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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Does TV make the world a better place?

Complaining about television is practically a fact of life. So much so that while critics and fans alike can and do single out individual shows for praise, the general consensus seems to be that, in the words of Bart Simpson, TV sucks — and what’s more, with the rise of the Internet, TV is dead. I was startled, then, to come across an essay by Vanessa Richmond at AlterNet called “TV Is Not Dead: 3 Ways Television Makes the World a Better Place.”

Richmond’s three things? She deems TV prejudice-busting (“I mean, what’s better? Telling people not to be racist, or making Cliff and Claire Huxtable into characters no one can resist: funny, successful, smart and quirky?”), thought-provoking and discussion-creating (“there’sWeeds, which questions mainstream assumptions about suburbia and about the marijuana trade, and also asks questions about what it is to be a good parent”), and behavior-changing (“when women in Brazil get access to TV… that access has the same effect on birth rates as two more years of education… because of the glamorized portrayal of female characters with few children”).
Richmond isn’t pretending that TV is all good, but her points are provocative. What do you think? Does TV make the world a better place?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • RyanT

    Like any technology, it’s neither inherently good or bad. It’s how people use the technology that can make it good or bad.

    Planes are great and allows us to travel faster and relatively efficiently. Planes also make it possible for people to drop bombs. TV is a great resource of knowledge (Discovery Channel, History, etc.), but also could be used to influence people’s mindset about something (FOX News, etc.)

  • Bluejay

    TV is idiotic and a horrible influence on people, with the exception of all the shows I like.

  • markyd

    TV is idiotic and a horrible influence on people, with the exception of all the shows I like.(/blockquote>

    lol. What he said!

    Actually, I really don’t watch tv. My tv is used mostly for movies and video games.
    I agree with Ryan in how there are good and bad sides to almost anything.
    TV is awesome for getting out information. But then you have to wonder how accurate or complete that information is. This is why the internet is actually more relevant. You can take something you heard on tv, and expand upon it through the internet.
    The bigger problem comes in the form of all those people who take what comes out of the tv as gospel, and never bother to check for themselves.

  • TV is awesome for getting out information. But then you have to wonder how accurate or complete that information is. This is why the internet is actually more relevant. You can take something you heard on tv, and expand upon it through the internet.

    The bigger problem comes in the form of all those people who take what comes out of the tv as gospel, and never bother to check for themselves.

    Actually, you can substitute the word “Internet” for “TV” in most of the above paragraphs and be just as accurate.

    With both mediums, you still have to deal with the human factor. Even back in Roman times, people had a tendency to believe what they wanted to believe and to prefer news that would reinforce their views far more than challenge them and for all our technology, we don’t seem to be much different.

    If you prefer a more original viewpoint, I suppose you could always go to the nearest library, look for a copy of sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison’s book Strange Wine and read in its introduction what he thought about TV back in the 1970s. Then ask yourself what has changed since he wrote that. Apart from the Internet, of course.

  • Paul

    Well, I suppose you are better off watching “Burn Notice” rather than reading “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” (it was a book first, right? Or just a blog?) but brain wave studies have shown that watching TV turns your brain passive while reaching books activate your brain.

    The fastest way to kill a plant is to put it in front of a TV or computer screen. I put a cactus on my computer desk and less than a week later I had to move the poor thing. I’m still nursing it back to health.

    Then of course there is the whole general health thing. My parents’ typical day for twenty years? Get up, sit down to breakfast, sit in a car and drive to work, sit down at work, drive home and sit down to dinner, then sit in front of the TV. Sit, sit, sit. Of course, it is as much the fault of the cars as it is the TV. Or just their fault for not going to the gym.

    And what might be worse than bad TV? Good TV. If all TV shows were reality TV and Fox News, it would be easy for me to not watch. But damn you, Burn Notice, Big Bang Theory, Ugly Betty, Stargate… you lure me back.

  • stingraylady

    Personally, I think you can draw a direct line from the advent of Sesame Street to changing mores about race. When my daughter was very young I bought her a beautiful picture book put out for the 25th anniversary of SS that I, born in 1969, enjoyed almost as much as she did. In it, the creators talked about how they wanted to make a children’s show for inner city kids that didn’t have access to pre-school, and one that looked like their own neighborhood. But suburban kids watched also, and one of the most wonderful unintended consequences in the history of television is that they then grew up thinking of children of different races as being just like themselves rather than “the other.”

  • Christina

    With all due respect to the INTENTION of Sesame Street, they also produced generation after generation of children with a 10-second attention span and the hugely incorrect expectation that everything in life will be fun, jump around, put to song, and delivered to them while they sit passively in front of the Boob Tube.

    You don’t learn to swim by staying in the shallow end of the pool. PBS did research that showed children had a 10-second attention span… if they weren’t asked to stretch and watch something more complicated than see this – see that – cut to a new camera angle. So they cemented that 10-second attention span forever in children’s psyches… which lead, I firmly believe, to the current crop of Americans who can’t follow a 10-second sound byte on the news.

    Feh. KILL YOUR TELEVISION and read to your kids, and then teach them to read for themselves as soon as possible. That way they’ll learn to THINK for themselves, too.

  • In it, the creators talked about how they wanted to make a children’s show for inner city kids that didn’t have access to pre-school, and one that looked like their own neighborhood. But suburban kids watched also, and one of the most wonderful unintended consequences in the history of television is that they then grew up thinking of children of different races as being just like themselves rather than “the other.”

    I suspect integration had more to do with that than anything to be seen on TV. I’m old enough to remember when it seemed a big deal to me to see a black schoolteacher teaching a predominantly white class of children. Nowadays that is no longer a big deal.

    And perhaps it has something to do with already knowing how to read when Sesame Street first started but I learned more about race from my fellow classmates up North and down South than I ever did from that show.

    I will confess however, that I also learned a lot about American racial attitudes from the first few seasons of All in the Family.

  • Bluejay

    With all due respect to the INTENTION of Sesame Street, they also produced generation after generation of children with a 10-second attention span and the hugely incorrect expectation that everything in life will be fun, jump around, put to song, and delivered to them while they sit passively in front of the Boob Tube.

    Um, I grew up watching Sesame Street–as did many of the intelligent posters here, I suspect–and that description does not apply to me, nor did it ever apply at any point in my development. I learned some valuable things from the show, but I had my parents and my education and my life experiences fill in the rest.

    It’s true you don’t learn to swim by staying in the shallow end, but that’s where you should start. That’s what Sesame Street is. (Or was, at least, when I was watching it.) And it’s true that letting your kid sit passively in front of the TV all day is a bad idea, but too much of anything is a bad idea. Watching TV with your kid, with lots of parental guidance and conversations, can be a fun bonding and learning experience. Of course, you should do lots of other things with your kid besides watch TV, too.

    Feh. KILL YOUR TELEVISION and read to your kids, and then teach them to read for themselves as soon as possible. That way they’ll learn to THINK for themselves, too.

    Learning to read is no guarantee that they’ll learn to think for themselves. People can be gullible and believe everything they read, too.

    I think the real solution is moderation and parental involvement. Letting the TV babysit your kids all day is obviously bad, but watching TV with them and talking to them about the shows–analyzing episodes and characters, picking apart storylines–is what helps foster critical thinking. Same with books.

    The responsibility of raising our kids to be smart, critical people with good values lies not with any form of media, but with us.

    …which lead, I firmly believe, to the current crop of Americans who can’t follow a 10-second sound byte on the news.

    I guess that makes me even more impressed that such a supposedly ADD country could elect a president so fond of multisyllabic words, complex sentence structures, nuanced arguments, and hourlong speeches!

    ;-)

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