I’ve become convinced that modern television is actually making our society dumber. Please understand that, while this is a bold statement, I certainly do not charge all television stations with this heinous crime. The CBC still has excellent programming, particularly for children, Discovery channel still teaches knowledge most of the time and the BBC is informative as always. It is mostly the mainstream networks, caught up in the fierce war for those ever important ratings, which have stooped to pumping out reality-based drivel designed to slow our cognitive functions to a comatose state. The networks know that once the synapses in our brains are firing about as often as the plugs in a Pontiac Firenza, we won’t be able to question why the Swiffer blonde is dusting someone else’s house while dancing to Devo – we’ll simply buy the product. And that’s what pays the bills.
I would challenge all of my peers – young intelligent North Americans – to make a log of our television watching habits over a period of several weeks. Write down what channel or network you are viewing, the program you watch and how you feel at the end of the half hour or hour. Did you learn anything besides how to eat three bowls of pig intestine without vomiting? Do you feel better about your own life after watching someone else’s wife spend a week in the bayou with crocodile farmers? At the end of your recording period, take an honest evaluation of your viewing log. Were the programs you chose actually interesting and informative, or were you duped with bikinis, explosions, makeovers or all of the above? Try dividing the number of minutes of television watched by the number of useful facts you actually learned from the programs. I guarantee you that the number will alarm you.
Please understand that I am as guilty as anyone else when it comes to not choosing informative television. My religious beliefs charge me to make wholesome programming choices, but I’ll be honest – it is often difficult to choose “National Geographic Explorer” over the “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Search”. In all fairness to Sports Illustrated, however, I did learn how to best position my posterior to take advantage of adverse lighting conditions, a skill which I will certainly benefit from at future social functions. The Learning Channel commands a significant portion of airtime on my family TV, but of late even this once didactic station has succumbed and now regurgitates hours of wedding/baby/dating story, clean up your house/apartment/in-laws or remake my wardrobe/automobile/attitude. Can it really be this difficult to find quality television programming? Who do we blame for the current stupefying selection that constitutes primetime TV?
As a part of a North American culture, finger pointing seems to come naturally to all of us. Some would say the problem has been escalating for years. Look at such long running programs as “Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital”. When was the last time your estranged, believed to be dead spouse had an affair with your sister and then kidnapped the illegitimate lovechild? Do we really need to prepare ourselves for such an event? Primetime blockbusters of the past such as “Dynasty” or “Dallas” fell into the same category. They were programs whose sole purpose was for entertainment and titillation. I am not trying to condemn watching television for entertainment. I will admit that sometimes, after a long, hard day at work I desire nothing more that to come home and be entertained by a television show that will allow me to turn off my brain for a brief time. There is a problem, however, when sheer entertainment is virtually all I can choose from. Again, where can I point my itchy finger of blame? A man who has been receiving more than his share of the credit is Mark Burnett, creator of such hit reality TV shows as “Survivor” and “The Apprentice”. While Burnett may be largely responsible for the birth of mainstream reality television, could even he have envisioned the explosion of such shows as “Who’s Your Daddy” or “The Swan”? As is so often the case, that finger that loves to point elsewhere should be directed at ourselves. No one else (save my wife) is controlling what I watch on TV. I can change the channel or, gasp, even turn off the power anytime I choose.
For my part I am making it a personal goal not only to cut back on the total amount of television I watch, but also to make wiser decisions about the programming I do partake of. If I want to learn more about Donald Trump perhaps I will attempt to read one of his biographies; if I desire to see a beautiful woman in a bikini, I will search out the photos of my wife on our last vacation. As a TV dieter, I know that all shows fit in moderation, but that I should be learning something useful from the majority of my viewing. I would encourage all of us to do the same. No less than the future of our society’s intellect is at stake.