Tuesday, May 29, 2012

in defense of television

The West Wing

I like television.  Some television, I love.

Maybe some day I will be as disciplined as John Piper and not even own a television, but I doubt it right now.

I read all the time about how TV is a "mindless distraction" and that we are all better off doing other, more valuable things with our time.  It peddles sex, drugs, and Glee to our children.  This box of evil must be destroyed before it destroys us.  Etc., etc.

But I also read about how stories help us process the world around us, giving us a sense of meaning and order in an a chaotic world.

Here's the truth: some television is bad.  It entertains but does not inform, titillates but does not inspire.  Some TV is to your brain what junk food is to your body, and both expand the size of your butt.

I believe, however, that some television is good.  Just because we don't gather around the town square to hear minstrels and bards tell stories anymore doesn't mean that we've given up on shared cultural stories.  In fact, I will bet that some teenager was scolded in the 1590s for attending a Shakespearean production because "that stuff will rotteth your brain."

For me, watching The West Wing has caused me to consider how to live out my values in public, that is whether following Jesus is best done by legislating my morals or by living them out authentically and persuasively.  Watching House, M.D. raised issues such as honesty, integrity, work ethic, humility, and self control.

Jersey Shore is unlikely to make you any more virtuous, but Parenthood might.

You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of entertainment they consume.  What do they find funny, objectionable, immoral, meaningful, insightful, etc.?  In fact, Lindsey and I had our first serious conversation because I asked her what kind of music she liked.  Television is both an influence on and a reflection of who we are.

Television is our modern oral history.  We shouldn't burn our books and bow down to the tube, but maybe we should calm down, throw our arms around the family and enjoy new epics, romances, dramas, comedies, and satire being beamed into our homes.  Then, we should have lively discussions around dinner tables about what we saw and what we believe and how stories should change us or give us resolve to stay the course.

It's time to come out of hiding.  What television do you like?  Or hate?


Author's note: As a family, we do not currently subscribe to cable or watch many over-the-air programs.  Nearly all of our television consumption is through Hulu.  DVR and Hulu cut way down on advertisements and time spent in front of the television.  They're worth considering if you want TV to be a part of your life, not controlling it.

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