Why We All Love Television

A thought came to me as I was reading through Ken Myers’ book All God’s Children & Blue Suede Shoes. Myers was writing about how the television has become the shared medium of modern culture. He showed how the image base medium of the television opposes true culture. He states:

It might be that one of the reasons there is so little in the way of shared norms in our society is that our shared mode of knowledge, television, works against the communication of norms. A culture that is rooted more in images than in words will find it increasingly difficult to sustain any broad commitment to any truth, since truth is an abstraction requiring language. (pg. 164)

Now, this is a great quote and it got me thinking. Why do we love television so much?

Then in a moment of pure enlightenment and ingenuity it came to me!

The reason we all love to watch television so much is because no one on television actually watches television.

Have you ever thought about that?

The average American watches around 5 hrs of television a day! (Depressing right!?) Here’s a question. How many “reality” television shows show their main characters sitting on the couch watching television for half of the program?

None.

Know why? Because watching someone watch television is boring. Television thrives on knowing the fact that watching someone watch television is boring but watching someone do fun things is not.

Turn on a sitcom about “everyday” people like Modern Family or Parks & Recreation and how much television do those characters seem to watch? Much less than national statistics right? This is not just a coincidence. These sitcoms want you to relate to these “everyday” characters so that you think you are like them. You think you are fun and witty and spontaneous, but in reality you are sitting on your couch vicariously living through the lives of actors on a television screen who probably do the same thing when they get off set.

Now, before I go further I should state something. I watch television. In fact there are some days when I lay down on my bed at night and wish I hadn’t wasted as much time watching T.V. as I had. The point I am trying to make here is not to get you to stop watching T.V. but to start thinking about why you’re watching it.

Ken Myers suggests that Christians should approach popular culture deliberately. Too often we sit down on the couch and turn on the television without thinking about it. If you want to watch T.V. that’s fine, but make sure you are not just having the console on in order to assuage your mindless need for sensory titillation. Here’s what he says:

“Why am I habitually turning on the radio in the car as soon as I buckle the seat belt?” “Why do I need background noise from the television set whenever I’m alone?” “Why do I always rent movies that are the cinematic equivalent of Twinkies?” Asking these initial questions is the first step in becoming conscious of the habits of careless restlessness which popular culture has infused in us. (All God’s Children & Blue Suede Shoes, pg. 90)

Myers sees a serious danger in popular culture, particularly as it is approached without thought. We should all be weary of what we are consuming and all the more so if we are doing it thoughtlessly. I have no doubt that many of you have made resolutions to do something productive like read more, workout more, or cook more this year. Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to accomplishing these goals is that you haven’t made a resolution to watch television less.

I would commend you to do so in 2014 and see how things go. Perhaps you’ll come to understand what Pascal meant when he said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Pensees)

Food for thought!

Michael

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