I was reading a news story recently about a snakehead fish, an invasive species that originates in China, which was found in British Columbia. Biologists drained the body of water in which it was discovered in order to catch and eradicate the species before it put the local ecosystem in danger. This story reminded me of TV and the way it has changed our North American culture. While there have been some positive aspects to its invention, over time it has become a disease, infecting the minds of our culture and destroying the “native” way in which we once lived, so much so that some skills and ways of thinking have become “endangered species.” Now, I don’t want this blog post to sound like a simple rant against television. However, there are some serious and far-reaching effects that have resulted from the abundance of time spent watching TV that has replaced more meaningful activities.
Ever had the feeling that TV was not quite what it seemed? Well if you did, you would be right! I first came upon this very real realization in my third year of University when I took a course called the History of Consumer Culture in America. While it was to become my favorite course of all time, one of the things that sticks out so clearly in my mind is learning about the origin of TV and the real reason why it exists today. Programmed television was simply created to make us buy stuff. To increase the awareness of what we do not have, and to convince us that what we do have is not good enough and that we would be a better people if we bought a certain product. Early TV “shows” were simply advertisements with a very weak plot constructed around selling a certain item, such as a stove. The stove, or product they were trying to sell, would be in every shot and in almost every sentence. While it may have been the invention itself that at first captivated audiences, it has grown to become a means of extreme escapism where we don’t have to really live out our own hopes, dreams, challenges and relationships because we can live vicariously through those in shows we religiously follow all the while being convinced to buy things. I have experienced this myself and have seen how it sucks the hours of your day into a black abyss where there is not much else besides 9-5 work and TV. Relationships are scheduled around TV or escaped from through TV. Physical activity, reading, writing, meaningful conversation, spiritual and intellectual development are all things that get replaced by hours of sitting in front of a moving picture ultimately designed not just for entertainment, but to sell you things, make you feel inadequate and lull you into a sub par existence. This may sound harsh, but if you stop and think about it, it is clear to see that generations that have grown up feeding on television are no better off for it. If the amount of hours used watching TV were put into any other meaningful activity, lives would change, bodies would get fitter, relationships would improve, volunteer participation would increase and so would grades for those in school. I have seen this change in my own self and so know it to be truth.
One of the things I thank my parents most for is that I wasn’t brought up on TV. My parents bought a TV when I was in grade 4 (and I am only 25 now, so even in the 90’s it was very rare to not have a TV, or 2 or 3!) We didn’t however have satellite or cable so we didn’t ever watch a whole lot of programmed television, instead we used the TV to watch old movies like The Apple Dumpling Gang, Calamity Jane and classics like The Sound of Music. Once I was married, we did get a TV but it never sat well with me as I could feel myself get sucked in when I would come home from work tired, not feel like doing anything and so just like a zombie, turn on the TV and not move for several hours. When we downsized however, we sold our TV. We have committed to living without it for at least 6 months (at least until hockey season starts up again) and I am completely convinced that I don’t ever need one again! Laptops do just fine for watching the odd movie or show you find interesting which usually allows you to skip the large majority of the advertising. And as for watching Hockey? (A very big deal here in Winnipeg) I think the local pub close to our place will become more frequented as well as listening to the Jets on the radio or watching the games streamed online. Now that I am living without a TV, the thought of bringing a big black piece of metal, glass, plastic and other such parts into my living room or bedroom just makes me cringe! Your living space will be much more peaceful, minimal and beautiful without a TV and all the cords, storage and other little black boxes that go along with a TV. Living without a TV means more free time, more money in the bank (as you are not out buying things you didn’t know you needed or brands you didn’t know were cool) and less guilt about the exercise you are not doing as you now have time to get off the couch.
While growing up without a TV dependance cost me the ability to fill out most of the pop culture references in crosswords, it certainly has allowed me to have better perspective on TV itself and its dulling effect on our culture. It is not that TV has single-handedly created our consumer culture, but it is one of the tools used to perpetuate highly consumerist patterns of behavior across an entire culture. Cutting out or reducing the amount of TV we watch forces us to deal with our time, relationships and spending patterns and at the same time opens up so many other opportunities. Making the effort to get rid of the invasive species called TV is well worth the time, effort and withdrawal symptoms you may experience as you transition from reality TV to your own reality. Make room for life people, turn off the tube!
Whenever it’s on it’s like having somebody in my house that I want to get rid of and they won’t leave. I hate the sound of it. All that noise and light coming from a piece of furniture. – John Waters
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
What compels you to stare, night after night, at all the glittering hokum that has been deliberately put together for you? – J.B. Priestley, about Americans
If you came and you found a strange man… teaching your kids to punch each other, or trying to sell them all kinds of products, you’d kick him right out of the house, but here you are; you come in and the TV is on, and you don’t think twice about it. – Jerome Singer
Television is an anesthetic for the pain of the modern world. – Astrid Alauda
Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than each other. – Ann Landers
Television has changed a child from an irresistible force to an immovable object. – Author Unknown
TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it. – Author Unknown, from New York Times, 1939