Mark Thompson

Confused at First Sight: Why Do Smart People Watch Stupid Television?

I’ve witnessed the phenomena of smart people engrossed in stupid television firsthand. But I’m still unsure why. Help me out?


Once upon a doomed relationship, I had a partner. One who was wizened in the ways of the world. One who knew the lessons of history and the machinations of the legal realm. And one who, for some reason, knew the names of the three current (now-ex) girlfriends of that fossil in pajamas, Hugh Hefner.

The show was imaginatively titled The Girls Next Door, or also The Girls of the Playboy Mansion.

For those who missed it, three girlfriends of the owner/proprietor of the Playboy Mansion went on winding vapid adventures for no reason whatsoever.

One particular episode that has somehow stuck with me was the time they decided to place a nickel (an American coin of variable value) upon the railway tracks to test the malleable physics of a metal blend formed by man. Perhaps.

I sat there, aghast, sliding in quiet sarcasm to register my disgust, but it didn’t reach my partner who was also watching it. She was enthralled. On the television, the train approached. I prayed for a mass derailment that would end in a culpable homicide charge and subsequent courtroom appearance next week when they previewed, “Next time on The Girls of the Playboy Mansion, dot dot dot.”


I need to know for sure: while we know why television makes you stupid … why do smart people watch stupid television? … And moreover, how, when they know it’s stupid, do they identify with it?


However, the train passed without event, and the coins that Kendra (the one who married a no-name American footballer that I was expected to know, “because Kendra”) had placed on the tracks looked different than before. She didn’t understand why. Crash zoom. Sound effect. Halting laugh. Ad break. If my shoulders were any more shrugged at that point, I would have crushed my own cranium.

“What?” she asked.

I moved my palm toward the TV, still frozen on the confused face of the Playboy girl, and back to her. I wanted answers. My face had the same confuzzled grimace as the poor rabbit (rabbit?) (bunny?) on the TV screen, and I too had been hit by a train.

What the fuck was this?

Penelope, we’ll call my partner (because why not), was the smartest person to ever be interested in my faults. At some point, she’d wear the legal wig of respect, or set up shop in an oaken library as a respected World War Uno historian. She was the person you’d most want to be next to in an art gallery, bookstore, or pub quiz. Suddenly, there was this curveball.


“I’d like to lodge a complaint, please; which of you is HR?” (Image: IMDB)

Something didn’t fit. She actively railed against exploitation of the female form, and thusly changed my mind on what exhibition of the female form was acceptable. She taught me how to identify and respect the importance of narrative, regardless of the medium. Now this?! Was it a case study for a PhD she decided to do on a whim? Plastic television: The effects of a disposable entertainment on Generation Y?

Apparently not.

I pressed her for an explanation. She had none to give. We broke up soon after that, so I was forever alone in the dark. But the question still burns. (Along with regret. Peennneelloopppeee ….) With the more recent proliferation of Game of Thrones (otherwise known as tits and gibberish) or the empathetic ra-ra’s of The Voice, where everyone has a backstory that has its own moribund piano concerto, I need to know for sure: while we know why television makes you stupid, because, after all, Willy Wonka’s slave labor told us … why do smart people watch stupid television?

And moreover, how, when they know it’s stupid, do they identify with it?

If it is escapism, as entertainment often is, could not those blessed with brilliance, foresight, and imagination choose a realm beyond that of a lovelorn male model seeking love from seven female models? Or saying “yes” to a particular garment of clothing?

Are we not better than this?


Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson lives in regional NSW working by day in an accounting firm, and by night lives and breathes being a food and wine snob. He hopes to one day be a food critic or at the very least, meet Maggie Beer.