Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What televisions eat for breakfast

and lunch, and dinner, and snacks: your brain cells!

I mean no disrespect to anyone out there reading this, who has favorite television shows or whatever. In fact, I published this post yesterday, and then took it down late yesterday, because in re-reading it I thought I sounded judgemental.  That is not, at all, my intent with this post.  But this topic is one about which I am passionate. 

I've been trying to pin down the source of my overall dislike of television, over the past day; I think it stems, honestly, from my own mother's total and complete irritation with the way my father would watch hour after hour of television while she took care of the house, took care of all 10 kids, and wore herself almost to nothing while my father sat and watched t.v. every night.  Granted, my parents are from a completely different generation, where the wife/mother took care of the house and children and all responsibilities arising therefrom, and the husband/father was the breadwinner - and having worked during the day, was of course allowed to eat dinner/sit in front of the t.v./go to bed/get up the next morning and repeat.  So this is the pattern they followed...even though one look at my mother in those days, by anyone even slightly observant, would have seen a woman on the verge of mental, physical, and emotional collapse.  And yet, the t.v. stayed on, every evening. 

When I was about 8 or 9, there was one year where our television broke and my parents did not have the money to immediately get a new one. So, we went without a t.v. for about a year. My older siblings probably don't remember that because they weren't living at home anymore at that point. Now, I will say that, at that time, there wasn't nearly as much ON t.v. to watch. This was before the days of cable, so really, people in general weren't watching as much television to start with (besides my father...he has always watched a lot of t.v.. Not sure how he got through that year.) So I don't think it was merely this t.v.-free time from my childhood that has caused me to be so generally anti-t.v. - and there are shows which I remember watching on a regular basis...anyone remember "M.A.S.H.", "The Love Boat", "Fantasy Island", "Inspector Gadget"?

I do realize that televisions which are now omnipresent in our society have their valid uses.  Humans do need to be entertained, for no other reason than that the human mind enjoys a good laugh, and at times needs a break from the stresses - seemingly neverending and sometimes extreme - that is life these days.  I do turn on our television daily - to check the weather, to sometimes watch NASA coverage of what's happening on the International Space Station, and to watch about 20 minutes of the news (CNN/HLN/Fox News/CNBC.  Local stations just don't cut it.).  I will often watch an episode of "Say Yes to the Dress" with Elder Daughter, as it is nice have something to watch with her which we both enjoy (I tried to watch "Adventure Time" with her on the Cartoon Network...too, too weird.).  So I'm not 100% anti-television, I guess.

I think the behavior that really bothers me, the behavior pattern I really object to, is when the television is just turned on, every night, from the moment dinner is over until the last person goes to bed.  Or even worse, when the thing is just on, all day.  I have seen people spend several hours, flipping repeatedly through multiple channels, not purposefully watching any one show and then turning the dam* thing off... they're just...sitting there, remote in hand, totally sucked into whatever is happening on the screen.  And this happens every. night. of. the. week.  And during these hours of being sucked in, it is my thought that that person is totally subject to, and negatively influenced by, the beliefs/opinions/influences/thought patterns of whoever/whatever is flashing across that screen.  For HOURS, every day.  Not watching anything to actually learn from, just watching....whatever. "Watching" other people do stuff, or being captive to what other people tell you is interesting, thought-provoking, or important. I will admit, there have been times I have wanted to "veg out" and watch some mindless television, just to get my brain to switch off for a while. But I can turn the thing on, and flip through channels as much as I want to....inevitably I quickly get to the moment where I'm asking myself, "WHY am I watching this?"

I am almost 39 years old.  Thinking back through the years to when I became old enough to notice such things, I can honestly say that I have NEVER had anyone tell me that their life was changed for the better, or that they have contributed to society or made someone else's life better, by watching the television.  Television-watching does not help humans think for themselves; it makes people feel like they have opinions on something simply because they've watched some talking head expound on something, or they've watched a show with a plot which sort-of dealt with a certain topic.  Television-watching can, certainly, tell me a few things about another country...but through the filter of someone else's judgement of what details are important, and which details don't need to be mentioned because they aren't going to bring in viewers. 

Everything that comes out of that television has been tweaked, tinkered with, subjected to someone else's thought processes.  Television execs put cr*p on television because they are trying to sell ads, and are playing to the lowest common denominator in the pool of society - because they know that humans will take the easy road and just watch whatever, rather than really think about the time they are wasting or the questionable nature of what they are seeing.  Consider how much time is wasted by thousands of people, watching "The Bachelor.ette" every week.  I used to waste my time that way too, I'll admit.  But, it's a dumb show.  It really is.  There are other options as far as relaxing/de-stressing. You could still be entertained, and yet make better use of your brain cells, by reading some silly romance novel from the library.  You could still de-stress your brain and help your system relax a bit, by taking a slow stroll around the block. 
And even the phrase I just used above - just to get my brain to switch off for a while - doesn't that speak volumes about what television does to the human brain? How many people out there come home every day, and end up sitting for hours in front of that box, with their brains switched off and their evenings controlled by the remote?  I just think hours of television on a daily basis, watching the world go by, not allowing one's brain to create original thoughts, letting the entertainment and media industries so greatly influence one's thoughts and decisions and world views....that's a dangerously mind-numbing thing.

Thanks for reading-


Rachel said...

I agree with you! I pay for cable and find that I turn on my TV maybe twice a week. I think I am going to cancel it!

An said...

Wow - what a timely topic! I was at a party last weekend, and spoke with two people who have rasied or are currently raising their kids without any television in their respective households: I marveled at this. How impressive! I respect their strategies of dealing with the mind-numbing nature of television, and I am ashamed to say that there have been times when I, too, have found myself just 'surfing' aimlessly, hoping to catch a program I like: I like "Say Yes to the Dress," and most Discovery Channel programs. I will watch History channel documentaries too, and some of the 'pawn-shop/ antique/ pickers' shows on TLC. There are times, though, when I've found myself shockingly caught up in some really ridiculous and time-wasting show, like "Real Housewives" (GASP!), and have wondered at my own lack of discipline/ judgement - I mean, really? Is THAT the best thing to be doing with any moment of my life? Watching someone ELSE live THEIR life? I, too, remember us sitting around the television, watching Mary Tyler Moore, or The Brady Bunch, or Gilligan's Island. I liked those shows, and there are some now that will probably enter the realm of television archives, rightly. I try to remember that when Shakespeare and others who were a lot less well known, the 'popular' serialized playwrights and poets of the long past were producing their own works (which we now view as truly classics and historically very significant), they, too had their work viewed as rubbish, cheap, insignficant and time-wasting frippery with demeaning and dnagerous content. I don't feel too awful, though I do still worry.....

Jeff said...

Jen, you are a very interesting writer. I love your blog. I don't like much TV either. It is kind of a waste of time. There are so many other things to do. I don't know how some people have the time to watch TV for hours.