Returning to abstinence after weeks of debauchery with television

I came to college in the fall of 2004 armed with a suite in Vanderbilt, three Yale sweatshirts, the alcohol tolerance of a baby raccoon and excellent Gaydar.

Now, embarking on my sixth semester as an Eli, absolutely none of this is different. 100 “Gs” of tuition have apparently made no impact on the person I am today. My father would have a conniption fit if he knew.

In fact, it seems the only significant difference between then and now (besides those pesky Five leftover from the Freshman Fifteen and a permanently haunted look), is that I now have a TV.

Which I never watch.

So this winter break, in a quest for self-betterment and true happiness, I attempted to change my wayward college ways, and rediscovered the glory of TV. Stumbling around at home, suckling at the chilly aluminum teat of a Coke Zero to stave off the caffeine-deprivation headaches, I clicked on the tube.

What may only be described as greatness was to follow. Out came tears, laughter, memories, discoveries, revelations and fresh addictions to feed. If television is bad, then I didn’t want to be good.

Forget happy times with the family and catching up with high-school friends. Besides the occasional baby-sitting gig and an afternoon spent compiling Internet pictures of puppies in superhero outfits, my world revolved around one thing. Somehow, despite over two years of nearly TV-less living, I spent nearly all of my free time in various rooms of the house, parked in front of whatever day-long marathon I could find. I celebrated with “Little People, Big World” on Christmas Eve, “Law & Order: SVU” on New Year’s Eve, “Beauty and the Geek” on New Year’s Day. The station execs had given me gifts to commemorate each winter holiday, and they knew just what I wanted. The TV Guide Channel was a greeting card: “Dear Sarah, saw these and thought of you!”

At any hour of the day, even when limited to basic cable, it is fully possible to watch at least one of the following: “Law & Order,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” or that perennial Jamaican Disney favorite, “Cool Runnings.” As long as I had those 27 inches of glass-covered magic, late greats like Jerry Orbach, Peter Boyle or John Candy would always be by my side. Death, overpowered by syndication, could not keep us apart. The radiation from the cathode ray tube warmed the cockles of my blackened heart, and I knew I could never be alone.

Giving my life to television — in a way I never will to my future spouse or children — seemingly helped me broaden my cultural horizons. Although I have no plans to study a foreign language at Yale, I immersed myself in the study of Spanish this vacation. My TV education has officially surpassed my Ivy League one. Want proof? I can now confidently comprehend the events of “Vas O No Vas,” “Deal or No Deal’s” Telemundo counterpart. The show features incredibly emotive Mexican-American contestants whose numbered briefcases — quite offensively — feature significantly smaller dollar amounts than the NBC version.

I spent hours watching it.

I guess I realized that I’d spiraled out of control one morning when, expecting “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” I found myself practically in tears at finding special coverage of Gerald Ford’s memorial service instead.

Reflecting on my favorite programs, I became increasingly disgusted with myself. While I had set an alarm clock to wake up for the cast of “Dreamgirls” on “Oprah,” I caught myself flipping past Ms. Winfrey’s touching special report on “America’s Poor” in favor of an episode of “Parental Control” that I’d already seen. I reluctantly watched an episode of “Jeopardy!” with my mother, but nearly shouted myself hoarse with enthusiastic cries of “No Whammies!” during reruns of “Press Your Luck.” My stint as a television junkie revealed my penchant for the contentless, perverse and downright pitiful. If I’d come across an episode of “Britney and Kevin: Chaotic,” I probably would have taped it.

I spent the next few days after the unfortunate Ford incident trying to pry the TV monkey off my back, and boy did it hurt. I read books, cleaned bathrooms and sent e-mails. I tried Tae-Bo. When that didn’t do, I ate my feelings. But the kitchen felt empty without the comforting din of the tiny flatscreen on the counter.

I steeled myself and held on, and I think I’ve (at least temporarily) won the battle — it’s been over two weeks since my last “Golden Girls.”

I’ve tried making any number of excuses for my problems. Since it was vacation, since last semester was particularly stressful, since I’m in the throes of the summer job search, I just needed to decompress. And perhaps this is true. But there is something very wrong with the fact that I’m chastising myself for not watching my TV at school and yet have no qualms about having spent less than 15 minutes total in the Beinecke.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid my television habit is indicative of a problem I, along with most of our generation, will struggle with for the rest of our lives. We are drawn to the catastrophic, the sensationalized and the utterly classless. It is the curse of the children of the ’80s.

And I’m pretty damn sure it’s because we grew up watching too much “Sesame Street.”

Sarah Minkus is watching you. You thought Big Brother was out to get you. You had no idea it was actually Big Sister.

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