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Monday, November 27, 2006

Television in a Golden Age

Now this might surprise you in light of my last post. But a comment made by Peter below set me to thinking.

One of my pet crusades is that TV deadens the mind. I say that a lot. I believe it. The evidence is all around us. At 12:15 a.m., August 1, 1981 the very first music video to be shown on MTV was Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. Well, of course, music videos did not kill radio. Far from it. You'd be hard pressed to find any music programming on MTV these days. But I do believe that watching lots of television kills the ability to communicate verbally.

When people (especially children under 8) spend hours watching television, it literally damages their brains and impairs their ability to think verbally. Vital synapses are underdeveloped. How many people have you heard say, "Well, I learn visually"? Sure. That's legit. But it becomes a problems when folks are truly unable to follow a sustained argument or express complex thoughts verbally.

Everyone should read: The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (Focal Point Series) by Arthur W. Hunt III, edited by Gene Edward Veith.

That having been said, I also believe that American television is in a golden age. Insofar as anyone can identify their current age as golden, I think this is the case for American TV. And why has this happened? Market economics. There is sooooo much television these days that producers have had to come up with truly high quality material in order to stand out. Hence, the proliferation of so many very well written and excellently produced programs. Some that I have found to be very powerful and entertaining include: 24, The Office, The Sopranos, Carnivale, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica. Other people have sung the praises of House, Heroes, and others. But I'd be surprised if these programs constitute even 1% of all that is available on television.

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Paul, in Bethel Park said...

Try "Scrubs"

Laughs and great lines from start to finish.

Peter said...

I agree with you that this is truly a golden age of tv. And, I do agree with you that it deadens the brain - - not to mention the fact that it has a tendency to make kids fat! And yes, there is an awful lot of junk - - the gay agenda, for instance, is inserted into so many shows, making them sometimes unwatchable, most especially for children. Still, the competition is fierce, and a lot of cream does rise to the top. And then, truth has a way of coming out. For a show to be good, really good, there has to be insight into what it means to be human.

Still, I wonder if it isn't too easy to be a prophetic scold when it comes to the evils of tv, or of any other societal ills - - Some say we are a "consumer society," others note that we are "sports crazed." Still others note that we are a "disposable society," or a "fast-food nation."

In a way, it seems, it's a kind of prophetic laziness, in which we broadside the culture we live in. And then these societal ills are used to explain why our church suffers the way she does (sports-crazed people skip church on Sunday; the disposable society leads to little plastic communion cups; the fast-food nation leads to McDonaldization of churches, etc.) No doubt, there is some truth in these characterizations. Still, I also think rather than a prophetic word, it may be a symptom of self-loathing. In order to compensate for our own shortcomings, we make ourselves feel better by looking down on the culture in which we live. (BTW, just so you know, I am NOT, repeat NOT, speaking about you - - but about the church's cultural critique in general, much of which I have engaged in!)

So, yes, I like tv, Big Macs, college football and the Indianapolis Colts. I'm not big on buying clothes, but do purchase CD's and like to go on trips. So, I guess I'm a consumerist as well.

In short, what purports to be a prophetic word is often a poorly disguised elitism.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Amen. Your points are very well taken.

I too am a product of our time. I'm a pop culture junkie even. We are all consumers of mass culture. My thing is to encourage Christians to be discerning consumers. Prophetic screeds blast the just and the unjust alike, I know. Generalizations are useful, however, when communicating to people who are not accustomed to deeply evaluating what they consume. Rather than hypocritical, I suspect I could be accused of being inconsistent. One day denouncing television and the next praising Jack Bauer. I am in favor of speaking in generalities as long as I am allowed to contradict myself.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that tv is finally coming of age. I think it has just recently reached the point where I would put some tv shows up against some of the best movies as equals. The first couple seasons of the Sopranos really made me sit back and realize that television could be just as good as film. The Wire season three was at that level too. And, I would say that the British version of the office also scores high in the drama/comedy category, as I replied on another thread.

There are probably some others too. I like the other programs you mentioned (except I haven't seen 24. Yet.), but I don't think Lost or BSG is at the same level. I watch them, but really wish HBO would come out with a space science fiction show. Carnivale was good, but they shut it down. For some reason HBO just has the right mojo and people to get this stuff down better than the networks. It just comes off as more realistic, and therefore sucks you in that much more. No cheap tricks, like on Lost. I mean, Christopher has done some dumb stuff on the Sopranos, but I believe his character. I don't think anyone acts like Sawyer on Lost.

Of course, the true test will be if we can still say this in 20 years. Oy, I netflixed the first season of Miami Vice earlier this year (before the movie came out), because I remembered liking it and that it got good reviews back then. But it was terrible. I didn't watch past the first disc.

As to the other thought on the thread, I'll have to check out that book. I have read "Amusing Ourselves To Death" by Postman and liked what it said about tv. But I really liked his book "Technopoly" better because it talked about, not only tv, but all sorts of technologies and what kind of misplaced faith we put in them. I highly recommend it.

scott adle

Anonymous said...

I noticed you included, "House," which I watch regularly. I am really ambivalent, though, about watching it. I find the main character rather abrasive,and
egotistical and yet I can't stop watching it. Anyone have any thoughts on why this is from a theological perspective?

Scott Roche said...

If you'll forgive a shill I wrote some thoughts on that very question Anon.

Check here.

In a nutshell it's just us wanting to be like the Pharisee looking at the tax collector, instead of being like the tax collector

Peter said...

I agree that "House" is indeed abrasive, and yet oddly compelling. What makes him compelling, I think, is his absolute quest for honesty, and his desire to do the right thing for the sake of patient, no matter what others think. A role model? Not in everything. But he has something we can learn. . . or at least that's my two cents worth.

Anonymous said...

So, perhaps a secular version of
Dr. Martin, then?

Dave In Kosice, Slovakia said...

Hello Pastor,
I enjoyed reading your posts but living in Slovakia with english-speaking tv left to CNN (you bloggers know what those letters stand for) and two British kids stations POP and Tiny POP I realized I really don't miss tv as much as I thought I would. Yes we have a satellite with 20 Czech and Slovak stations, German, French, Hungarian, Ukraine, and even Al-Jezeera!! but watching Bonanza or Friends in German doesn't quite cut it. I have read more in the last year than the previous 10 years. We have had more family devotions and "discussions" plus walks around town than ever. Why were we always glued to the tv at night? Habit I guess. But once you don't have tv it amazes me what you find out about yourself and your family. Of course we have friends that send video tapes or dvd series but honestly we rarely have time to watch them other than the cold and dark winters. Our top 5 shows (I am not making this up): (1) Little House on the Prairie Season 2 (2) CSI: Season 2 (3) Madeline on Tiny Pop (4) Magic School Bus on Pop (5) Grey's Anatomy: Season 2

Try that top 5 in the USA!?

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