RetroPost: The Dangers of Television

In RetroPost, we feature a post from at least one year ago (ancient in pop culture time). The posts are featured because they have some relevance to current happenings, because they are timeless in nature and speak to a relevant issue, or because we plan on providing a follow-up in an upcoming post.

This Week: The big networks just announced their new Fall schedules, including which shows will be canceled and which are picked up. In the meantime, season finales are dominating schedules and season premieres of summer programs are right around the corner. While television was suddenly on our radar again, we thought we share the following article, in which Richard Clark warns against some of the more insidious qualities of television watching.

It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel. When I sat down to write about the dangers of television, I was pretty sure it would come easy. What I realized, though, is that television’s main problem is that it tends to inspire passivity, making the viewer all the more susceptible to its various dangers. This means that while being aware of the following dangers, Christians must ultimately resolve not to be passive in their viewing. Discuss what you watch with others, ask questions of the material, and gravitate toward excellence.

Also read: In Praise of FilmThe Dangers of Film, and In Praise of Television

Television can train us to have short attention spans
This is one of the more obvious and overused complaints about television, and yet it’s true in more ways than we might expect. Television is designed purely to cater to the whims and desires of the audience. The medium is not designed to challenge the viewer, and so nearly all programming is designed to adjust to the audience rather than challenge them.
What does this do to us? This can lead to a dangerous impatience with anyone or anything that doesn’t make our immediate desires and wishes first priority, a vast difference from the attitude of Christ. While such results are far from inevitable, it is nonetheless a resulting tendency we must guard against as Christians. For the Christian, boredom is an inevitable challenge that simply must be faced and conquered.

Television can trivialize the serious
Sitcoms, late-night talk shows, reality television and various other staples of television strive off of a blatant trivialization of serious subjects. A sitcom often bases the majority of its jokes on a failing marriage, while late-night talk shows simply need to fill 15 minutes with jokes at any cost, making the late-breaking scandal a blessing rather than a curse. Reality television encourages viewers to meet drunkenness, wrath and pride with a passive amusement. And as opposed to film, television’s form (15-minute segments surrounded on all sides by trite commercials; recorded before an amused studio audience; a blatant shamelessness about the desperate nature of the writers seeking a muse) does nothing to stem the feeling that while whatever we may be watching might be hilarious, it’s also meaningless.
As Christians, we must make an effort to look past the assumption of meaningless and remember that there are real people being represented in that sitcom, being being made into a laughing stock late at night, and being exploited (or exploiting themselves) on reality television.

Television can dominate our schedule
Books are there whenever we have time. Film has several scheduling options for us to consider. Music fills the time in which we’re stuck in the car with nothing else to do. Television, on the other hand, tends to demand our immediate attention at a certain point in time. During this time, we refuse to talk at length to anyone around us. We avoid making plans Thursday night because tonight “Someone. Will. DIE!” on Lost. It’s all very lopsided, and yet we tell ourselves that our friends will be there forever. Lost on the other hand, goes on hiatus for like a whole month after this episode, and if we miss just one episode we’ll be lost (groan) forever.
Of course, there’s simply no excuse for this any longer. Tivo, DVR, and the internet has begun to change the way we view television and provides good reason for Christians to be on the cutting edge whenever possible. Because of these new technologies we have the opportunity to put television in its time and place.

Because these things are only problems because of a passive non-reaction to television and its programming, it should be apparent that television isn’t the problem in and of itself. The problem lies with us.

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