TV and me


So I was just reading this entry by Emilin at Name That Mama, and of course, it got me to thinking. The tangent it sends me on to isn't really all that connected to the original issue Em was talking about, which has to do with her family's decision not to expose their daughter to television, but that's where I started thinking about it.

So I grew up more or less without TV. My parents weren't/aren't "against" TV, but we didn't have any capacity for television reception where we lived for most of my "developing" years. My folks have digital satellite now, which I think they got when I was about halfway through high school, but between three and fifteen, say, there wasn't much TV at my house, and what there was was viewed through a pretty thick static reception haze. We got "one channel and not well." I did have exposure through friends and family and stuff, and we watched videos fairly regularly.

I received a small TV as a gift before I went to college. I was one of the few (only?) people in my dorm with a television, and it was a bit looked down upon among the Reedie intellectual snobs (unless they wanted to watch The Simpsons, that is). But I watched quite a bit of television in college. I recorded General Hospital every day for years. I marathoned Roseanne reruns. I rented movies. I could make an argument (and it would probably have validity) that I numbed myself with TV in college, but mostly it was used for brainless entertainment purposes. I worked hard in college, read for hours a day, and thought so hard my brain hurt. TV was a reprieve.

Since college I haven't ever lived without a TV, and for the last several years Mark and I have willingly paid through the nose for extended cable programming. We watch a lot of TV at my house. Mark watches more than I do, for sure, and is much more likely to just "watch whatever is on," but I am, without a doubt, a TV-watching person.

There is still a fair amount of anti-TV sentiment around me. Of my close friends, I'd say probably half live in TV-free or nearly TV-free households. Many, though by no means all, of my parent friends are choosing to raise their children without TV, as discussed in Em's post. I have been privy to many, many discussions about about the evil influence of television.

And, bottom line, I don't buy it (surprise!). Television is a medium. It's an empty vessel, with it's own strengths and weaknesses as a vessel. It's morally neutral. It is not inherently better or worse than film, or radio, or (and I feel the flames at my toes already when I type this) books. It serves a difference (and, to my mind, complimentary in many ways) purpose, but to think it is somehow inherently sub-par is ludicrous.

First, there is good TV and bad TV, just like there are good and bad examples of any other form of media. Yes, I absolutely agree that most of what shows on the modern American television set is crap. However, I also think what is played on most modern American radio, shown in most most modern American movie theaters, and shelves in most modern American bookstores is crap. And the argument that it is somehow better, more involved, more active, to read a bad book than it is to watch bad TV just doesn't work for me. Which brings me to point two.

Clearly, from my posts about Buffy and other shows, I see TV as an active medium with which you can interact. You can, as is argued in this great book, "read" television the same way you do with a book, not just passively watching it, but thinking about it, analyzing it, connecting it to other stories in your mind, rewriting it in your head, imagining about it. Rhonda Wilcox (the book's author, if you didn't click on the link) makes an argument not only for the importance of her subject (Buffy) and its legitimacy as a text worthy of literary analysis, but of the legitimacy of television as literature in general. Certainly not all television, but good television, she argues (and I agree) can engage and stimulate you the same way good books can.

If this is true, if the importance is not what the vessel is (book, radio, film, TV, etc.) but what you put in it, then how can it possibly make sense to restrict the medium?

What do you think? Those out there who are pro- OR anti-TV, I wanna hear from you!


This is a really interesting post. I am planning to raise my kids on little TV for a bunch of reasons. I look forward to sharing certain shows/movies with them though. I also wouldn't really think twice about them watching with a friend (occasionally). I currently don't have a television, but have been marathoning tv shows via the internet. And not necessarily good shows either: The office, Sex and the City, and Project Runway. The cream of the crop, those. ;) I also watch a lot of movies (I

So that's the background. Truth is, I love watching TV. And I agree that there are some things that are worthwhile watching.

That said, I do think that there are some VERY negative things about TV, even aside from the nastiness that is ON the television. My experience is that television is addictive. Once I start watching, I find it very hard to stop, regardless of whether or not I'm enjoying it. The same is true of video games and of the internet. And I've observed similar behaviors in the children that I've lived with...even when they are not enjoying their screen time, they often don't go do something else.

When I think about how much I could have gotten done (not just work wise, but pleasure/hobby wise) in the time that I spend watching TV, I'm pretty dismayed and embarrassed. I do feel good that I generally craft while I watch, but sometimes I fall out of that habit, which makes me feel disappointed in myself.

I think that also, it has been shown that your brain activity when you are watching television is lower than when you are sleeping. I'm not totally sure...but I wouldn't be surprised. In general, I like to do activities that improve my mind...and tv watching has not proven to be one of them. Sure, sometimes you "read" TV. But a lot of the time I don't. That's why I like it! It's easy to veg out. I'm just not sure that I want to be spending as much time vegged out as I sometimes do.

I don't have a tv, by laziness, and I guess a bit of choice. However I watch more television programming than I ever have. On the web.

Things people deprive their kids of most often come back to haunt them. Many of the tv addicted people I know are that way because their parents wouldn't let them watch tv.

That said, I think commercials for kids are evil. Keeping kids away from those is a great idea.

My parents got me my own tv so I could play video games on it, but they would often tell me to "Stop reading and come out of your room and be social." By which they meant, come out and watch tv.

I brought that tv, which I got at 12 or so, to college, and it still worked when I left it with a friend in Portland when I was like, 24. Good investment.

I think that you made a really great point about TV having the potential to be just as active a medium as reading a book. And another excellent point in stating that TV is essentially just as neutral a medium, too.

I do think that many networks expect that they'll have they'll have a passive viewership and don't create TV shows that are as engaging as reading a book would be. Even at that, some TV shows are meant to be escapism and are enjoyable as such.

As a teeanger, I watch two TV shows, and one of them is pure escapism, and I enjoy them both for what they are.

But when I was in 1st grade, I voluntarily gave up all TV and movies for three years. My parents didn't necessarily condone this, even, and I would never force a situation like this on my kids.
All the same, at that age, I was a lot more susceptible to advertising and much more impressionable in general.
In retrospect, I can't tell you why I did it, but I'm glad that I did. Having books replace TV during those crucial years was a hugely enriching and valuable experience.

I've been thinking about this some more. Even though I agree with your assertion that tv can be watched actively, I really can't imagine actually doing so. When I'm in the mood for active mental engagement, I don't watch television (or movies, or video games).

Is it your experience that some people do watch tv in an active manner? If so, have you found that they are generally people who watch a lot of tv, or very little?

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