Monday, April 20, 2009

TV Free!

[This is a repost of a yourdailyjoe.com item originally posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007]


TV Free!
Meatwad: But I thought you said TV was bad!
Frylock: Yeah, it is. But we fucking need it.
--from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, "Universal Remonster"
This is always adorable: This week is TV-Turnoff Week.

The intentions of TV-Turnoff Week are noble, as well as remarkably dumb.

Believe it or not, I think it's a good idea to raise awareness that there are things you can do with your time other than watch TV. But I find TV-Turnoff Week to be misguided; more of a political statement than an actual movement for increased physical health, intellectual growth, and family togetherness.

The implicit message is that TV is always bad. We are told that TV makes us stupid (or, at least, less apt to to learn), makes us violent, teaches us to swear, makes us fat and lazy, and makes us little more than consumerist automatons. Should you ask for any proof about this, there are plenty of studies with plenty of evidence. Of course, it's never conclusive -- a fact that is quickly glossed over -- and there are plenty of other studies that show an increase in brain activity while watching TV.

Little matter. The argument from the anti-TV people always boils down to: "Just look." What further proof do you need? Just look at all the awful things that are on TV, and how could you even deny that it's a horrible influence?

Have you ever talked to someone who doesn't own a TV? It's not simply about their personal preference. It's about their superiority. "I'm quite a bit more intelligent and disciplined than you because I find television distasteful while you find it enjoyable."

We're meant to be in awe of how cultured they are.

There may (or may not) have been a time when TV was nothing but a Vast Wasteland. But these days -- and this is hardly the first time I've pointed this out -- TV is at an all-time quality high. There are some amazing and impressive shows on right now. Audiences are savvy, and they demand more. The writing and the directing and the acting matches anything you've seen in movies or on the stage.

"Just look," they will say, pointing at some awful sitcom. "How can you defend this?"

Are there bad shows on TV? Yes, and I'll go you one better: there are FAR MORE bad TV shows than good. It's always been that way, and it always will be.

Now... show me any medium, from anywhere in the world, at any point in history, where this is not the case.

The "Intellects" who rail against TV would rather have us do what? Usually it's read books, right? Because, just as TV represents everything bad in the world, literature represents everything good. Ok, fine. Books. You're telling me the majority of books are high-class, challenging, enriching experiences? You know that most people are reading pulp mysteries and trashy romances, right? Or am I supposed to believe that the worst book is automatically better than the best TV show could ever be?

Painting? Sculpture? Photography? Movies? Music? Video games? Theatre? Junk is always the majority; quality is always the minority.

If you're watching the right shows, TV is every bit as stimulating, engaging and, yes, enriching, as any other intellectual pursuit. Furthermore, in this day and age, to deprive children of television is to do them a disservice. When your child turns 18 and goes out into the world, do you want said child to be ignorant of one of the most prominent and impactful media in the world? Whether you like it or not, TV is a major part of what's going on. It makes your child lesser, not greater, to have had no exposure to TV.

But wait a minute. My argument seems to have slipped focus from TV-Turnoff Week -- which asks only for a reduction in TV watching -- to those who go completely TV-free, hasn't it? Well, consider the following: The TV-Turnoff Network formerly operated under the name TV-Free America. They say as much on their web page. So, make no mistake about what their intentions are.

It may seem like I'm wasting my time and energy getting all worked up about this. After all, it's not like there's any danger of TV disappearing. If this were a "battle" -- which it's not, right? -- TV would be winning.

Sorry, but I consider that a negative approach. That paints TV as an unavoidable presence, rather than an accepted choice.

TV is stigmatized as brain-deadening, family-ruining, bad-habit-spreading, lowest-common-denominator-catering-to-er, and is the symbolic demon of all things consumerism and commercialism. This is the perception I think needs to be changed. While there's plenty of potential for TV to be abused, the fact of the matter is that it can -- and should -- be part of a healthy cultural diet.

Should people read more? Yes. Should people exercise more? Yes. Should the average person be watching eight hours of TV daily? Well, no. But should America be TV-free? Definitely not.

Of course, my opinion gets thrown right out the window since I work in TV, right? Well, just like everyone else, I grew up in a culture that demonized TV (while simultaneously enjoying countless hours of it), and had ample opportunity to weigh these facts and feelings before deciding that it was a worthy pursuit. Even if my income weren't derived from the creation of televised programming, I would still feel the same way. I'm not making this argument to justify my occupation; I chose this occupation after reaching these conclusions.

A couple more thoughts before I finish:

1) If you didn't know that this was TV-Turnoff Week, that's probably because they didn't publicize it on TV. (D'oh!)

2) Excellent planning: they scheduled TV-Turnoff Week on the same week that the most popular new drama of the season, "Heroes," was scheduled to return. Not that they would have any idea what "Heroes" is or how popular it's become because, you know, they don't watch TV.

3) If kids participating in TV-Turnoff Week just DVR their favorite shows and watch them next week, does it still count?

And finally, 4) When is TV-Turnoff Week going to transition into Internet-Disconnection Week? Ask any TV network executive about the decline of total viewership, and where all the eyeballs are going. Internet. Hey, maybe TV isn't "winning" the battle after all...