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TV Turnoff

But TV’s consistent message also seduces us into buying our way to emotional happiness, while never allowing us to believe we could possibly be content without buying.

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This, to me, is the point. The one-eyed idiot box in the living (and now every) room, while not monolithic in content, is monolithic in power. It successfully draws our time — on average, four hours daily — and sucks intelligence from our brains.

A new report in Pediatrics magazine, for example, indicates infant television watching is “rewiring” brains and causing attention problems by age 7, about the time most kids start school. A 1-year-old who watches television four hours daily has a 40 percent greater probability of attention problems in the first grade.

Though this is not scientifically proven, that kid will likely never catch up in school because reading and thinking require delayed gratification, while television gives us instant gratification and mind-numbing — not mind-expanding — filling of our time.

Those kids’ big brothers and sisters are the students I teach, who, in the words of Tom Wolfe, believe TV is “not a communications medium; it is an atmosphere you breath.”

Therefore, for the nation’s good, I urge you to try at least a week without television. Though this is formally TV TurnoffWeek, it doesn’t matter when you start, just live without the artificial stimuli to go out and buy something.

That’s the consistent message of television, by the way: “Go buy.”

That message works brilliantly, too. About two-thirds of our $10.5 trillion economy is consumer spending, the primary reason America’s the 800-pound gorilla of the economic world. But TV’s consistent message also seduces us into buying our way to emotional happiness, while never allowing us to believe we could possibly be content without buying.

This leads to the celebration of stupidity (“Jerry Springer,” and “Maury,” for example) as well as a national neurosis. Check out, for example, Myrna Blyth’s new book, “Spin Sisters.” In 300 well-researched pages, Blyth illustrates the feminist movement’s transformation into a successful media sales tool by scaring women senseless:

“Dipping into the Lifetime channel may leave viewers so rattled by the fear of violence, wrongful incarceration, sexual discrimination, or death by disease that they become convinced that they’re got one of the many disorders that the network is dedicated to combating,” she quotes one researcher. “The preponderance of its female characters seem to fit roughly into two categories — victims, of whom there are many, and flinty achievers, who triumph despite the cavemen who eat testosterone for brunch.”

About 80 years ago, Walter Lippmann warned how “pseudo reality” — the images forming in our heads from media exposure — affects reality. He noted that we base our decisions on pseudo reality, but our actions take place in the real world.

Since I now teach at a historically black university, I ask students if they came to Virginia Union due to TV’s “A Different World.” Always, 10 percent admit being greatly affected by the syndicated show. Once, better than one-third of a class said it made the difference in their educational decisions.

All students say “reality” is nothing like “pseudo reality.”

And here’s the scary part: They blame “reality,” Virginia Union, not “A Different World” for the difference. Some of them very angrily.

The students, after all, never study on “A Different World.” They rarely even attend class.

Consider this: After a 1983 made-for-TV movie “Adam,” the faces of American kids appeared on milk cartoons and posters, and parents nationwide rushed their kids in for fingerprinting.

Why? Closing that “docu-drama” in which a Florida toddler is beheaded, the producers showed face after face of missing children and announced solemnly that 50,000 American children disappear annually.

A few days later, the Associated Press reported that 50,000 children are indeed reported missing — about 48,500 of them taken by the other parent in a divorce. But normal parents became — and remain — scared of letting Johnny and Jane out to play, keeping them where the Internet leers and the TV blares, and where neurosis — and bodies — spread. Since “Adam,” childhood obesity has almost tripled, and “adult onset diabetes” no longer waits for maturity.

Last fall, Meredith Vieira, of “View” talk-show fame, hosted an hour-long documentary on childhood obesity. Since that ABC show promoted eating right and getting exercise, I kept waiting for Vieira to spill the real beans, the key to raising healthy children. That, of course, is turning off the TV. But somehow Vieira neglected to mention slowing the activity at which most American children spend most leisure time.

So you won’t hear this on TV, but, please, let your children learn a little about “real life.” Kill “Reality TV.” Kill “Must-See TV.” Kill the idiot box for at least a week. S

Randy Salzman teaches journalism and broadcasting at Virginia Union University.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.




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