In Defense of Television

The speculative fiction author Harlan Ellison referred to television as the “glass teat” in his book of essays of the same name. The implication, of course, was that television is a pacifier of sorts and that in sitting mindlessly in front of it and allowing it to feed images and often inane commentary into our heads, we are often kept from doing anything substantial with our lives.

There are lots of internet pages (like this one) dedicated to the idea that television is evil and keeps us, as a society, sedated and thereby keeps us from marching in the streets and demanding whatever it is we happen to want to demand of our governments–local, federal, feudal, or the just and righteous governance of our robot overlords.

Well, maybe not that last one. Yet.

There have been claims that television is bad for children, making it hard for them to distinguish between reality and fiction. There have been claims that increasingly violent programming on television increases the level of violence in our society. There have been claims that television is a giant lizard created by atom bomb testing and is coming to eat our cities and burn us all with radioactive flame.

Okay, maybe there hasn’t been that giant lizard claim. Yet.

Don't judge me

It's waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

But is television really all that bad?

Back in the 1990s, I was a television addict. There was a time when I would come home from taking or teaching a class and plop down on the comfy couch with a soda and some chips and just flick through channels, watching three minutes here, one minute there, killing time by means of the remote until the top or bottom of the hour came, whereupon I’d continue flicking through channels, hoping that now that the programs had changed there would be something worth watching.

Next thing I knew, it’d be three hours later and if you had asked me what I had been watching I could honestly have said, “Nothing, nothing at all.”

Except dreck.

I eventually overcame my addiction by moving to Mexico, where we didn’t have a television for several months and when we finally did get one, it only got one channel that had any programming in English and would spontaneously turn itself off and remain in self-imposed isolation for days on end. True story.

Television’s evil, for me, as an addict, was that it was a time suck. As a writer and a photographer, I ought to spend a great deal of my time, y’know, writing and taking pictures. It’s hard to write or take pictures when you’re watching television. It’s also hard to have conversations with your friends, go hiking, do science (“Science!”), meet new people, be a contributor to your community, or hunt for proof of the existence of the chupacabra.

Wily, wily chupacabra.

But guess what? None of that was the television’s fault. It was the programmers’ faults for not putting on entertaining, educational programming. It was the writers’ faults for not creating thoughtful, witty, complex stories that could then be programmed. Most importantly, it was my fault because I forgot the Golden Rule — no, not that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us (or even “Do unto others before they do unto you”), but rather “All things in moderation.”

Too much food–high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Too much partying–bad health, no sleep, and meeting guys named Bubba in the lockup.

Too much television — the almost certainty that you’ll accidentally watch an episode of “The Jersey Shore” and be scarred for life.

Now that I’m back living in the States, I watch television on a regular basis again. But I’ve found that my tolerance for the dreck has decreased considerably and I’ve found that, lo-and-behold, moderation is a good thing. I no longer just flip through channels for hours at a time hoping that something good will be on. Instead, I use my television to watch shows that I know I want to watch (usually, with the help of el DVR, whenever I want to watch them)–the ones that are well-written, witty, insightful, and/or mindless escapism (yes, escapism is okay, too, in–you guessed it–moderation). I use my television to watch movies. In these days of technological wonders, I also use my television to watch independent programming from the internet, play video games, and learn what my Wii age is on Wii Sports (28, if you were wondering).

The television, like all tools, is what we make of it and what we make with it. A hammer can crush your thumb, or help you build a birdhouse. A pipe wrench can help you get that diamond ring out of the drain, or be the weapon of choice in Clue. A television can make you the mental equivalent of a Caesar side salad, or it can open your mind to a sweeping world of creativity and challenging thought.

Your choice.

Now, excuse me, please, I’m going to go watch some…no, you know what? I think instead that I’m going to go see if I can hunt down a chupacabra.

Wily, wily chupacabra.

[There have been times when the author has almost been eaten by his television and not just chupacabras. It’s a very large television, after all. If your television is showing signs of sentient evil, you may contact the author for advice in the comments section below or via his twitter feed @parablehead]

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