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Are we using TV to replace the family and friends we don't have?

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Glee-Hug

Image Credit: FoxSince moving to New York one year ago, it has become more and more apparent to me how much I value my relationships with my family and friends. But as much as I miss their physical presence, I honestly don’t have much time to miss them because I talk to them all the time — on the phone, over IM, via video chat, and text. And more often than not, we talk about and bond over TV. According to this recently published L.A. Times essay, this does not count as bonding.

In addition to criticizing television shows with (what article author Neal Gabler perceived to be) aggrandized portrayals of familial bonds and friendships (see: Modern Family, Cougar Town, Glee, Parenthood, and a dozen others mentioned), Gabler used 10-year-old theories to defend its claim that we use television — and the characters on our favorite shows — to replace what we can’t and don’t have. “TV has learned how to compensate for the increasing alienation it seems to induce,” Gabler says, basing much of his opinion on 2000’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam.

My answer to all this is my Tuesday night. On a normal week, I am logged into my instant messenger five minutes before the start of Glee to watch it with one of my best friends who lives in Texas, nearly 2,000 miles away. Immediately after the show and our post-game review, I call my sister in Indiana and tell her to load up the latest Supernatural episode on her computer. She’s in college and usually busy during the show’s original Friday night airing, so we have a tradition: Tuesday re-watch, always after Glee. It’s our chance to talk about the show like we used to when we were both back home watching from the couch.

These are just two of two dozen examples of how TV keeps me connected with my friends, with my family, and sometimes introduces me to new friends. Is this wrong? Certainly not. To disparage this quality time simply because it doesn’t occur in the traditional sense (face-to-face) is not only an outdated view of a constantly evolving act, but somewhat insulting to anyone who relishes in the communal aspects of television. Am I wrong in thinking this, PopWatchers?

The lone point of Gabler’s that I agree with is that much of television is about friendship. But even so, he casts that blanket over all television programming — and anyone who watches anything other than basic cable can tell you this is wrong. But friendship is important on many shows, and for those who choose to watch that programming, that’s what you tune in wanting to see.

I suppose I take the most grief with all of this because Gabler paints a bleak picture of what he assumes our desires are, stating “These shows are pure wish fulfillment. They offer us friends and family at one’s beck and call but without any of the hassles. It is friendship as we want it to be.”

That not only is that far from what I see on my favorite shows (When was the last time anything on these shows was hassle-free? Isn’t conflict the point?), but that’s not what I want, either. If anything, feel-good shows like Modern Family, older shows like Friends, and new favorites like Raising Hope remind me what I love about the friendships and bonds that I have. For that, I can’t be resentful of my TV programming. If anything, I’m eternally thankful.

Share your thoughts below. Yes, be communal.

More on Twitter: @EWSandraG