TV & Civilization

“Ten per cent of homes still had no indoor lavatory or bath, 31% had no fridge and 62% had no telephone, but only 9% had no TV.” 

– Joe Moran

A Nielsen report finds the average American watches 5 and a half hours of TV a day. This comes out to over 35 hours a week. Americans are watching almost as much TV as they are working. Where did the time go for reading and writing, learning instruments, and the arts? Instead of stimulating the mind, people are watching TV and hurting themselves and society in the process.

First consider how the media has shifted in importance and presence in American life. Patrick Buchanan argues the parents of the Baby Boomers didn’t want their kids to deal with the harsh style of life they did. Personal responsibility became less important in the nurturing of the kids. At that point, he says, kids started spending as much time watching TV as they did go to school. He argues this allowed for some of the cultural change in the 1960s.

A paper from the Elon University School of Communications states,

The worldwide success of the freewheeling U.S. film and television industries over the course of the 20th century has spread images of the American culture – good and bad – to the most-distant corners of the planet. It has made entertainment one of the nation’s most lucrative and influential exports.

As the culture changed, so did our television. In the 1950s, “indecent programming” meant something completely different than it did now. Indecent programming in the 1950s meant adults couldn’t even watch other married adults share a bed on TV. Back then, the 1950s TV adults would sleep in separate beds. But did that stick around? Apparently not. I can flip through cable channels at 3 PM and see R rated movies or even porn if I felt like putting in the money. Not just me; nine year olds can do this too. Not just on adult networks. We see childrens and teenagers television willing to show parents sleeping in the same bed, making sexual jokes, and making jokes at each other that would never be acceptable in the 1950s.

This isn’t a one way train, though. As the TV changed, so did our culture. Elites in Hollywood admit in leaked tapes that they push a liberal agenda through their TV shows and movies. One could say that is a product of culture, not a product to change culture, but that misunderstands the full impact of what they’re saying. They admit to pushing a liberal agenda – meaning they do try and subvert cultural traditions and norms. It’s hard for me to find a Netflix original that if it does push an agenda, isn’t a liberal one.

But, this isn’t our most important concern. What I am concerned about is how television is negatively affecting civilization and social stability. Television not only creates a culture within us that eats itself alive, but it makes us dumb, keeps us from doing productive, intelligent things, and in the end doesn’t make us any happier – quite the opposite. I’m not even talking about liberal culture being pushed through the media. Television changed attitudes towards materialism and consumerism.

In 1960, E.B. White released an essay in The New Yorker titled, “How Television Changed Us”. In this essay, he details how the design of television is dysfunctional. Even things we wouldn’t have thought of such as ads change our perceptions, behaviors, and attitudes. Advertisements, as White describes, are no longer on the sides of the articles we read, or on pages we can easily skip over. Long gone are those days of the magazine skim – now we watch TV for a few minutes and are abruptly interrupted with an advertisement. Now, we are brought right into the action, pushed much further into buying the products.

Paper advertisements are limited in their ability to please us. With the television and the radio, we heard the soothing vocals of the man telling us how great this new dishwasher is. “Just $299.99!” can be more appealing when you’re shown the happy housewife cleaning dishes with it. The newspapers just gave us this picture, usually not even live but drawn on. Now we crave new items and we crave to see them right in front of us. Television put the market in charge of our decisions more than we could handle. Not to mention how this specifically affected the generation TV became prevalent for. The Baby Boomers parents that Buchanan describes don’t want their kids to learn to be patient. Their kids want the new Nerf gun, they get it now!

Most notably, television harms social capital. A study from 2006 measures the effect of television on different forms of social capital. In the study he found even very small things can have large effects on group participation,

“The results suggest that an extra television channel—or about 1 standard deviation on the demeaned television variable—is associated with 6.8 percent fewer groups existing in the village”

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The book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam produces an entire chapter to prove to us the effect technology has on us. While on the topic of community involvement, one measure of that may be church-going. People that definitely agreed with the statement, “TV is My Primary Form of Entertainment” were roughly 10 percent less likely to go to church than those who disagreed with the statement. People who agreed with the statement, those that watched more TV, were less than half as likely to be involved in a community project than the opposite group.

In another essay by Putnam titled “The Strange Disappearance of Civic America” he is straightforward about why America’s social capital has been declining for a half century. Putnam says,

“I have discovered only one prominent suspect against whom circumstantial evidence can be mounted, and in this case, it turns out, some directly incriminating evidence has also turned up. This is not the occasion to lay out the full case for the prosecution, nor to review rebuttal evidence for the defense, but I want to present evidence that justifies indictment.

The culprit is television.”

The amount of television being watched is completely aligned with the decrease in social capital. Even without evidence of the causality, we know that at the minimum this is true. This can be demonstrated right here, right now. Furthermore, the impact television has is demonstrated to be pretty big. Even your likelihood to flip someone off is nearly tripled if you watch a lot of TV.

Finally, as I’ve brought up a couple of times, television makes people less creative. This should be obvious. Children are told to just finish their homework and then they can go watch TV or play video games. Some aren’t even told that. They just get home and watch Cartoon Network. If they don’t have TV, they just go to YouTube where obscenity is available for free. All this time though, they could’ve been learning how to paint, working on teaching themselves something, reading, writing, learning an instrument, going to the gym and playing basketball. Obesity sure is getting out of control in America.

I’m not alone in this judgement. An interviewee in an NBC article notes the decline in childrens creativity may be due to the increase in television watching. An article from The Economic Times begins itself describing a new study, “LONDON: Children who spend just 15 minutes or more a day watching television may become less creative as compared to those who read books or solve jigsaw puzzles, a new study has warned.” Neurologist David Perlmutter has pointed out the negative effects of television on a childs mind,

“Fantasy and creativity are critically important for appropriate brain development. The ability of a child to fantasize, to create alternative scenarios and to explore “other realities “ultimately creates a brain that can think outside the box, paving the way for the ability to achieve novel solutions to problems and creative ways of responding to academic challenges later in life….None of this activity takes place if a child is engrossed in television where fantasies are spoon-fed and provide no opportunity for alternative explanations.”

So? So, if we are to try and bring together our communities and increase social stability, we must decrease the amount of TV we are watching. The toll of increased television watching is not only going to hurt individuals across the nation – note the individual is not the most important thing in the world – it will hurt the nation as a whole. People becoming less cohesive, and less productive at that, means society will lose its ability to function. Not only will we continue to lose innovation as people sit around their homes all day, but we will lose the joy of carpooling with our neighbors to church. We will no longer see the days of the well-organized, cohesive suburbs that have grill outs and block parties. We will see sadness and despair. This is why television is so important to limit.

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