Don’t Touch that Dial!

  Imagine we could wave a magic wand over the television industry and—poof! All the trash TV would disappear. No more "Jerry Springer." No more "Dawson's Creek." And then suppose we could replace these programs with shows that celebrate the traditional family—modern-day versions of "Ozzie and Harriet" and"Father Knows Best." Would these positive depictions of home life help prop up America's faltering families? According to one TV critic, the answer is a resounding "no." Michael Medved says the problem with TV isn't the programming: the problem is the medium itself. Medved says that families began to fall apart around 1960—a point at which the first generation raised on TV hit adolescence. These kids had grown up on the wholesome sitcoms the fifties are known for. Yet by 1965 the family, by all measures, had undergone massive deterioration. The principal cause, Medved says, "was that most… influential of all American institutions: television." Medved argues that television "tends to make people impatient, depressed, and selfish—attributes that are… deadly to the survival of marriages and families." For example, television encourages impatience through programs that solve every imaginable problem in half an hour. "And the whole point of commercials," Medved adds, "is to make you impatient—to make you want things and to want them now. "Both of these elements shorten the long-term view necessary for family endurance. Television also creates depression. For example, the focus of TV news is relentlessly negative, Medved says. If a father goes out and works three jobs to support his children,that's not news. But if the same father shoots his children, the gory details are splashed all over the network news. TV also depresses through its many programs that focus on the dark side of life."The impact," Medved says, "is to convince America's children that their lives are going to be difficult and hopeless in the future." This in turn affects their motivation to work hard or make long-term commitments. Finally, television leads to selfishness because it creates what Medved calls "the syndrome of entitlement"—the sense that we're all entitled to "ceaseless arrays of ecstatic pleasures"—just like the characters on "Melrose Place." Programs like these teach that if some aspect of our lives—such as our marriages—aren't endlessly exciting, we ought to replace them. In short, Medved says, television undermines those attributes most necessary for family survival: patience, sacrifice, optimism, and deferred gratification. Medved is right, and you and I ought to take a second look, not just at what we watch, but how longwe watch. April 22 - 28 is TV Turnoff Week, in which Americans are encouraged to hide the TV remote and find other things to do. I have a challenge for you. Why not figure out how much time your family typically spends in front of the tube each week, and this week spend that time going to museums, volunteering at church, or reading aloud together. We can't really wave a wand across our televisions and get rid of the trash. But if we turn them off more often, we may achieve something that's ultimately far more important:strengthening our family ties.  


Chuck Colson


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