Note: I'm home now, so this blog is changing. I'm going to use this as a place to post some things some of the time, including this post, a response to a former fellow journalism student, Alicia's blog where I had too much opinion to contain to the comment box (it told me my comment was way too long to post).
Here is the original post that this is in response to: The invention of laziness: http://afox-tale.blogspot.com/2010/08/invention-of-laziness.html#comment-form Please read it first to understand the points I'm making, relative to her arguments.
I agree with a few of your points, Alicia, though I also strongly disagree with a few.
I think you're totally right that TV in general can lead to a lazy population. However, like the internet and nearly any technology, that's really all about how we use it. What about the news (surely, a topic we've talked about too many times in the course of getting our j-degrees)? Isn't there value in that for children? Growing up in my house, we always had plenty of channels, and part of that was watching the evening news with my parents, during and after which, my parents would talk about news items and include me in the conversation. I like to think it made me a more informed person than my peers, especially when I was younger.
I also really take issue with your statement that the quality of tv has necessarily sharply declined over the years. For starters, sexism (including unflattering portrayals of masculinity) has always been prevalent on tv. There was a time when it was funny (at least to many people) when Ralph threatened Alice “Pow, right in the kisser” and to send her “straight to the moon.” This was a show that families could watch together. I think the things that teaches kids are pretty apparent, but I’ll gloss them anyway: violence is okay, threats are okay, husbands rule the household and should discipline their adult wives when they do something “wrong,” etc. I totally agree that there are serious problems with the common sitcom portrayal of a bitchy nag wife and a husband too stupid to boil water who still life the “blissful,” traditional life of career-oriented man and child-oriented woman. However, if I’m deciding which is the lesser of two evils between that and threats of domestic violence as comedy...well, I know which one bothers me more.
You’re right that there is more sex and violence and “strong language” used during primetime slots than there used to be (and more aired on Canadian tv than American), but I don’t think this is always a problem. Some of the violence I take issue with because it’s often in the context of sexy, powerful mobsters and glamourized killing, and the real consequences can be glossed over. I think it’s a very puritanical North American view that sex and swearing are always bad for children to hear about. In many European markets, they are actually much more liberal with what they show on television. For starters, in North America, female bodies on tv are almost always sexualized. In other areas, this isn’t always true. Have you ever seen the original British “How to Look Good Naked” series? It has a few problems (which I won’t get into right now), but it shows women’s real bodies, sometimes in their stark entirety, cellulite and all, and celebrates them as sexy because they are real and comfortable. I think that this is exactly the sort of message we actually need to be teaching children when they’re young: bodies don’t need to be size zero, plucked, tanned, polished and fat-free to be sexy, nor do they need to be sexual at all times. Hiding the sexualized form from curious children at all times doesn’t actually do this; however, it does add a taboo factor that is damn near irresistible for kids. As for the language argument, I know this is a matter of taste, but I tend to believe that words are just words and they only have power when we give them power over us. There are certainly words I don’t think are appropriate, but for me, it’s things like racial slurs that are problematic, not the “f-word,” as we euphemistically call it. I know that’s entirely about upbringing and value, and my mother actually is quite bothered by “vulgarities” like that one, but I think that in shows that are meant to reflect a reality, words like that are part of that reflection because they exist in the real world we live in, and that to censor them all as problematic is a huge overstep.
All that being said, tv can be a problem. Studies have shown that small children who watch even educational shows are worse off than those who interact with parents, and other children and adults instead. TV has always been linked to increased violence and sexual violence (as have video games and unrestricted internet access), but to me, that suggests that a more middling view of tv (and other technology) is best. It’s not the evil destroying our kids, but a technology and medium that is message dependant.