TV is Good

Can we stop the TV bashing already? Not since Jimmy Carter has a mostly good thing gotten so little respect.

Now, I whole-heartedly agree that watching television for hours upon hours is probably not a good idea, simply because it’s such a passive activity and long exposure may dull the brain. But let’s acknowledge that doing anything for hours upon hours is probably not a good idea for the same reason: The brain gets bored after a while and shuts off. It’s the same whether you’re watching six hours of television or listening to a six-hour symphony.

The key, as with so many things, is moderation.

There are two prevailing attitudes among the “TV-is-bad” people, and they both have serious flaws.

First is the notion that all television is bad, period. These are the people who promote the annual “Turn off the TV Week,” when people are encouraged to leave the set alone for seven days. I saw a quote from one of the organizers of this campaign where she said that “99 percent of television programming is worthless.”

This is ironic, because in order to determine this accurately, she would have to have watched every single program on television. Evidently she, a woman who hates television, has been watching more of it than anyone else.

Obviously she didn’t really do that. She probably based her sweeping generalization primarily on the lame sitcoms she’s seen — “Who’s the Boss?,” “Married with Children,” “The Facts of Life,” for example. These shows and those like them were formulaic, generic and cheap, their soundtracks riddled with the braying sound of false pre-recorded laughter. I don’t blame her for not liking them, but I do take issue with her bold statement that “99 percent” of television is bad.

The main alternative people propose to watching television is reading books. But let’s face facts here: Your average newly-released book is no better than your average current television program. What do you see at the top of the best-seller lists? Romance novels, tell-all biographies, collections of comic strips. This is better than television? Books can also get away with more swearing, sex and violence than network television can.

So what we really mean when we say, “Read a book instead of watching TV” is “Read a ‘classic novel’ instead of watching TV.” You know, “Wuthering Heights” and “Huckleberry Finn” and “Great Expectations.” Which means we’re really talking about a list of maybe a few hundred books out of the hundreds of thousands that have ever been published.

Surely, out of the hundreds of thousands of hours of TV shows that have been broadcast over the last 50 years, we could find at least a few hundred programs that were thought-provoking, entertaining and uplifting. The “read a book” argument is not a valid one. Being printed on a page rather than broadcast on a screen does not automatically make something better.

The other argument against television is worse, I think, because it is maddeningly pompous and condescending. It’s the one we hear frequently at church, and it goes like this:

“Not all TV is bad. There are some very good educational programs, and it’s a good source of news, and of course it’s nice to be able to watch General Conference.”

These people are implying, if not saying outright, that the only good thing about television is its educational and spiritual value — that everything else is not worth watching. These people are kidding themselves.

Obviously, television is a tool that can be used for good, and the church has done quite a bit to harness its powers for the betterment of the saints. But let’s not pretend that General Conference broadcasts are the only reason God allowed television to be invented.

We all know the mind needs to relax now and then. We need to have entertainment. Do I need to drag out the quotes from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young about “unstringing the bow,” and “if you’re merry, dance?” Please don’t make me.

What, then, is wrong with watching a TV show that is not educational, not spiritual, and doesn’t teach a valuable life lesson — but that is really funny, exciting, interesting or in some other way entertaining? As long as the show doesn’t appeal to your baser instincts, then nothing is wrong with it.

Does it require a lot of you? Do you have to think a lot? Does it make you a better person? No, but that’s the point. People need to relax, to forget the hassles and stresses of everyday life. That’s what television is really for — the educational stuff is just icing on the cake. A

gain, I’m not saying that sitting in front of the tube for hours on end is a good idea, and it’s certainly true that some programs are morally inappropriate in their subject matter. But watching a couple of fun, entertaining programs a day shouldn’t make anyone feel guilty. Laughing is uplifting and therapeutic. A show that gets your adrenaline flowing can fill you with energy. You can come out of it not brain-dead, but quite the opposite: rejuvenated, a little happier, and ready to deal with life.

Now rock and roll music, on the other hand….

This is something I'd wanted to write for months. Then the first week of school came, and I had to fill my Lifestyle pages with no reporters available to write anything. So I now had a handy excuse to rant and rave for a while. One of my more "straight" pieces, although it's kind of an odd subject to be taking seriously.