T Stands for Television

Claremont, CA. I am not ashamed to admit it: I like television. I think television is important. I think television is worth watching. 

Oh, I know all the objections. Television makes people fat. Television makes people stupid. Television makes people unhappy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I still watch television.

As a teacher, I watch television because it helps me connect with my students. Watching the same shows that they watch gives us something to talk about, something to share, some demonstrable common interest outside the classroom. I love the Friday mornings when students show up at my office, excited to talk about what happened on last night’s episode of “The Office” – and we end up talking about much more. I love the fact that in one conversation about “Wet Hot American Summer,” a student and I began discussing ideas and concepts that not only became the basis for her very sophisticated thesis on American political culture, but also transformed some of my own thinking.

Television gives me a better sense of where my students are, and where they’re coming from, and what ideas occupy them, than just about anything else.

Part of that is because television is one of very few things that most of my students have in common with each other, particularly before they get to college. They come from different states, with different ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic positions and religious affiliations (if they have religious affiliations at all). There is almost nothing that they have in common, except SAT scores and certain television shows.

That makes it challenging for me, in front of a classroom, to find common reference points. And when you’re a teacher you need common reference points – to help illuminate or illustrate particular arguments, to prove the relevance of certain ideas, to provide the class with some sense of cohesion. And it’s really hard to make jokes without common reference points.

So besides turning to Harry Potter, Facebook , and everything I read in US Weekly (other great common reference points of the day), I turn to television.  And it turns out that Michael Scott can illustrate what Edmund Burke is all about, and the central question of “The Real World” is one of the central questions of American political thought, and my students will still make independent thematic connections between my lectures and “South Park” even though that show’s been on for years. I am sad to be on sabbatical this year, if only because by the time I return to teaching all the “Jon & Kate Plus 8” drama will be played out, and Lord knows what I could do with that.

In the bigger picture, having some familiarity with what’s on television is essential for keeping track of popular culture and opinion in contemporary America. It’s always been easy for intellectuals to lose track of the public, but it’s easier than ever in a country where the gap between the cultural elite and the rest of the country grows every day.

If you don’t understand what people are talking about, you doom yourself to political irrelevancy – to a political fringe where you end up in self-enchanting circles of conversation that stand little chance of engaging and understanding (much less persuading) your fellows. And people derive a lot of what they talk about through television.

This is all aside from the fact that a lot of stuff on television is good: intelligent, thought-provoking, funny, complex. These days I always think of “The Office” first, but I could also point to “Big Love,” to “Dexter,” to “Weeds.” I’d be willing to make the case that all of those shows are not only interesting, but also damn entertaining.

I’m also grateful for shows like “Veronica Mars,” a terrific series that many of my current students watched in high school, which feature teenagers who are seriously engaged with politics and political questions. (“Veronica Mars” is among other things a tale of downward mobility, and one of the major storylines of the series is the attempt by the richer part of the town to separate – segregate – from the poorer. In one scene memorable to this politics professor, Veronica goes to the polls and votes against the separation ordinance, explaining her logic as she does.)

Now, I’m not making the case that a life spent in front of the television is the good life – or that to be an engaged citizen you need to watch hours and hours of television or have cable or a satellite dish. (For the record, I don’t: Between DVDs and network websites, I can watch just about everything I want to watch.) As in all things, moderation matters.

Turning on and tuning in does not have to mean dropping out.

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  1. Anthony, you have no idea how I’d like to light up a large Cohiba!
    Susan, T.V.? You know, at my age, when I get weary at the end of the day, I put on a DVD (we’re Netflix people) and just relax. Most of the sitcoms are fecal matter (the Office ain’t bad), the rest is terrible….no one can write, act! The culture has collapsed and its hard to find anyone (writer, actor, producer) who’s capable of commenting on that! Where’s Dostoyevski when you need him?

  2. Susan,

    TV does seem to be an area of commonality among Americans. However, I would say that TV is a cultural glue in spite of itself rather than due to its merits. As required reading lists grow shorter we have less common ground between us. What’s filled the vaccuum is television.

  3. Watching TV connects with some of your students.

    The elephant in the room is the fact that most of the time most people are doing something other than watching TV, even during those evening times of so-called high viewership. 65% of the population is doing something else.

    The measure of success on broadcast television? 10% of the population watching a show.
    The measure of success on cable? 2% watching.

  4. After reading of Uno’s latest bumblepuppy variant in Games, Gadgets and Gods, and this faint praise of television, I thought it would appropriate to bring a little Neil Postman “media ecology” to the porch. Postman would be a front porch kind of guy, would have much in common with Wendell Berry’s ecology and the Shopcraft as Soulcraft discussion if he were alive today, I suspect. And he would probably have little sympathy for this tepid endorsement of TV. Aldus Huxley got it right. From the introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death, emphasis mine:

    “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preocuppied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

    “This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

  5. I agree with Susan that it’s important to find ways to connect with students – to go to where they are, presumably to help entice them into a condition that we might call “educated” (I presume that is what we, as educators, aim to do). In a sense, this is little different than the example of Socrates beginning from doxa – general and widespread opinion which, in a democracy, cannot be ignored or dismissed.

    That said, any such tactic should be fundamentally directed at undermining basic features of the medium being invoked. In the first instance, we should recognize FOREMOST that television is an advertisement delivery system. Its sole reason for existence is to promote products and services, to encourage consumption, stoke envy and greed, and stimulate planned or chosen obsolescence and corresponding waste. I would say that a great challenge of even “using” television is to seek to educate and chasten the basic reason for its existence – in a sense, to “use” its appeal with our students to undermine its basic reason for existence.

    However, even acknowledging this fact, we should acknowledge as well that any pedagogic benefits of television are probably enormously outweighed by the societal damage that it does not only in fostering a basic ethic of consumption, but its enormous part in inculcating a deeply debased form of “popular” culture as well as social and political isolation and even ignorance (Postman’s work, as well as Putnam’s, here is indeed apropos). We should recognize that the reason many of us feel required to “seduce” students into higher learning through hip references to television is because of the fact of its woeful pervasiveness in their lives – and the corresponding decline in reading or other forms of cultural education, such as storytelling, playing of instruments at home, game playing (even Uno, not to mention pick up games in the neighborhood and a general decline in learned social playing), etc. While there are indeed some good shows on television, much of what is most popular is debased and debasing: e.g., “reality” programming that encourages manipulation and superficial judgment or daytime talk shows that parade social dysfunction as a norm worthy of contemplation. While there is some serious reporting of news, most of what passes for journalism is sensationistic, irrelevant and deracinating (it’s quite incredible how much air time remains devoted to the latest non-development in the Michael Jackson “story,” but, of course, that story is delivering eyeballs to advertisers, and in the end this is the reason for the existence of broadcasting). And, connected to the senationalism that pervades the medium, the VISUAL aspect of the medium emphasizes the superficial (necessarily) and especially the violent and erotic above all. It turns out that sex and violence sell (“if it bleeds, it leads”), and “selling” is the entire point of the medium. It reinforces basic materialist presuppositions at the heart of modern culture, and functions as a pervasive form of “education” that actively undermines much of what might be a better kind of education that might otherwise take place in a well-ordered home and society.

    So – like Susan I use some references to television (though, more, to film) in my lectures and discussions, but I spend more time trying to suggest why the basic features of television (and much of popular culture) are at odds with basic requirements of a good and well-ordered life (and, further, are deeply complicit in the widespread cultural and environmental degradation of our time). If I’m successful, my students will watch much less television, or at least be much more savvy about its destructive shaping forces of modern life, ironically enough in part as a result of any reference I might happen to make to the medium.

  6. I have to agree more with Susan than with the other here. I watch on average on average 40 to 60 minutes or so of television per day — the length of one “hour-long” episode of a fictional series. I watch these episodes on DVD or online as “night-cap” before I go to bed, the same way one might read a chapter of work of genre fiction — a mystery, a thriller, science fiction, fantasy, etc. I haven’t done myself any harm by doing this and, in fact, I have done myself a fair bit of good, both in terms of entertainment and more often than one might suppose of edification. I went for years without watching television at all, until a friend gave me a boxed set of a series as a gift one Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed the gift and have continued to watch fictional series from television on DVD or online. It’s the sort of engagement with the popular culture that no less an authority than G. K. Chesterton made in his many essays on penny dreadfuls and serial fiction and boy’s (girl’s) own adventures and whatnot. The majority of television today, just like the majority of work being done in any given media at any given time, is mediocre to bad — but .. *but* … the best is not only quite good, but also, if not the best work being done today in any media, then certainly as good as any being done. It’s simply isn’t a waste of one’s time to spend an hour or less at the end of the day with any of the series Susan mentioned or such others as *Mad Men* or *The Wire* or *Friday Night Lights.* In fact, it’s time spent rather more well — in general — than time spent reading blogs, which those here opposed to television seem not to be concerned about to anything approaching an equivalent extent.

  7. Very disappointing to see this Mcwilliams endorsement of television, whose benefits are infinitely outweighed by its harms. This pathetic exercise in cognitive dissonance resolution is yet another reminder that the way we think is primarily determined by the way we live, not vice-versa.

    Speaking of Postman:

    “There is no more disturbing consequence of the electronic and graphic revolution than this: that the world as given to us through television seems natural, not bizarre. For the loss of the sense of the strange is a sign of adjustment, and the extent to which we have adjusted is a measure of the extent to which we have been changed. Our culture’s adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane. And if some of our institutions seem not to fit the template of the times, why it is they, and not the template, that seem to us disordered and strange….Television is the soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.”

    -Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

    Yes indeed, the Brave New World is upon us. Resist. See my list here:


  8. I agree with Susan. TV is as useful to me as reading Dostoevsky (which I just put down to read this article), not only as a gimmick to relate to the people around me, but as a basis for opening up conversation or linking unrelated thoughts for a greater idea.
    I grew up being told that shows the likes of The Simpsons and Southpark are degenerative and all but responsible for the down turn of society. When I watch them now, as an adult, I’m blown away by the piercing social commentary and witty literary allusions that appear in almost every episode. Not to mention both shows are absolutely hilarious. It’s ok with me that I learned more about the actual workings of the American government by watching the West Wing than I did in my tenth grade US history class.
    While I don’t think literature and “higher” forms of culture should be ignored, my ability to engage them is greatly increased when I supplement a couple of hours of prime time every week. Thank you for your opinion Susan. Thank you for opening yourself up to the criticism of the educationally elite.

  9. Jitpring,

    Are blogs or are they not part of the Brave New World that we ought to resist? If some blogs can and do resist that Brave New World, then why can’t some television shows? *Mad Men* investigates advertising itself and the roots of the 1960’s revolution in cultural norms brought about in large part by the advertising industry the series depicts. *The Wire* offers up a Balzacian or a Dickensian or a Zolavian portrait of the manifold disfunctions of a major American city (Baltimore) in social and cultural collapse. And *Friday Night Lights* offers up perhaps the most uncondescending and unromanticized depiction of a Middle-American small-town (Dillon, Texas) to appear in any medium in recent years. If a venue like *Front Porch Republic* can transcend the limitations of blogs and secure a discriminating readership, I don’t see why it isn’t possible in theory for series like these to do the same on their own sets of terms.

  10. Deneen is correct that the vehicle of television has evolved into primarily a very effective impulse generator for habituated consumers. Inasmuch as the State has decided it presides over “consumers” rather than citizens, television is equally geared now to sanctifying the State and its assigns. What could have been a remarkable vehicle for intellectual challenge and stimulation of a diverse polity has formed itself simply a vicarious agora….a device that would seem to create interaction between the citizenry but really does not…just as in the Talk Radio blaring away for the commuter. People begin to believe they are part of something that exists in reality but is more accurately described as unreality or perhaps near-reality. Artificial Intelligence indeed. I Shop, therefore I am.

    I confess however, to watching it regularly when not reading an indisciplined array of books but I do so generally as a means of watching what is watched…the two-way mirror of a technological device that has not decided whether it is the object itself or the reflection of the object in the mirror. As Iggy Pop sings on his Stooges song “T.V. Eye”: “…See that cat, Down on her back, She got a T.V. Eye on Me”.
    Once in a while, there actually is some good drama or news or film but it is in the profound minority.

    Some of it is indeed very good but the fact that the endorsement above feels compelled to gently assert a little defiance in endorsing television would indicate that the overall quality of television is rather impoverished. But….what else is new, so goes the popular culture….something quite distinct from the everyday interactions of the people with one another. When virtually anything is reduced to entertainment, one does not have so much a culture as it does a Carnival. Anyone who might have spent anytime in those environs understands there are the rides and attractions and then there are the people behind those rides…a rather interesting amalgamation of the flotsam and jetsam of humanity.

    Cheeks, Dostoyevski and Kafka are working on a class action suit against American Culture for Copyright Infringement on Surrealism. Seems they also have Dali on board ever since Jeff Koons sold one of his balloon dog sculptures for a sum that should have melted every clock on the continent.
    If you are really getting desperate, provide a P.O. Box and I promise to send you a Mason Jar containing a small portion of the dyspeptic , Nicotiana alata tabacum saturated atmosphere gathered in this here sordid jernt known as La Cave de la Obstreperepi.

  11. D.W. Sabin,

    Are blogs themselves or are they not “very effective impulse generators for habituated consumers?” If they are, then why the difference in standards in evaluating blogs as opposed to television shows? It could be because one might argue that television shows are inherently worse for us than blogs. But it could also be argued that blogs are inherently worse for us than television shows. I tend to think it’s at least as likely and probably a bit more likely that the latter and not the former case is true.

  12. D.W,, thanks for your, as always, gracious consideration. I have recv’d a message indicating they’ve had to lay off the third shift at the El Smoko Mucho facilities (Honduras) since my rejection of the foul weed.
    On a positive note, I can now run nearly ten yards; while on the downside I appear to be in my second trimester since ALL food not nailed down, is to be eaten.
    Much enjoyed your lyrical observations at PoMoCon! I should point out that Dr. L agrees that GOP imperialism was quite the failure; I believe he used the word “nuts!”
    I do hope you will now make words about His Holiness’s “Health Care plan?”

  13. Mr. MacInness,
    To a degree, you may be right…..the blogs and these here internets are very much a part of the prevailing vicarious agora and a kind of echo-chamber for niche-thinkers. On the other hand, for better or worse, most paragraphs are not separated by an advertisement for Pine Tree Scents either. The blogs and internets have not been around long enough to discern a trend one way or another. For my case, I was not aware that there actually existed a group of conservative monarchists or librul-localists I could find at least some intellectual accord with and even a reason for further study and reflection and that is not something I’d ever have gotten from a telly. The jury is out but at least the Blogs are still deliberately deliberative. The telly is almost deliberacidal unless one considers water cooler gossip to be deliberative.

  14. It seems to me that there is an important distinction between watching a show on television, and watching that show on DVD.

    It’s similar to the difference between reading an edifying article on its own, on the one hand, and reading that article in a magazine which is otherwise full of crap and to which you are a subscriber, on the other hand.

  15. Agreed, Anthony. If one can’t – rather, won’t – resist watching broadcast television, then the judicious use of DVDs is the way to go.

    One’s brain waves are flatter while watching tv than while sleeping. It’s true. Look into it. This isn’t very surprising, if you think about it. Watch someone watching tv. Notice the fixed stare, the glazed eyes. You might also see a gaping mouth, a protruding tongue, and some drool. Possibly you’ll hear some gargling as well. You get the picture.

    Then think of all the wonderful reading and listening you could do if you freed yourself from the glow box! Note that word: ‘freed.’ If you watch television every night, for hours on end, know that you’re a slave. No? Try unplugging. Notice the pain.

    Take a walk around your neighborhood. Note the ominous flashing blue glow coming from window after window, night after night. Renounce it. This single act – the renunciation of regular tv viewing – is a major form of resistance to the burgeoning Brave New World. Postman was apt in describing television as the soma of this Brave New World. (Incidentally, blogs are not equivalent to tv for many reasons; for example, entertainment capacity is not the supreme criterion of most blogs, tv viewing is passive while blog use is active, most blogs don’t appeal to the lowest common denominator, etc.)

    P.S. One need not exclude using the television to watch, for example, Teaching Company lectures (SOME, not all – avoid any by the heretic Bart Ehrman, for example), great operas, or great films, as these can enrich the mind and soul. By “television” I primarily mean that stream of broadcast/advertising propaganda polluting the air at every moment.

  16. Jitpring,

    I notice that you still haven’t given us an answer to the question of whether blogs — like television shows — are or are not a part of the Brave New World that you would like to “save” us from.

    It would also be interesting to know what it is that makes films or music — whether live or recorded — any better for us to attend to than television shows.

    In the same way that one could “free” oneself to “take a walk around the neighborhood” by turning off the tv once in a while or for good, or by taking a break from the blogs by turning off the pc once in a while or for good, one one could also do that by not watching movies anymore, not listening to music anymore, even by not reading books anymore.

    Would you recommend those similar courses? Why or why not?

  17. Arthur,

    What I read you as trying to argue is that all media engender high and low manifestations: there are books of high and low culture, blogs of high and low culture, films of high and low culture, and television of high and low culture. So, your question is: why think that ‘high television’ is any worse than ‘high literature’ or ‘high theatre’? Am I right so far?

    To answer this question, what we really need to figure out is what ‘high television’ would really be like and whether (1) such a manifestation could exist and (2) whether such a manifestation does exist.

    So, what is ‘high television’? Let’s set aside the positive descriptions (long-running plot lines, perhaps) and turn to the problem of consumerism that’s at the heart of this thread. As others have written, surely the best sort of television would not be nearly so advertisement-dependent as nearly all television today is. After all, other media do not manifest their best work in short intervals separated by a set of commercials that runs for 3/4 the amount of time that the actual work of art runs. Can you imagine seeing Lear and having to sit through seven minutes of ads between each scene? Or reading The Republic and stopping to hear Billy Mays peddle Scratch-B-Gone or some such thing after turning a page? (And interestingly, even the lowest forms of theatre, literature, and film are not broken up by commercials in the way that live television is, except for when theatre and film are broadcast on the t.v. Even the worst blogs, as Sabin points out, don’t force the McDonald’s anthem into your ears between paragraphs.)

    And I don’t really think you can point to DVDs or TiVo or whatever other mechanisms have been devised to skip commercials as cures for the problem, because advertisers would surely pull their funding if everyone were skipping their commercials, and without that funding the television studios would lack the resources to produce the shows in the first place. So, the so-called ‘cures’ for the problem of advertising are really only workable when the advertisers have already succeeded–that is, the cures only work if someone else continues to foment the problem by watching the commercials.

    In the end, then, it seems like the medium of television will have to be fundamentally re-imagined in order for its highest manifestations to take their place beside other manifestations of high culture. What this re-imagining will finally look like, I’m not quite sure–some kind of universal pay-per-view system, perhaps. But until that happens, it looks to me like manifestations of the television media, high and low, will continue to rely on the kind of consumerism that is, ultimately, antithetical to the manifestation of truly high culture that a society ought to be interesting in fostering.

  18. MacInness,
    You mean to tell me that watching an orchestra or band on the television….no matter how big and crisp the screen is anywhere near as vibrant as enjoying the sights and sounds and smells of a crowd enjoying the sights and sounds and myriad other sensations of a live musical act? One is a facsimile in a box, the other reality.

    On the other hand, sometimes a musician bombs in concert but even that might be better than the relative sameness of formulaic television.

    Actually, it aint the telly that is the bad guy here, it’s what the folks who fill the airwaves with expensive banality and purported reality put into it is that is bad. As has been stated, some of it really is good, making that which is bad stand out more starkly. It is then, a useful Barometer for measuring the eras pathological manias and certainly more entertaining than watching Rats in a Skinner Box in some under-funded lab.

  19. Aaron Schroeder,

    There already is “high” television, despite the fact that most television broadcasts are funded by commericals. And it is entirely possible to be both entertain and edified by “high” (and “low”) television despite the fact that commercials appear between the scenes. Commercials haven’t prevented *Mad Men* for example from being as great a work of art as any new novel published, any new film produced, or any new music composed or performed since it went on the air. And the fact that there are commercials between the scenes does nothing to prevent me from being entertained or edified. If I would rather not watch the commericals — and I would rather not — I can put the television on mute or leave the room until the episode resumes. And in the case of many other programs — for example *The Wire* — it isn’t necessary to do even that, since there are no commercials at all in the midst of an episode. It seems to me that it makes more sense to urge people to watch television responsibly in a more critical and more discriminating way than merely to say they shouldn’t watch it at all. I see no reason whatsoever for an adult, responsible, critical, and discriminating viewer not to choose — if he or se so wishes — to spend some portion of his or her time watching television shows of the caliber of *Mad Men* or *The Wire.* Indeed, I think that would be time better spent than attending to almost any contemporary novel, film, or work of music I can name. Perhaps you should actually investigate that which you seem so reflexively quick to condemn all but out of hand.

  20. D. W. Sabin,

    I’m not sure if this answers your question, but I do feel that watching a good television show would be time better spent than listening to a bad concert … or reading a bad novel … or reading *most* blogs.

  21. Arthur, let’s assume that Mad Men really is a great work of art, as you say. Whether you watch them or not, you don’t object to the trivialization of great art via the intrusion of commercials? Let’s say that Dante, after each Canto of the Divine Comedy, inserted things like this:

    “And now folks, I’d like to tell you about the latest, greatest, softest variety of toilet paper from my favorite company, TP Fiorenza….”

    After Canto 5 he might insert something like this:

    “Whew! How about those two, Paolo and Francesca?! You know, I’ve been told that milk cools the libido. Let me tell you about a special brand of cow’s milk they might have drunk….”

    And so on. No problem?

    Regarding your other questions to me, see my 2nd post above.

  22. Arthur,

    I don’t know that I was condemning all of television out of hand, and I should say that I had “The Wire” and HBO in mind when I mentioned the universal pay-per-view option.

    But surely you can admit that the problem of commercial discrimination is one that plagues us when we watch television as it does with no other media. That is, with television, you have to guard actively against the intrusion of commercial culture every 6-8 minutes, and with, say, a novel, no such guarding is necessary. So, wouldn’t, as I suggested, the medium of television be better served to find a way to manifest itself bereft of the promotional baggage?

    That said, Arthur, I’m surprised that you’re pushing back so hard against the idea of commercial-free television, for, since you sound like something of a t.v. connoisseur, I would’ve thought that the larger aesthetic problem that commercials pose would’ve seemed more stark to you than to many others. What I mean to say is that the intrusion of commercials on the television experience surely demeans the very artistic experience you’re trying to praise, doesn’t it? After all, such an intrusion dilutes the sort of purified aesthetic concentration and emotional involvement that are necessary to superior aesthetic appreciation. And I think such dilution is suggested by the fact that virtually no one would rather watch an episode of any show with the commercials rather than without them; it’s why people buy television DVDs commercial free, and why HBO has a surcharge for its largely commercial-free programming. So, as I’m not demeaning television out of hand, but pointing to problems unique to this particular medium, I would ask why you seem to think that television wouldn’t be improved both morally and aesthetically by the elimination of commercial intrusion?

  23. Browsing through my trusty little book, The Portable Curmudgeon, I found some delightful quotes on television:

    “Television is now so desperately hungry for material that they’re scraping the top of the barrel.”

    -Gore Vidal

    “Television: chewing gum for the eyes.”

    -Frank Lloyd Wright

    “Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.”

    -T.S. Eliot

    “Television – a medium. So called because it is neither rare nor well done.”

    -Ernie Kovacs

    “Television: the bland leading the bland.”


    “Television is for appearing on – not for looking at.”

    -Noel Coward

    “Television is democracy at its ugliest.”

    -Paddy Chayefsky

    “I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book.”

    -Groucho Marx

    “Television is the first truly democratic culture – the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what the people want.”

    -Clive Barnes

    “Television has lifted the manufacture of banality out of the sphere of handicraft and placed it in that of a major industry.”

    -Nathalie Sarraute

    “There is an insistent tendency among serious social scientists to think of any institution which features rhymed and singing commercials, intense and lachrymose voices urging highly improbably enjoyment, caricatures of the human esophagus in normal or impaired operation, and which hints implausibly at opportunities for antiseptic seduction as inherently trivial. This is a great mistake. The industrial system is profoundly dependent on commercial television and could not exist in its present form without it.”

    -John Kenneth Galbraith

  24. Jitpring,

    I’d prefer not to pay any price at all for any of the cultural material that I take in.

    But I’m not going to stop taking in any cultural material, just because I have to pay a price.

    Or rather I’m not going to stop if the price is not too high, in my estimation.

    Which, in the case of television, commercial intrusion is not to high a price to pay — at least for the benefit of watching a show as good as *Mad Men* as it unfolds from week to week, instead of waiting for the DVD … for which, incidentally, I would also have to pay a rental fee, to Netflix.

  25. Aaron Schroeder,

    I’d certainly prefer to watch such tv as I watch without commerical interruption — and generally I watch it that way, by watching series later on on DVD or through the internet.

    But I won’t not watch some tv show I want to watch just because of commercial interruptions, anymore than I won’t not read novels I want to read or not see films I want to see or not hear music I want to hear just because those novels, those films, and that music are subject to commercial restraints, just like tv.

  26. It’s a good point you make about reaching others by appealing to common interests. And as long as your students are thinking critically, I guess it’s okay. But…

    People have the potential to ‘connect’ over just about anything. Why television? Why encourage a connection over TV rather than by drawing examples from literature, theater, music, film, fine arts, sports, nature, family, food, everyday life – as my wonderful high school English teacher did at the age I suddenly – surprise! – stopped watching TV? Why do we, as a society, have to make TV our nexus?

    Masturbation isn’t a bad thing… but I can only waste so much time.

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