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by Marina Michaels

I haven't had television service since 1996, and I haven't missed it. In my life, I have lived many more years without television service than with it; when I quit in 1996, we had had television service for about four years. So perhaps it was easier for me to quit than, say, someone who grew up with television as the background soundtrack to their lives. Still, I think we would all be better off without television at all, at least without television programming as it is today. Television watching—any television watching, no matter how educational—injures toddlers' cognitive abilities. It also destroys initiative, inures us to rudeness and violence (even encourages many to be more violent), and wastes our time, time in which we could all be being much more productive either in the material or spiritual sense.

The Many Problems With Television

The content of television is neither merely banal nor merely commercial. This would not matter. Instead it is subliminally didactic, unendingly instructive. It has agendas unrelated to soap. Remember that the advertising and television industries are tightly entwined. Those commercials, seemingly almost invertebrate in their tiresomeness, in fact are the product of decades of manipulative experience by highly intelligent people who have studied the psychology of the audience. —Pondering The Telescreen: A Tale Of Two Cities, by Fred Reed

Television is not only a vast intellectual wasteland, but is an active danger to our moral, ethical, and spiritual growth. Take for example shows that glorify or romanticize serial killers, sociopaths, and psychopaths (Heroes and Dexter come to mind). In making it seem that there are a rather alarmingly large proportion of those in the world, such shows promote fear. In glamorizing psychotic, murderous behavior, or justifying it by presenting the message that it is okay to go out and slay as long as you are slaying the right person, these shows dull people's sense of right and wrong, and make it easier for people to tolerate behaviors that they should instead find appalling and abhorrent.

Allow me to illustrate the idea of how graphic images can dull one's senses. In 1973, a movie was released named The Day of the Jackal (based on a book of the same title; it was later remade and released in 1997 as The Jackal). The story is of a professional assassin hired to kill Charles de Gaulle, leader of France in the 1960s. (As an aside, the novel was used by several real-life assassins as a kind of “how-to” book, which is another reason why people should be careful what they write.) One of the scenes in the 1973 movie was of the assassin practicing his snipering abilities by using a watermelon as a target. In the early 1970s, there was an outcry over the scene of the watermelon exploding as the bullet hit, because that scene was considered horrifically graphic and very violent. Nowadays, after decades of being exposed to increasingly graphic and realistic splatter scenes, most people have become so inured that they just laugh at the 1970s sensibilities when I tell them this story.

But think about it. Do we want to become insensitive to violence? Do we want to get used to seeing our fellow human beings violently injured, dismembered, and slain? Do we want to get so addicted to those images that we demand even more graphic scenes? I have met people who love horror shows and films. They say they want to see more and more violence onscreen because the older images no longer “raise the hairs” on their arms or “get the adrenaline rushing.” I just don't know what to say to that kind of numbness. I have to hide my eyes at what many people consider not even mildly disturbing, and I feel ill sometimes when unexpectedly exposed to some scenes in some movies. (Which is why I am very careful about what I see, and I try to find out what a movie is about before I watch it. But this essay is about television, not movies. Though things are being shown on television now that not many years ago were not even allowed in films.)

In addition to this very serious issue, there are many other bad things that television is.

What to do Instead of Watching Television

I am not sure anyone has ever said they regretted not spending more time with their families or on spiritual activities, for example, but a lot of people in retrospect have regretted spending too much time watching TV. There are a ton of things you can do instead of watching television. You can

An Aside on Board Games

When I was a child, we seldom had access to television. The few times we owned a television, we were restricted to watching two shows a week. By the time we had a television for longer than a few months, we were too old to be interested in it. So what did we do instead? When we weren't outside playing (which was much of the time), or when I wasn't reading (also a large amount of the time), my brothers and I played a lot of board games. Some of them I enjoyed, others not so much.

Even into my teens, my love of board games continued: At the age of 15, I would sneak out of my bedroom window at night to meet my boyfriend and—go over to his best friend's house to play Jeopardy with his best friend's Mom (hello, Patrick and Mrs. Centolanzi, wherever you are) and some other friends.

Yes, that's what I said. I'd sneak out the window, not to go do wild things with my boyfriend, but to play board games. I admit it. I was a nerd, with a large helping of geek thrown in. Probably still am in many ways. At other times, when I was visiting my boyfriend at his home, his Mom, Mrs. Paxton, used to come quietly by his bedroom, perhaps fully expecting us to be in a clinch because we were so quiet, only to find us sitting separately on his bed, each of us reading something. Usually either Scientific American or Science News or some similar magazine, or science fiction or fantasy. (I read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings fourteen times in high school, I loved it that much.) I still remember her shaking her head and saying, "Those durn kids," as she moved on, but I can now also imagine the relief she must have felt at our unordinary behavior. I don't know if she knew about the late-night sessions with Mrs. Centolanzi, but if she did, I am sure she also preferred that her son, her son's girlfriend, and her son's friends were all safely at a reliable adult's house, chowing down on the best cioppino in town and playing board games, than have us be somewhere else, less suitable, less savory, and less wholesome.

Board games were and still remain a fun, cheap, and easy way to pass the time. A lot of time, in some cases (marathon stints of Monopoly or Risk come to mind), but not necessarily, and even in the case of a game that won't end, it is always easy enough to pack up the game and go do something else. Unlike television, there isn't anything lethargically hypnotic to board games. And if you are really low on funds, you can visit your local thrift store and buy any number of games.

One of my favorite games from the 1970s was a game called Facts in Five. Five players would each draw a card with categories and classes (topics) on them, and would also each draw a letters, and then would have five minutes to fill in a five-by-five grid in which the columns needed to be filled in with words matching the topics but starting with each of the five letters. (An asterisk was “any letter.”) You couldn't use the same answer in two different places. A simplified illustration is probably clearest here.

A sample filled-in Facts in Five grid
  Authors Religious Figures Ice Cream Flavors Vehicle Makes and Models Book Titles

Lloyd Alexander

Allah Avocado Accord All Quiet on the Western Front
C C. J. Cherryh Caesar Chocolate Cadillac C in a Nutshell
J Diana Wynne Jones Jesus Jamoca Jeep The Jargoon Pard
M Robin McKinley Moses Marble Fudge Mack Moon of Three Rings
* Andre Norton Mary Peppermint Dodge Dogsbody

There can be a certain amount of bluffing in this game. Unfortunately, if someone thinks you are bluffing, they can challenge you, and if you can't defend yourself, you lose that square. Most of the time I can meet the challenges, but for one session, I just could not convince people that there really had been a man by the name of Bishop Usher, and no one was willing to let me show them on a computer, because they said if I found it on the Internet, there was no way of knowing that it wasn't still made up. Hmph. Though I guess that the fact that I was beating the pants off of them might have had something to do with their recalcitrance.

Anyway. This game as it was is no longer available, though I still have mine, and of course there is always eBay. An updated and pop-culturized version is now available, apparently, and there are also games that are essentially much easier versions of this one available.

What to do If You Just Can't Quit

Television is an addiction that is very hard to quit. People find all kinds of excuses for it, saying that well, there are some good programs on (I hear the phrase “Discovery channel” a lot), but when it boils right down to it, they are addicted to it and that is that. They also use it as a way to keep their children occupied (instead of spending quality time with them), and they don't want to give up that convenience. If you are one of these people, here are some things you can do to diminish the effects of television.

Some Religions Weigh in on Television

While checking the Internet, I found the following interesting pages on television from different religions perspectives (listed in alphabetical order). I find it interesting that each person pretty much says the same things about it, regardless of their religion. Note that I don't necessarily agree with everything said on any site I provide links to, but I feel it is worthwhile to show that there are some things people from all walks of life and many different types of beliefs can agree on.

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