In Defense of Television

Normally, my posts are about the things we dislike about the media, especially the tripe that gets sold as sirloin when it comes to mainstream TV and film. But I started thinking about ol' Philo's contraption in a way that made me take on the Devil's Advocate mantle and actually defend what it's become.

Yeah, I know. I actually DEFENDED television. What the Hell's gotten into me?

According to A.C. Nielsen, the average American watches more than four hours of television a day. Putting aside the fact that Americans are growing increasingly more obese, and that watching four hours of TV is not very conducive to a healthy lifestyle where exercise and proper eating habits are a part of an everyday regimen, this doesn't necessarily mean that television watching has to be considered a bad thing.

While it is very easy to fall into a mindset that says television is nothing more than an instrument of the devil that should be burned at the stake, it is only fair to state that a
n argument can be made that watching television could actually contribute in a positive way to a person's intelligence, creativity and overall quality of life in much the same way that reading a book could. It merely depends on what you watch and how you watch it.

It is all too easy to become a passive television viewer. Perhaps this has something to do with the way television was presented to the public to begin with in the 1950's and has been passed down from generations ever since. When it was first introduced, people were just amazed that the thing even worked. They could sit in front of this box for hours at a time marveling at the technology in front of them. Eventually this fascination wore off, but that slack-jawed stare into the glowing screen persisted. To this day people still sit there - lulled by the pretty pictures that flash in front of their eyes; brainwashed until the instrument of technological marvel is reduced to nothing more than an Orwellian squawk box, feeding them with whatever propaganda the content distributors want to convey:
  • Be Afraid.
  • Never question your government - they are working in your best interest.
  • This is the way life is supposed to be.
  • Keep consuming: its the American way.
  • Etc.
But there is definitely another way to watch television, folks. A different perspective where it has the potential to stimulate rather than sedate. Personally, television has become a resource to motivate my creative and analytical mind - forcing me to think and question what it is I am watching. Not in a conspiracy theory/ tinfoil hat sort of way, but rather from a technical, creative or artistic standpoint. For example, this is usually what I think about:
  • Why the Hell is this show on the air?
  • Who writes this stuff and why are they still working?
  • Who told this person they knew how to act?
  • How could this program be better? Why shoot it that way? What's with the lighting? The camera angles, Etc.
I also try to look beyond the facade of what is presented and think a little deeper about the intentions and motivations of the programming:
  • What are they not telling you that might be more important?
  • Who is telling the truth about this and what are they trying to hide?
  • What is the underlying message?
I appreciate the craft of television and the skill it takes to develop an entertaining and engaging storyline. Sure, there are the shows I watch for pure entertainment reasons - "chewing gum for the eyes" as Frank Lloyd Wright once said. We all know there is more than enough stuff out there where one can simply tune in and turn off their minds. But there is so much more that television can offer if the viewer simply shifts how they perceive the content and uses their brain a bit more. By looking at a television program and questioning something about it, television becomes an exercise in creativity. In this way, a person might be able to learn more about themselves and their world. It can encourage someone to discuss these issues with the people around them, possibly giving insight into something they didn't think of, which could expand or completely change their own pre-conceived way of looking at things.

The film "Goodnight and Good Luck" brought back to light a wonderful comment Edward R. Murrow made about television:
"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."
Television has the potential to be a tool for creativity and insight, rather than just a mental pacifier for the masses. Instead of just sitting there, ask questions. Look something up. Even if it's completely trivial, at the very least you might learn something new, which is never a bad thing.

Challenge yourself to change the way you look at TV and your experience of it might be dramatically different.
Television - like life - should be what you make of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good point!

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