Sunday, August 5, 2007

Peeping nation

If there's one thing that identifies the modern American in general, it's his use of television, and movies to a lesser extent, as a replacement for life. No place is this more evident than in the near-sacred worship of television sports, the effect of which has helped make many Americans little more than voyeurs, not to mention repositories for excess calories. Those who never watch televised sporting events, however, should not feel smug.

Why? Read on.

Television, be it sports or any other type of programming, offers only the illusion of life, in neat, little edited pieces precisely calculated to keep eyes glued to the screen and minds anticipating the what will happen next. In small doses this is not necessarily harmful, and it can even be mentally invigorating. The problem comes when television viewing is no longer a simple garnish but a daily, four-course meal. After a while on this type of diet, television seems to be more interesting and full than real life. Once a person has reached this point, and it is more common than one might think, while they are not beyond redemption, they are on the precipice of being so.

The only known antidote is a period of abstinence, say, one week to start, although a month would be better. During this period, one should feel his way out into the world again to experience its wonders. Take interesting walks; visit new places; try several hobbies involving use of the mind as well as the hands and find which one likes best; or, and I know this is going to be anathema to many people under 50, and a few over that milestone, read a book (there, I said it) on a subject that piques your interest.

After your period of self-imposed exile, you may selectively begin to watch a favorite event or program, but as soon as this presentation is over, the television goes off. No channel surfing allowed. The key to your reemergence into the real world is selectivity (along with a fair degree of self discipline, of course). Then, as mentioned above, go do something visceral and tactile.

Excessive television viewing (anything more than 8-10 hours a week, tops) is not a character flaw, but a learned bad habit. Bad habits can be unlearned. One can do this, but it may take a supreme effort, depending upon how deeply the habit is ingrained, which is directly proportional to how long it has been allowed to metastasize. It is worth the effort.

Just as an aside, I've seen people who do little in their free time but sit and watch television; they are almost always unhappy. How could they not be? Television is flat and flavorless compared to other activities, worthy of only the smallest amount of our time, attention, and precious life.

One last point about television. Television is not, as Neil Postman said, [begin paraphrase] a serious medium for discourse on any worthy subject. After all the hype has been burned away, television is nothing more than a medium of visual entertainment [end paraphrase]. Asking television to be a vehicle for serious, in-depth discourse on anything is like asking a Yugo to do the job of a semi-truck; it just ain't gonna work. Television, by its very nature, demands superficial thought; it is not the province of hashing out a reasoned, balanced conclusion. This is where the medium of print--and its handmaiden, private and public verbal discussion--far outshines television, as it always will.

Take care.

No comments: