Friday, January 15, 2016

TV was going to kill us all.

I remember when television was the enemy of civilization and was going to destroy us. What happened?

"I'm going to eat you!"
From the 1960s through the 1980s, while television dominated American media, we were constantly warned that television spread violence, poisoned civilized discourse, encouraged stupidity and ignorance, and cheapened human relations. It was like global warming, in that you could blame anything on it.

There was a time, children, when TV Guide used to run serious think pieces on TV and violence, TV and sexual misbehavior, TV and the breakup of the family. And it was the most popular magazine in America.

Jean-Claude Van Itallie and other counterculture types in the 1960s were always bashing TV. Van Itallie's one-act play "TV" was so hard-core that it makes the actors take their curtain call frozen in place in mid-laugh, silent, to make you feel creeped out about TV.

Congress got involved many times in addressing the miserable content of television. Congressional hearings always led to big fat reports confirming that TV was decadent and dangerous, and then it just continued getting worse.

We have PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, and its predecessor, National Educational Television, because we wanted to use TV to make people better and smarter. How's that working out?

And then something happened, and TV was no longer killing America. I don't know what it was. It was during the 1990s, and I was busy. A level of irony sank into the culture, separating us from our concerns, telling us, "Yeah, it's crap, let's enjoy." Or maybe our intelligensia got lazy. They got much more interested in money. We suffered the rise of the Bourgeois Bohemian. Van Itallie lives on a farm and eats dirt; TV writers live in Hollywood and get girls. Which would you rather be?

Of course, in the 1990s we got the Internet to start blaming for everything, which was great for TV. Took the pressure off, anyway.

Some groups still complain about violence and immorality on TV, but violence and immorality get worse and are now broadcast at all hours of the day (ever hear of "Family Viewing Hour"?). Those voices seem to get more and more faint, fading under the noise.

As for me, I grew up watching much too much TV, but was not immune from the criticisms in the culture about how bad it was for you, how it turned your mind into a turnip, etc. And I resolved never to be a slave to the box again.

It's easy enough now that I have a phone to stare at instead.

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