Plain Truth Magazine
October-November 1978
Volume: Vol XLIII, No.9
Issue: ISSN 0032-0420
QR Code
Jeff Calkins  

   No one is seriously saying that we should abolish television. Rather, it is our attitude toward television which should be changed. Since television radically affects the quality of our lives and makes a difference in the kind of persons we become, we should approach it very guardedly. Our celebration of the relatively few nuggets of quality programming should be muted, in view of the rest of the nonsense which passes for supposedly adult fare in "the vast wasteland."
   In practical terms, this means that we should be much more selective in what we watch and also that we should watch much less.
   For too many of us, television is a virtual way of life, literally occupying most of our nonworking waking hours. And this is saddening, because it means that our human potential is being squandered.
   Man was put on earth for better things than merely passing the time pleasantly. Humans were designed by their Creator to develop their full moral, intellectual and physical abilities. The problem with television most television is that it generally hinders the full development of those abilities.
   Let us put first things first: The purpose of life, as readers of this magazine realize, is to develop the perfect, holy character of God; this requires that most of our time be spent doing much more uplifting, productive things than staring at the tube.
   Most television does not consist of specials on sampan villages and documentaries on the Kalahari bushmen. The television which most of us watch most of the time may be

The purpose of life is to develop the perfect, holy character of God; this requires that most of our time be spent doing much more uplifting, productive things than staring at the tube.
for the most part pleasant or entertaining, but it is really utter drivel! It is mental junk food. It is a waste of time.
   The essence of life is time. Our lives consist of time. The danger of television is that we can literally waste our lives by spending too much time in front of the "boob tube." The apostle Paul told the Ephesian church that they should "walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16).
   For adults in particular, this tendency of television to "guzzle" time is most dangerous. While current literature is full of various arguments against television because of excessive sex and violence on the tube (see, for example, "Should We Tame TV?," The Plain Truth, August 1976), the factor of time is perhaps even more insidious. The "opportunity cost" of watching too much television is enormous.
   Consider the kind of human beings we adults and our children could become if we used our spare time more productively in pursuits other than television viewing. We could develop our bodies through exercise; we could learn new skills; we could improve our minds by reading or attending classes; we could even engage in the traditional good works of visiting the sick and afflicted. We could revive the art of family communication; we could make new friends, and add their experience to ours by talking with them. Most importantly, we could support the true Work of God and become closer to Him through time invested in prayer and Bible study.
   All these activities would make us better persons; they would add to the quality of life as we experience it, as well as help make us better human beings physically, morally, spiritually. Their connection to television is simple-time is a scarce resource, and there is never enough time to do the things we ought to be doing. Watching television competes with other, more uplifting activities. Therefore, unless we are extremely selective in what we watch, television literally wastes our human potential.
   There is a reason why the kind of programming which television's partisans approve of (documentaries on T. S. Eliot, Kalahari bushmen, etc.) consistently draws low ratings: The medium seems inherently better suited to entertaining people than doing anything else. Within limits, of course, this is fine. There are times in life, like when we are tired from a hard day, that we simply want to relax and be passively entertained.
   But these times should be rare if we really are striving to develop our latent talents. And we can do so only if we are willing to put forth the effort. Unfortunately, for many of us, television is just too seductive. It really is the easiest way to pass time known to man, with the possible exception of sleep. It is a path of least resistance. It is a medium which, because it is always there in the home, readily accessible and requiring no great talent to employ, appeals to our laziness. Most television programming neither taxes our brains nor inspires our spirits. And this is why, in our sloth, we find it easier to flip on television than engage in any number of other, more beneficial activities.
   Indeed, psychologist Thomas Hanna has made the same point. He wonders whether our tendency to watch too much television says something less than complimentary about us spiritually: "Marshall McLuhan has written much about how the medium of television modifies human perception in a radical way. That may be true, but it is not the point of greatest importance.
   "What is of poignant importance is the extraordinary fact that so many millions of human beings spend a major part of their existence habitually watching a television screen. That there are so many millions of Americans who are so unresourceful, uncreative, unspontaneous and unalive and that they cannot help being drawn to a television set during their free time, that is the wonder. It is as if they had nothing else to do. It is as if their world of possibilities was so tight and restricted that there really wasn't anything they could do. That so many millions of originally vital and self-sufficient Americans have somehow grown so spiritually bored and so physically diminished that they should spend their days dulled and hypnotized by a play of images that is the central cultural issue raised by commercial television."
   But there are other reasons why we should be leery of the medium. Not only does most television programming have a negative effect on the quality of our individual lives, but also on our whole society.
   Consider the "mad prophet" Howard Beale's indictment of television in the movie Network: "There is an entire generation right now who never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the ultimate revelation! This tube can make or break presidents, popes, and prime ministers!"
   The point is that television distorts society's grasp of reality. It creates its own artificial reality: Events which don't rate time on the 6 o'clock news don't make as great an impact on the public consciousness. It is almost as if something really doesn't exist, or isn't really an issue unless it is legitimized by being televised.
   The television reality, for the most part, is a sterile one. The universe of the sit-coms is a universe in which God doesn't exist except as a swear word. Perhaps the acknowledgment of His presence would make audiences feel uncomfortable.
   Television has had other dubious effects on our society. It has made us all a little bit more illiterate: Witness the furor over declining college
The danger of television is that we can literally waste our lives by spending too much time in front of it. In contrast, the apostle Paul said, "Redeem the time, because the days are evil."
board scores. It has made our culture bland and insipid. Partly because of television, regional accents aren't as distinctive as they once were. It certainly has contributed to our universally shortened attention spans. It has adversely affected the health and physical fitness of our entire nation, most alarmingly among traditionally vibrant and energetic youth. And there seems to be a large body of evidence that it has played a role in causing violent crime, particularly among juveniles.
   But the truly frightening potential of television lies in the possibility that it could be used to create a totalitarian "1984" society. It is disturbing, even now, to realize that a comparatively small group of network executives and their immediate staffs control, via their influence on major network programming, much of what goes into many people's consciousness.
   Equally disturbing is the fact that very recently a mind-control technique was used by a television station (with FCC permission) in an attempt to communicate with a suspected mass murderer. During two newscasts, two or three frames of film containing the message "contact the chief" were interspersed among frames about the killings. This was a subliminal message which appeared on the screen for only a fraction of a second too briefly for the eye to consciously see, but long enough to implant a subconscious suggestion in the viewer's mind.
   In this instance, subliminal suggestion was used for good. But it could also be used for unspeakable evil. Will the day ever come when governments use this power to dominate the minds of their populations?
   Television's potential in helping develop a 1984 society is enormous. Those who control programming can use their power to create the "public consciousness." Even today, programming is controlled to the extent that only orthodox, staid, conventional visions of reality are allowed to go out over the airwaves. Let us hope that the move for more channels and greater diversity of programming will stand as a check against such potential abuses.
   Again, the point is, while television may be a fine technological innovation, it still seems to be doing us, on balance, more harm than good.
   Of course, there are many good programs. Yes, travelogues offer us the chance to experience various locales and cultures at little cost, and documentaries give us the chance to "meet" people whom we will probably never see in person. But most of us, most of the time, watch... Laverne and Shirley! And that is the reason why television ought not to be celebrated, but received skeptically; why television affords us an opportunity to exercise selectivity and moderation; why television, as several authors have pointed out, is a potent drug which should be so respected as to be taken in very minute quantities.

Back To Top

Plain Truth MagazineOctober-November 1978Vol XLIII, No.9ISSN 0032-0420