Channel 451

I must confess I am not a fan of television. It should be obvious why, right? Television is so clearly a social cancer. It’s one of the major contributing factors to people’s inability to be original, have an opinion, think for themselves or develop social skills. One could argue that the internet has added to this, that computers have become a deeper source of social decay, but one would be wrong.

I actually do like a lot of films. I don’t think film is such an ideal artistic medium, but it can do storytelling efficiently and effectively. But I think movies have created a lot of “myths” within our modern culture, and the error of television is that it has merged these tall tales with capitalist and consumerist drives. Movies tend to portray a lot of idealized lives, unappealing things that are marketed as glorious: heroes, villains, drama, tragedy, romance, heartbreak, violence, sex.

These aren’t inherently negative, since they’re the foundation of the human experience and storytelling. But what I am thinking is that a lot of the false realities espoused by film stories have become embedded in many people’s subconscious attitudes and daily impulses.

The more obvious examples I can imagine are kung fu movies, which depict martial combat to be beautiful and graceful. In reality, fights between skilled martial artists do not look that graceful to the untrained eye. Not to mention movie kung fu just looks like dancing to an experienced martial artist or fighter (and that’s what it is, mostly). I know people who take these movie depictions really seriously, and scoff at real martial artists or situations because they don’t resemble Bruce Lee or Rambo.

Of course, I simply used martial arts because it’s the most blatant example. But it works with everything else: romance and relationships, idealized tragedies, using movies to emphasize something that isn’t even as poignant as the daily events in the life of the person watching the film. Since when does music dictate and determine how we must feel in our day-to-day life? Since music started being set to moving pictures, is when.

Blasphemy, I say!

But, the thing I really wanted to say was this: television is one of the few things in life where a person can invest hours and gain absolutely nothing.* It’s able to move quickly enough so that one does not focus on the fact that there is almost never anything of substance coming through the screen. Television actively drains a person of energy.

Not only that, but for some reason televisions have invaded social scenarios. When meeting with friends, going to a bar or restaurant, or even sitting in a waiting room — televisions are always on. And it’s so hard to fight; even when you look away from a television, you have to constantly put effort or willpower into continually resisting it. As soon as one is not maintaining total awareness over their mind’s activities, their attention will drift towards the screen. Just try not looking at the TV in a room that has one on. It’s rather difficult and quite frustrating. Thus it is extremely careless and even dangerous to place televisions in one’s car, as it is extremely distracting to other drivers.

Television also destroys the vibrant social atmosphere of a gathering of people. Nothing kills the party or gathering like putting on a TV. Not only can no one agree on what to watch, but it stifles debate, investigative and creative thought, and deeper relationships. Television programming is an ironic term, because you’re being programmed by the television when watching it. You’re actually being totally fooled. When was the last time your friends and you turned off the TV and played a board game?

People can disagree all they want (and they do, overwhelmingly so) but television has no deep substance to any of its programs. I think it was Marshall McLuhan who always drove home the idea that, “the medium is the message” — which argues that everything within a medium (in this case television) is limited by that medium. Everything on television is imbued with a handicap, one which halts it from creating a concise message or artistic expression.

I think it has gotten worse over time, with the size of the population and economy inflating, and the expansion of the internet and digital cable TV. If one watches the news, or the cable news channels, there is nearly nothing of substance that is being delivered to the viewer. It is true, the media are naive fools, but one can at least gleam deeper details from a newspaper or internet site.

If one watches other shows on television, nearly all of which glorify violence, sex or vulgar comedy (with a few exceptions, which I will touch upon in a moment), one will recognize the lack of cohesive plot structure inherent to the show. So many shows are based upon smarmy banter between lead characters, creating unrealistic situational comedy which does not exist in real life, is pretentious and alienates the viewer. If the viewer is not alienated, their own social lives are misconstrued by these situational fantasies, which hold much more influence over the public than most of us seriously consider.

There are then “reality shows”, which vary from complete lust-fests catering to shallow male horniness and female insecurities developed by the fashion industry, to reality shows which somehow manage to succeed in feigning educational entertainment. I can vouch that the “edu-tainment” shows are the least mean-spirited of the reality shows. After all, most other reality shows revolve around laughing at the contestants sardonically, for they might be like us, but yet they are not us and so it is funny. Or something to that degree.

Oh yeah, and laughing at shows ironically is bad for your soul. Just watch “The Soup” on E! once a week and be done with it.

To be somewhat fair, I have seen decent things on TV, but not nearly as many times as I have seem good movies. Substantive shows are typically on public broadcasting like PBS or ridden with commercials. But usually these are just much much better on DVD. Also, I don’t think these things are better than movies, and television should serve no purpose to an idle single person. Watching TV is only valid as an excuse for couples to snuggle on the couch or for defeated bachelors/bachelorettes to eat their microwave dinners in melancholy silence and darkness; hence the term, “TV dinners”.

I hope this doesn’t come across as a rant, because I’m just expressing how tired I am that a social plague like television is infiltrating the lives of everybody around me and just how I’m overwhelmed by people who think I’m the one who is mistaken. It feels like a preview of Orwellian hell or something. And I’m pretty damn sure I’m not wrong: it feels nasty to watch an hour or two of TV. I’ll do it occasionally when I’m really tired and I immediately realize I would’ve better spent those hours having real regrets by looking at pornography.

By the way, remember that scene in Terminator 2, when the kids are staring at a TV screen and the camera pans around and the TV set is broken, and there’s just a fire inside of it? That’s a pretty potent commentary: that the television has replaced the fireplace as the communal gathering and arbiter of storytelling and the imagination.

If you really want to explore these polemic ideas on television by more accomplished writers and thinkers than myself (can you believe any exist?) just go read Neil Postman or Jerry Mander. If you already know about them you probably didn’t finish this article. Also scary, is that I don’t expect things to change, but I expect one day television viewing will be mandatory. Keep it off while you still can!


* I realize drugs and sex can do this too, and that this may be more potent commentary for TV in the USA.


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