Resisting the Idiot Box

Today’s post over at Becoming Minimalist, “Ten Reasons to Watch Less Television,” reminded me of some books that have made a great impact on how I live.

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (his real name!) is the landmark theoretical work of the anti-TV movement. As I whittle down my bookshelf, this is a title that I haven’t been able to part with yet. Instead of telling you just how much television I watched growing up, let’s just say this book blew my mind with its revolutionary anti-TV thinking.

The four arguments, each of which comprise a section of the book, are 1) The Mediation of Experience, 2) The Colonization of Experience, 3) Effects of Television on the Human Being, and 4) The Inherent Biases of Television. Sounds a bit wordy. The book is rather academic, but Mander goes places that others don’t. Awesome places.

One of the more abstract concepts he discusses, which took my brain a while to comprehend, revolves around what’s physically happening when someone watches television, from the type and patterns of light entering the eyes to the fact television viewers are being socialized to be passive participants in the world. Much of what he discusses has nothing to do with content–it doesn’t matter if you’re watching a game show or a documentary–another reason his book is an important read.

After discovering this book in 1998, I undertook my first TV fast, where I didn’t watch any television for a week. It went well–I seemed to gain a lot of time in the day, and even got to cross a couple other books off of my to-do list.

In the years since, I’ve done the TV fast several times, often as long as a month at a time. (I didn’t discover TV Turnoff Week until later.) One time in September 2003, I kept a log during the experience. Here’s an excerpt:

It seems to me that how my relationship with television works…is that when I come home, I eat, and there’s not much else I can do when eating except watch television. Then, it just sucks me in for hours. I could turn it off, but then I might forget to turn it on again for that great documentary on in a half hour, etc.  Ultimately the nights fly by, and all because it’s hard to do things while eating. Then again, eating while watching television isn’t very healthy…

That particular TV fast was spurred by having read The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn. Focusing more on the effects of television and advertising on children and families, Winn discusses television’s impacts on child health and development. Television’s influence on kids’ creativity, the lack of physical exercise leading to obesity (the edition I read was published in 1977…the problem has only gotten worse!), kids becoming über-consumers early in life because of targeted advertising. Although I’m not a parent, it’s easy to recognize how my own childhood was influenced by watching television, and how it even impacts me today. As an adult, I was given food for thought about how television discourages connection with other human beings and the world around them.

These days the telly at my house is off way more than ever before.

Feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day? Feel kinda blasé and numb during your “free” time? I’d recommend exploring the relationship you have to your television. Read more–there’s a great list of books here, or check out Kill Your Television. Do an experiment–give up television for a week and see what happens. Clean your house. Go for a bike ride. Read to the kids.

It’s amazing how much more you can do when television isn’t sucking up so much of your time.

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1 Comment

Filed under books, television

One response to “Resisting the Idiot Box

  1. Jason

    Thanks for the article. Once, after writing out my schedule, which included time in front of the TV, exercise, reading books, time with the family, et cetera, it became apparent that there was not enough time in the day and something had to give. What gave was TV. It’s amazing how much time you have to learn and contribute when you’re not plastered in front of a television. My relationship with my wife has grown tremendously because, instead of just mindlessly plopping down on the couch every day (and calling it quality time), I actually talk to her.

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