with the best of both worlds, a true rarity in this country―and something we’re fully taking advantage of.
According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, 51 percent of Utah adults attend a live art performance each year compared to a national average of 32 percent. It’s easy to understand why. For the size of our city, Salt Lake City has some of the best arts programs in the country, rivaling that of much larger cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago. The newly minted Eccles Theater has attracted Broadway shows such as Hamilton and The Book of Mormon. Ballet West has a $12 million operating budget, placing it among the top ten ballets in the country. And the Utah Symphony is considered one of 15 full-time orchestras in the US, winning us a spot among the nation’s top tier.
Not only are our arts programs amazing, but we have far easier access to them than those other cities. When I wanted to attend a Broadway show in San Francisco I faced an hour drive, $40 in parking, and steep $150+ tickets. Going to the theater was an epic, expensive, all-evening affair, and one that was relegated only to special occasions. Now that I live in Salt Lake City, I spend $550 a season, see 6-8 shows while sitting in unbelievable seats, and take a 15-minute Lyft to the theater for only $8. I can do that on a Wednesday night!
The first thing people point out to me when I propose such alternatives is the price, and certainly, a month of Netflix is less expensive than a glass of wine at the Ballet. But the price isn’t as much of an inhibitor as everyone believes it to be. Broadway tickets at the Eccles can be found for $30. Ballet and Opera tickets at the Capitol Theatre start at $20 (or $15 for students). One can attend the Utah Symphony for only $20 if purchased in packs of three or more, and students can even purchase unlimited season passes for only $75 each year.
Then, of course, there are many free experiences of art available all over Salt Lake City. The Gallivan Center, for one, hosts free jazz concerts every week during the summer months. The Utah Museum of Fine Art is free to the public on the first Wednesday and third Saturday of every month. The Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art requires only a donation, as does the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. And the Natural History Museum of Utah has tickets available for just $5 if you attend on a Wednesday night.
That’s to say nothing of personal experiences of art, which can be just as inexpensive―and just as rewarding. Setting aside some time to write, draw, or dance can greatly improve one’s well-being, one’s creative potential, one’s imagination, and, not to mention, one’s conversational abilities. And there are plenty of ways to do all of those things throughout Utah.
“Movies are still the arts. But we could stand to add to that”- Crystal Young-Ottersom | Executive Director | Utah Cultural Alliance
SLC Ballet and Ballet West both offer beginning ballet classes for adults at only $15 per class. The Repertory Dance Theatre also offers adult dance classes of every variety. The Off Broadway Theatre offers acting and improv classes in six-week sessions if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. And the University of Utah has every kind of art class imaginable―including drawing, screenwriting, welding, and bookbinding classes. Holdman Studios in Salt Lake City even offers stained glass classes. All of which are incredible ways to experience the arts.
Sure, I could have a moving experience watching This Is Us, but sitting on my couch alone and sobbing is not how I want to spend my time. Instead, I try to find other things to do. Most often I write, or read, or attend a ballet class. Sometimes I go to the theater, the ballet, or the symphony with friends. Other times I attend a concert with my husband or wander a museum alone. My husband even signed up for a weekly welding class at the U.
“When we’re watching television, or movies, or listening to a recording, we’re out of it. Being in front of any notion of art, like nature, martial arts, painting, literature, sculpture, or poetry.. brings us to a dimension to examine ourselves on a microscopic level: our hopes, dreams, notions of desire. This we can have only if we’re in the place where the art is produced.” – Thierry Fischer | Music Director | Utah Symphony
And yes, sometimes we’ll take in a documentary or an episode of Last Week Tonight. But it’s our goal to minimize those evenings and save them for when we most need a reprieve because the arts enrich our experience of life far more. As a result, we frequently come to one another with new perspectives and ideas, things we can take into our work days, or weave into our futures. Dreams we can spin into realities thanks to the arts.
“Participating in movies and Netflix are still something we want to do,” says Crystal Young-Otterstorm, executive director at the Utah Cultural Alliance. “Movies are still the arts. But we could stand to add to that.”
Which is exactly what I want to do, add to my experience of life. Because even without all the science, the studies, or the benefits, the fact of the matter is that there’s nothing quite as transformative as watching Jean Valjean find redemption in Les Miserables. Or witnessing Odette spiral into darkness in Swan Lake. Or catching sight of Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” for the very first time.
“Being in the middle of a thousand people during any sound projection can certainly help to develop stronger receptivity, and let us let our feelings go, much more than being at home in front of a Hi-Fi system,” says Thierry Fischer, the music director at the Utah Symphony. “When we’re watching television, or movies, or listening to a recording, we’re out of it. Being in front of any notion of art, like nature, martial arts, painting, literature, sculpture, or poetry.. brings us to a dimension to examine ourselves on a microscopic level: our hopes, dreams, notions of desire. This we can have only if we’re in the place where the art is produced.”
I feel that so deeply. Perhaps it’s my inner child, the one that acted in every high-school play and sang in every choir performance. The one that took tap dancing lessons and dreamed of acting on Broadway. At some point I realized my own creative talents lay elsewhere, but my eyes still glisten with tears when I witness something so beautiful and resonant. Something that stirs the parts of my being that I just don’t have access to at work or while watching television.
“I’m as guilty as everyone else when it comes to Netflix,” says Paul Meecham, the president and CEO of the Utah Symphony. “But live performance is the thing. At the end of it, you come away feeling different because of that shared experience.”
Noel Jensen and Severine Wang, pictured in this story, are dancers for Ballet West II in Salt Lake City.