The problem with television

Another possible source of guidance for teenagers is television, but television’s message has always been that the need for truth, wisdom, and world peace pales by comparison with the need for a toothpaste that offers whiter teeth and fresher breath.
~Dave Barry

I have a very big problem with TV. In fact, I have many big problems with TV. I only own one because I can’t run the PS2 or the Wii off of my computer monitor…yet.

I haven’t watched television off of my TV in at least five years. I used to watch TV as a child and then as an adolescent, but as I got older I got out of the habit. I can barely sit down for half an hour to watch a single episode, now.

Here’s the thing: I firmly believe that television is an addiction. You may not want to fess up, but it’s probably true. You’ve conditioned yourself to it. You’ve conditioned yourself to relax in front of it. You’ve conditioned yourself to only be content if it’s on constantly. You’ve conditioned your brain to think that TV is a treat and thus you derive pleasure from it.

Like most addictions, some people are predisposed to it. I’m probably not one of them. I did not have to fight to quit the TV. For me it’s a huge fucking distraction. I had to repeatedly turn it off today (yes, I am posting on Christmas) because it distracted me from the people I was talking to. I can’t stand to have it on while I eat, and I won’t have it on while I read or surf the web.

Sure, there are some interesting and fun shows out there, (“Ghost Hunters,” “Family Guy,” and “The Daily Show” spring to mind), but for the most part, I don’t even need these. With the exception of the PS2 and the Wii, there is nothing the TV can do that a good book cannot. The book takes a bit longer, and the visuals are all in your head, but I’ll derive a million times more satisfaction from a good book than from a good television show.

Television is passive entertainment. You sit, you watch, you are fed. Books require an imagination and the ability to exercise it. Video games at least require feedback and the ability to solve puzzles and challenges. Television prompts for no such feedback. So unless you intend on actively critiquing what you’re watching, television, even “educational” television, isn’t going to do you a damn bit of good.

So face it. Television is a drug. And like all drugs, you like it. It makes you happy…or at least not miserable. And unlike many other drugs, this one isn’t just socially acceptable…it’s socially encouraged. Advertisers want you to watch. They spend millions of dollars on research and time slots in order to get you to watch their ads. And their ads are very good at what they do. And what they do is get you to you spend money. And if you don’t watch television, they no longer have their easiest, number one method of getting to you. They have to find other ways.

So I call for us, as both Americans and as humans, to just chunk it. Cancel the satellite, cancel the cable. Give the damn television itself away if you have to. Find something else to occupy your time. Learn to cook, pick up a book, go for a walk, volunteer, start something you’ve been meaning to start. Gather some friends together and spend time with them. Quit wasting your time with worthless, meaningless bullshit.

Kill the TV.

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4 Responses to “The problem with television”

  1. And with that said, the internet is a similar culprit. My family is addict to the tv, as I am to the internet. Although, of late, not having internet at home means I can read books, or sew, or do something USEFUL, as you said. I read two books in 4 days. It feels great, and I feel it more rewarding in the long run.

    And you know what kills me the most? That television shows (just the same as youtube videos) have infiltrated conversations… that’s all the majority talk about, in my observant (hah) eavesdropping. That and gossip.

    Hopefully I’ll stop depending so much on cyberspace— but at least you can communicate through it, rather than just shut your brain off!

    • I can waste hours on the damn internet…but most of that is reading articles and blogs, which is far from the mindless drivel television offers. Although I can be pretty addicted at times, I’m more than capable of going without internet without having “withdrawal.”

  2. Excellent.

    (As you likely already know from my LJ) I was raised without television for the most part. We were just too damned poor, in a mountain community where no channels were received over the airwaves. We had television for all of the following periods:

    Before I was 5 (and before the divorce)
    For about 4 months when I was 11 (gift from a family member)
    For 3 months when I was 15

    This was rough for a kid – especially during the 1980s, when Television was all anyone really talked about.
    But when we finally got off welfare, and had enough money, we bought it that final time. I was 15, as noted, and I’ll never forget the first three shows I saw:
    – Power Rangers
    – Rerun of The Monkees on Nickelodeon
    – Fresh Prince of Bel Air

    My mother disconnected the cable three months later when all four of us kids agreed that _television was stupid._

    Of course, once I was an adult, I usually had roommates who absolutely REQUIRED cable. And I discovered, by the time that I was 21, that I really disliked watching TV. I bought it one final time in 2001, right after Trin was born, because we had a newborn. That was the one time I enjoyed it – mostly because my brain had grown retarded from lack of sleep and I needed something to keep me awake.

    Turned it off when I moved back to Texas, and never, ever looked back.

    We actually have cable right now – it came free with our internet connection, and it’s useful to have when my Father In Law is visiting, as he is a complete TV junkie. But we only have a 26 inch kickaround leftover set hooked up to it. The good set? The 48 incher? That’s in the media room, and all it’s hooked up to are game consoles and a DVD player. The living room set is almost never turned on – If I had to make a wager, I’d state that the wife and I have definitely watched less than 100 hours on it in the past 4 years – possibly as little as 50 – and almost all of that has been during illness, catching up on Tivo’d Daily Show episodes, and nothing else. I cannot recall what the last show I watched of my own free will was.

    My kid, deliciously, never watches the damned thing. She’s growing up in a world where children find the TV boring – there’s always the internet, or the outside world to explore.

    On that note, I would debate with the earlier commenter that the internet (although an addiction) is NOT THE SAME as television by far. I, too, have burned thousands of hours on it. Sometimes I play games, which are fun. Sometimes, like today, I find articles that absolutely fascinate me. Just spent half an hour reading the blog entries of a social anthropologist from Houston who has been living in Hiroshima for the last eight years.

    Television is not a parallel, because you are given only the illusion of a choice of what to watch. The shows are all aimed at the lowest common denominator, with the exception of PBS. Sure, the Discovery channel might have one show that you want to watch, that actually offers intelligent thought fodder, but this will likely be followed by nine hours of shows like Dancing With Your Poodle or America’s Sexiest Breed of Cat. They’re still aiming for the morons, and their audience is still huge.

    On the internet, our choices of what to stick into our brains are only limited by the offerings that literally hundreds of millions of individuals can offer up. Find anything you want, and find things you weren’t expecting, all at the speed of light. On the internet, you DO have control, and you DO have choices.

    For now, anyway – I have no doubt that at some point this will no longer be so.

    On that final note: thank you for this blog, Fox. I’d read it several times before I realized that I _fucking knew the person writing it._ Your entries are very thought provoking, deliciously well written, and even when I disagree with the point of view offered, I find the entry in question at least entertaining. Keep it up!

    Just curious – have you considered any posts about Mini-Houses?

  3. flsquared Says:

    Hey there! Just came across an article in WSJ that you may be interested in re. TV…
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704055104574652340708172608.html

    While our TV use is typically either to watch a movie or give me a 30 min “sanity break” once in a while (no cable here), I have to agree with the last poster that pregnancy definitely upped my daily dose to such gems as “what not to wear” and “little people big world”. ugh. glad those days are over!

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