“Remember, with great power … comes great responsibility.” The old guy from “Spider-Man”
For the longest time, that quote meant only that if I ever became a superhero, I would be obligated to defend New York from the Green Goblin and to keep my mask on when upside-down making out with Kirsten Dunst in the rain.
But then something sudden happened — a great change to the amount of power I wielded. Bitten by a radioactive spider? No. A letter in the mail.
My roommate and I were chosen to be a Nielsen family.
For those unfamiliar, Nielsen is the media research company that produces the official TV ratings — the measure by which all television programming is held, advertising dollars are determined, and shows’ fates are sealed. Since there’s no way to find out what every television in the country is tuned into (unless you believe there is, and that Big Brother controls it all, to which I only request you remove your foil hat out of respect when reading this column), Nielsen picks a select few homes to be representations of the greater television-viewing public. The members of these homes fill out a diary of everything they watch for a week and receive small compensation in the form of the crispiest dollar bills imaginable.
But the real compensation is knowing that you have a hand in keeping your favorite shows on the air.
I’ve cursed Nielsen in the past — mean-spirited, unrepeatable curses — because its rating system has led to untimely demises, abrupt plot twists and renewal limbo for some of my favorite shows: “Alias,” “Arrested Development,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Simpsons” (oh, wait ...). So, naturally, once I found out I was joining them for a week, I wanted to undo all of those past injustices and run DVR’d “Community” and “Parks and Rec” marathons every day, perhaps saving them from the brink of an unjust fate.
But my next thought turned to Spider-Man, as I believe the case would be for most everybody. I began to understand his great burden. Helping out only my favorites would be the television viewer’s version of building a hammock between two skyscrapers with the webbing that shoots from my wrists. I’m now partially responsible for the overall quality of television programming; what if a lack of awareness on my part leads to the cancellation of the next “Seinfeld” or the next “The Wire”? (Speaking of, I really do need to be looking into the History Channel’s “Swamp People.”)
Aside from elections, social media, message boards and comment sections, most folks don’t get the chance to have their voices heard. It’s my responsibility to take this Nielsen thing seriously, because there are people out there whose favorite shows hang in the balance who won’t ever get the chance to save them. And when talking heads inevitably blame what’s on TV for social issues, as talking heads are wont to do, they won’t be pointing the finger at a faceless shadow, they’ll be pointing it at me.
Or my roommate. But I trust that his judgment is better than mine. And he’s not even Spider-Man.
But really, Andy still plans at least one “Community” marathon #SixSeasonsAndAMovie.