May 12, 2007
Television: Your Entertainment BargainBy Kyle-Anne Shiver
I read the other day that television is missing 2.5 million viewers this spring. I am positively appalled. What on earth could healthy Americans be doing with all that free time if we're not watching television? As the article also mentions, we could be downloading or recording those terrific shows and watching them in other ways. Maybe on our iPods. I certainly hope so - for all our sakes - because television is truly the modern marvel that keeps us super-glued in harmony as a Nation. And I simply cannot imagine how we could cope and keep the Country going if massive numbers of folks stop tuning in.
As I am wont to tell my children, far more than they like to hear, television is inarguably one of the best bargains ever. After all, how else could we possibly spend our God-given time on earth and get so much benefit in return for our investment? It's four-for-your-money entertainment.
First of all, we are entertained - for mere pennies per hour on cable and for free on broadcast channels. Now that's what I call good ole American, Ben-Franklin style frugality. And not only does modern television entertain us while we simultaneously rest and eat, if we indeed watch with someone else, we also get the genuine feeling that we are engaged in social intercourse. I see this as a sort of modern version of the Romans reclined on ornate couches around their banquet tables, casually tossing grapes in their mouths, while they listen to light-hearted, amusing oratory. Now, was that at the beginning of the Roman decline, or towards the end?
Secondly, with the advent of "reality TV," we viewers receive the benefit of getting an inside look at the "real" lives of "real" people in "real" situations. Excellent training for really real life, wouldn't you say? I mean you and I could get stranded in some far-off jungle some day with next to nothing in the way of resources. Or we might be desperate enough someday to short circuit the normal one-rung-at-a-time climb up the success ladder in our chosen field, and agree to "compete" for the relatively sure thing of a patron reality show and its inherent publicity. If we ever do find ourselves actually doing any of those things, we'll certainly be prepared. And, who really cares if the producers cut, edit, manipulate and formulate to create those little bangs that make for interesting entertainment? After all, watching reality TV at least gives us the feeling of having actual experiences - a "real" extra bang for our TV buck.
Then, there's a third benefit, which definitely should not be underrated. According to some new research, watching television may produce an opiate effect in the human brain, enabling us to numb-out and escape from all of the truly enormous difficulties of real life. Wow! Now that's certainly something any reasonable person would call a bargain. And it's so much better than actual heroin because we don't have to destroy our bodies at the same time we're destroying our brains. And so much cheaper too. Plus TV is legal. Why, if we combine this legal, cheap, opiate benefit with "reality TV," I'll bet we can forget all of our real problems and still think we are living real life. Now this is definitely something of which all humanity can be proud.
But the fourth bang for our TV buck is so great, so amazing, that it overshadows all other benefits. Watching television in the astoundingly advanced 21st Century allows us - without any extra effort whatsoever - to build our tolerance for drivel, violence and immorality - all at the same time. Now, I don't know about you, but this makes me prouder than a peacock. I still remember my grade-school days in the late 1950's when every science teacher I had was positively convinced that America would possess an easy, quick cure for every cancer by the year 2000, but my teachers would never have been audaciously hopeful enough to predict the amazing human progress that would actually materialize in the medium of television.
As a little girl, my favorite television shows were "Father Knows Best," "Leave It to Beaver," and the "Dick VanDyke Show." I really had no idea just how far the medium had advanced until our daughter came home from her first year in college, and I joined her on the couch to watch what she proclaimed was her new favorite show. I watched for 15 minutes, literally both speechless and breathless. Although I said nothing immediately, I was wondering seriously whether one could order a steel chastity belt off the internet. When I could finally speak, I asked why on earth she - really good girl, brought up right, protected from filth - would watch a television show about 4 unpaid prostitutes whooping it up in some city or other. I won the ensuing argument by pointing out that progress for cats who've managed to move from the alley to a real bedroom, ought never be confused with human progress, much less excellence.
Still, we all have to admit that the bed-hopping in that "City" show was a really long way from whatever it was that happened between Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver, and the fact that so many Americans loved it just shows how much we have managed to improve our tolerance for unbridled immorality. Women who wouldn't even have been allowed in our neighborhoods before are now invited hospitably into our living rooms.
And the progress television technicians have managed to make in the presentation of violence is absolutely magnificent too. Why, I remember being able to watch shows like "Superman" and the "Lone Ranger," while still under the age of 10, without even so much as a flinch or a single goose bump. Sure, there was some suspense, maybe even a little burst of exciting music, just before and during the bad-guys-getting-their-comeuppance scene, but I don't remember ever even having a bad dream as a result. That was a pretty shoddy excuse for "violence."
Nowadays though, those highly advanced, 21st Century producers/stuntmen/cameramen/sound effects folks know how to turn out "violence" that can make us lose our dinners and sleep badly for a whole week. Why, TV violence has gotten so real that even the people who live in the quietest, safest neighborhoods in America can have the awesome feeling that their lives are in constant, never-ending jeopardy. Creating a highly desirable, much sought-after state of mortal fear from the nothingness of blissful safety -- what an amazing human accomplishment.
Building our tolerance for drivel might not be as high on the list of "great things" bestowed on us by our modern marvel - television -- but it does come in handy whenever we encounter a liberal at a social function, and would prefer to act politely interested in the name of social tranquility. So, the more drivel they add to TV, the easier it will be for us to cope with the idiots, bores and blowhards of this world. That, at least, counts for something.
I simply must put in a word or two about the excellent strides made in our television/political arena. The primary debate season has begun, and MSNBC needs to get a substantial amount of glory for using their air time to be of such great assistance to the American electorate. Never before in the history of these United States have so many brilliant, accomplished and polished persons been rendered by a broadcast medium as such absolute ninnies. Casting the folks who are actually willing to take the job of the Presidency at such a perilous time as a bunch of preening studs and a starlet is truly a "progress" boon for television. I'm certain that this television bonanza is going to help many of us citizens with our weighty decision in the voting booth.
So, there you have it. The modern marvel of television has given us so much at such little cost, that it will surely go down in the history books as the best contribution ever made to human civilization.
Perhaps George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are watching right this minute from some heavenly habitat in absolute awe at the admirable strides we Americans have made with their meager beginning. I'm sure they're utterly amazed with the miracle our networks have wrought from the noble idea of "freedom of the press."
Oh, and I'm sure that Martin Luther King, Jr. is so, so happy with what the younger generations of African Americans are doing in their music videos these days. Could he have ever envisioned, while standing in his humble pulpit, the amazing progress that television would bring to the character content of young people. I just know he feels that all the struggle was worth it when he watches young black women in bondage on MTV.
And if Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the truly great feminists, is in heaven now, I'm certain she is simply overjoyed by all of the TV offerings for and about women. She must be positively blissful seeing how television has elevated and exalted women from our heretofore pitiful existence. Largely through television, we women have been freed from the agonizing perch of our pedestals and have gotten right down into the gutter along with everyone else. Now that's a freedom hard won, and I'm sure all of our brave suffragettes are just as pleased as punch that a woman getting her brains punched out on television doesn't even raise an eyebrow any more. There's surely no better definition of "progress" than that.
Well, I need to stop writing now and go check the television listings for tonight. I wouldn't want my family to miss a single, soul-enriching hour of our enlightened modern marvel, especially since it's such a bargain.
Kyle-Anne Shiver is an artist and writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently working on a near-future novel about euthanasia.