Is television evil? : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

TV Link

Is television evil?
Thursday 14 September 2000

Let there be no doubt: Television is not a good thing. It is widely held that it rots the brain, encourages sloth, desensitises us to violence, stifles creative thought, shortens the attention span, erodes the capacity for critical thinking, shortens the attention span and affects the memory. Did I mention it shortens the attention span? And that it affects the memory?

Bookstore and library shelves groan under volumes stuffed with studies that show how television turns the minds of our children to mush and makes them more violent, fatter and less imaginative. Like little retired rugby league players. Children watch so much TV, social researchers and academics tell us, that when, as adults, they look back on their childhoods they won't have memories of things they did, they'll have memories of things they watched on TV.

The purveyors and defenders of high culture are adamant that TV is a blight. It is a mind-numbing drug, they say, a debaser of art, an oversimplifier of complex issues, the enemy of reading, a distraction for the weak-willed. Those who cast themselves as society's moral guardians say it is an acid to morals and spirituality, a corrupter of the young, ethically bankrupt. In short, television is as close to the Devil as slime is to a slug.

The chorus of anti-television crusaders rumbles loudly and few voices are raised against the landslide of that opinion.

And yet, silently, millions of people do argue against the proposition that television is bad for us. By watching it, people cast a vote in favor of the medium. They make no case for it - no logical argument in favor of its virtues, no studies to promote its beneficial effects - they just watch the bloody thing, go about their lives and somehow resist its hypnotic, disempowering, brain-scrambling effects. Society still functions, children pass their exams and go on to study, have families, attend picnics, vote, play team sports and read books. How odd.

So, there is a case against the contention that television is evil. Let's take a more systematic approach and consider some of the arguments against the square-eyed god we worship so wholeheartedly.

Television gives us a warped view of the world

If we were to accept the template of society provided by television we'd probably think that consumption is the source of happiness (thank you advertising); that most of life's problems have a neat solution that can be reached in 48 minutes (care of one-hour TV drama); and that crime is common and injustice is entertaining (police shows come to mind).

On the other hand, it could be argued that television teaches us how to behave, what's socially acceptable to the majority and what is expected of us. Like myths and legends in pre-technology cultures, television shows us who our heroes are, what our values are, and delivers cautionary tales for those who would turn their back on those values. In this way it encourages social stability without the need for tanks in the streets.

Television breeds materialism and undermines spirituality

Television is predominantly funded by advertising, so of course commercialism is rampant. But the war between materialism and spirituality is not new; religions have long struggled against the preference for materialism among their adherents.

This struggle continues in the medium of television during the small hours of the night. This territory is ruled by infomercials and home shopping shows (which unfairly target us when we are tired and slow-witted). It's also when phone sex ads are screened (which target us when we are tired and, er, lonely). At least at Channel Ten they balance the materialism of the infomercials and the sinfulness of the phone-sex ads each night with several hours of TV evangelists such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Marilyn Hickey (who unfairly target us when we are tired and worried about death).

While one sells the hope of washboard stomachs and labor-saving vegetable slicers, the other sells the promise of eternal bliss. Phone-sex ads offer something in between.

The stakes are high in late-night advertising and television religion.

Television creates a violent society

Schwarzenegger-style shoot-'em-up films and police shows, say social analysts such as the Australian Early Childhood Association, suggest that violence can be a legitimate means of conflict resolution. Aggressive behavior is promoted as the solution to intransigence, and television heroes use it to uphold such values as truth, justice and the way Americans like to do things. But governments do that. It's called law and order, and our police often use violence to uphold it. On a larger scale it's called war, and is usually the last, desperate course of action taken by governments when diplomacy fails.

Many academics decry the aggressive influence television has on children, in particular, and, by extension, on society in general. The truth is - and social analyst Hugh Mackay made this point in this newspaper last weekend - that Australian society is less violent now, after 44 years of television, than it was 80 years ago (today's homicide rate, he pointed out, is half the rate it was then), long before the box became a standard fixture in our homes.

Television does show a lot of violence, but it's likely that that's a reflection of society rather than a cause of aggression. Critics often ignore the fact that violence on television is often shown in a proscriptive context - that is, it usually shows the unpalatable consequences of violent behavior. So rather than promote violence it implicitly warns against it.

Besides, the connection between TV violence and social violence is tenuous at best, despite the vehemence of those who quote studies that purport to prove it. As American TV celebrity Dick Cavett once asked, tongue-in-cheek: "There's so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?''

Television stifles interpersonal communication

Another common complaint is that many families no longer communicate because when they spend time together it is usually to watch television, which stifles free-ranging conversation. Alternately, it is suggested, multiple-television-owning households also see reduced communication between family members.

Consider this scenario: After dinner, Johnny flops down on the lounge to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Dad sneaks out to the garage to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Gran heads up to her room to watch Collingwood v. Hawthorn, which she taped on the weekend; and Mum does the dishes in the kitchen while she listens to a special report on Radio National about the gains of feminism in the past 30 years.

This might look like a family without communication, but it is also a family without conflict. When this family does come together to watch something together - say, a 20-year-old Leyland Brothers special or the Lotto results - they'll have something to talk about the next night at dinner during those awkward silences between chewing. Even if it's only talk of how they'd spend their share of the prize pool travelling the country and making films about their journeys.

Television dumbs down complex issues

In his critique of the effects of television on political and social discourse, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman laments that on television important issues are reduced to simplistic sound and picture bites, and that intricate, intelligent political debate has been replaced by one-liner, attention-grabbing repartee designed to make the news but which glosses over crucial detail. On television, the image rules, and although the saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, Postman suggests that to one person a picture might suggest one lot of a thousand words while to another it might suggest a completely different thousand words. Discourse has become diffused, inexact and, effectively, worthless.

Much of Postman's complaint might be true, but we should remember that through television news, opinion and information are more diverse and more plentiful than ever before. TV helps to inform about issues we'd not even have heard about a century or even 50 years ago. Less homogenous sources of such information also make for less homogenous opinions and more varied discussion of issues.

Television's content is mostly rubbish

Perhaps the most vehement criticism of television comes not from academics or researchers but from those who consider themselves the keepers of "high" culture.

Soap operas, entertainment passing itself off as current affairs, B-grade films, trashy talk shows, mindless cartoons, infomercials, dumbed-down news, television fare reduced to appeal to the broadest possible audience, the lowest common denominator ... It's all part of the "mind-numbing pap" sociologist Ian Reinecke complains is so widely disseminated by our advanced technology.

Other such critics - and this includes journalists who are, mostly, well educated - bring to their views of television assumptions rooted in an elitist tradition of cultural analysis. These assumptions rely on notions of "high" and "low" culture: high culture aspires to refinement and improvement in form and content, it seeks the eternal themes within relations between society and the universe, and aims for subtlety, sophistication and style. Conversely, it sees popular culture as uncomplicated, trivial and shallow, and because it seeks to repeat forms rather than innovate, it is seen as boring, and therefore of less value. It is a patronising and unfair assessment, easily dismissed.

What it boils down to

Television can be boring, insulting, nasty, inane, depressing, misleading, annoying, distracting - perhaps even destructive. But it's also entertaining, informative, uplifting, a solace, moving, inspirational and useful.

So should we ban the box, as Afghanistan's fundamentalist Muslim Taliban leadership has done? Or should we understand that television is not a life-and-death issue and keep it as a part of a balanced cultural lifestyle?

Excessive television is evil. Uncritical television-watching is evil. Is television in itself evil? Naaaah - it's just television.


Sometimes this forum appears to be about 'simplistic sound and picture bites' concerning self-flagellation dudes of Texas, but I am probably wrong, so I thought this lengthy 'TV' article might divert attention away from the usual diatribe dished out of late.

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (, September 13, 2000


I like TV. I probably don't watch as much as some who say that hate it. But I like Discovery, TLC, The History Channel, and BBC. Sometimes I enjoy Sci-Fi and sordid tales of true crime.

I read much more than I watch TV. But I like TV, in spite of all the junk on it. Love news too. Sure it's slanted by both sides, who cares--read the real dope on the net.

-- gilda (, September 13, 2000.

Hi, Pieter.

After spending two solid weeks going to school and studying, going to school and studying, I decided to watch some T.V. last Sunday night. I watched a movie Fallen with Denzel Washington. It felt GREAT. I was totally renewed. I knew that box was more than just something to dust. I was also amazed at how much cleaning could get done during commercials.

-- Anita (, September 13, 2000.

"On the other hand, it could be argued that television teaches us how to behave, what's socially acceptable to the majority and what is expected of us." [bold added]

No, it teaches us what's acceptable to the sponsors.

"The truth is - and social analyst Hugh Mackay made this point in this newspaper last weekend - that Australian society is less violent now, after 44 years of television, than it was 80 years ago (today's homicide rate, he pointed out, is half the rate it was then), long before the box became a standard fixture in our homes."

Correlation does not necessary imply causation. Also, I thought the more substantive criticism was that television viewers tend to become desensitized to violence.

"This might look like a family without communication, but it is also a family without conflict."

So then, a family is necessarily in conflict while it's not watching television? And what is bad about getting conflict into the open, if this leads to its resolution?

"TV helps to inform about issues we'd not even have heard about a century or even 50 years ago."

Didn't reporters exist then? Perhaps the issues didn't!

-- David L (, September 13, 2000.

Sorry, Pieter, but the article kicked me right into diatribe gear.

"TV helps to inform about issues we'd not even have heard about a century or even 50 years ago."

That is total bull. Or, as charlie would say, BS CUBED. One hour of local and national tv news contains, aside from sports and weather, perhaps 20-25 news stories on a good night. In that same hour any person of moderate literacy can read twice or three times that much news in a daily newspaper or news magazine. As for issues of 50 or 100 years ago, read the newspapers of those times. They were crammed with news from all over the nation and the world, and almost EVERYONE read at least one daily paper, either morning or evening. Before trans-Atlantic telegraph wires were laid, people were so hungry for overseas news that East Coast newspapers used to send reporters to the docks to meet incoming ships from Europe and South America to pump the captains for news and to pick up foreign newspapers that were mined for news items. The average citizen of 1940 was far better informed of local, state, national, and world events than today's tv-lobotomized couch potato who thinks every issue is a 30-second sound bite and a smiley-face quip from that smarmy blonde anchor. The 1940 American was also far more involved in local civic, religious, and social organizations, and their decline can also be linked directly to tv viewership, but that's another discussion.

Is television evil? Unequivocably, YES.

Soapbox mode OFF (but don't get me started again!)

-- Cash (, September 13, 2000.

How can an inanimate object be evil? Can anyone seriously blame programmers and sponsors for television content? This is so typically western "shift the blame" doublespeak.

As far as I know, there are no federal or state laws mandating the viewing of television programs. Last time I looked, there were no federal or state laws mandating attendance at movies. It is totally ridiculous for our society to be blaming programmers and not looking at themselves for the choices they make.

If no one watched violent or sexually explicit shows/movies do you think they would continue to be made? I think not. Advertising is sold on how many "eyeballs" can be delivered. Movies are made with the profit in mind, and if people stopped going to films with rampant violence they would no longer be made.

This shift in responsibility, this almost exuberant propensity to blame the content-makers is a symptom of a much larger societal ill; people just do not seem to want to raise their children responsibly. When I adopt my child, you can bet there will be no crap on my tv screen. You can bet that option one in my house will be reading, option 2 will be writing, and option three will probably be acting out stories.

No one wants to look at themselves-why should they when there are so many crusades against the content-makers?

Television is not evil. People are evil.

I suggest everyoone read a tremendous book by M. Scott Peck called "People of the Lie". You might be very surprised at the definition of evil he developes.

-- FutureSHock (gray@matter.think), September 15, 2000.

Anything that has power over you, especially inanimate objects, is not healthy. If you have a hard time turning off the TV after a show or two, then I'd say you have a problem. And yes, it would also include your computer (quick - change the subject lol), though there is definitely more learning involved on the www.

-- cin (cin@=0).cin), September 15, 2000.

Future Shock, EXACTLY. "TV is not evil. People are evil." An inanimate TV is nor more evil than an inanimate vacuum cleaner. I knew a woman that was addicted to vacuuming, while I consider it a form of modern torture.

I think computers are great, but you find just as much trash on them as on TV. It's all a matter of selection.

This is just another example of shifting blame from ourselves to TPTB, and an electronic box.

-- gilda (, September 15, 2000.

Another two cents:

Blaming tv/content providers is like a junkie saying heroin is his problem.

-- FutureShock (gray@matter.think), September 15, 2000.

Future shock said: "Blaming tv/content providers is like a junkie saying heroin is his problem."

Take a logic pill, FS. Blaming tv/content providers is like blaming the pusher who gets the junkie hooked in the first place, using the best psychological research and most advanced media techniques in existence. The television is the means of delivery, the needle. Sure, it's inanimate, but look at all the people/corporations/advertising agencies/MONEY behind it that have created an entire culture that considers non-TV watchers to be somehow "odd" or eccentric. Try being a 14-year-old girl who doesn't watch Dawson's Creek or Buffy and see how quickly she is relegated to the bottom of the junior high food chain.

Never mind the logic pill. Write yourself a reality check, a BIG one, large enough for you to climb down off that high horse you're riding and find out what's going on among the common people.

-- Cash (, September 15, 2000.

Cash-sounds like you are at it again, trying to discredit my observations because you think they are "somewhere up there" and not down to earth. This sounds a lot like another poster whose handle I cannot remember. It is you who are illogical, my friend.

When are people going to take responsibility for their own actions? When are parents going to teach and encourage individuality? When are we going to teach our people to think for themselves?

Blame drug use on the pusher? Are you really serious? I used drugs for 25 years, and not once in those 25 years did a drug dealer hold me down and shot drugs into my veins or force heroin up my nose. No bartender ever handcuffed me to the bar stool, ripped open my jaws, and poured alcohol down my throat.

It is you, Mr. Cash, who lacks the knowledge. It is you who are so wrapped up in conspiracies that you cannot see the need for a massive overhauling of the way children are educated and the way they are raised. This is not esoterica-I speak from experience-Every human being has choices, and it is a sad day when someone says that we should just accept the phenomena of "peer pressure" and not even attempt to encourage independent thought. A sad day indeed.

-- FutureSHock (gray@matter.think), September 15, 2000.

FS I agree with you about people not taking responsibility for themselves and their actions and dis-actions. Unfortunately, It is the children who haven't yet learned any concept of self-discipline, who are harmed by their parents allowance of 24 hour a day television.

-- cin (cin@=0.)), September 15, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ