Monday, January 31, 2005

Curious about Television - What Is Its Impact, Its Pros and Cons?

Last week included a “TV tirade” on several fronts. It started with my “Monday Morning Memo” from the Wizard of Ads. Roy H. Williams, the author, ends his memo with these words:

“…television's magnetic hold on us seems to be on the mind of a lot of people right now. And I, for one, am going to ponder this awhile and come to some sort of conclusion. And then I'll probably take some sort of action. What it will be, I have no idea.”

Then when I visited my Yahoo group mail, the writers in the copywriter group of which I am a member were discussing Williams’ memo; Stephen King’s description in his book, On Writing, of TV as a “killer of creativity"; and then Norman Mailer’s article in Sunday’s Parade Magazine in which he also berates TV.

He discusses the insidious effects of television on our entire educational system. He cites that increased TV watching, interrupted every few minutes by a series of unrelated commercials affects our children's abilities tomaintain concentration for any length of time, reduces their desire to read at all, and therefore their ability to read well. He cites obesity as another effect of our youngsters sitting in a stupefied state in front of the boob tube, eating and drinking all the while, but even more serious, he foresees the very prosperity of our nation being affected, as the rest of the world is getting into position to surpass our economic conditions.

By this time I was feeling good about the fact that I don’t have a TV and haven’t had one since 1994. I usually tell myself that the only time I miss it is for the Academy Awards and the Olympics. The real truth is that if I had a TV (and I know this is the case, because I did have one from 1985 until 1994) I would turn it on for noise and end up watching some time-wasting made-for-TV movie that was definitely drivel.

My children and I were without a TV from 1978 until 1985. We had moved from a house with two TVs to a new location and I felt that not having a TV would encourage creativity, activity outside the home and socializing - it did. As far as I know, my five children all own TVs today, but I have no idea of how much time they spend watching it.

The beginning comments in the Yahoo group discussion about the negative effects of watching TV unleashed the tirade. Some hated it and never watched, others only watched once in awhile, others planned to cut back or stop watching, and then there were those who love it, watch it all of the time and sing its praises - some posters to the group even became a bit belligerent.

As a storyteller, I feel that TV with its visual images and sound bites has given storytellers the challenge to get and keep listeners enthralled and making their own images from the words spoken. I notice that it often takes a minute or two to engage my audience, no matter how young or how old. But it has also enforced my belief that a good story, told well, will always win out against a TV sitcom.

I would love to have the hours back that I used up (“wasted”) in front of a TV before I banished it from my home, and yet I still remember some of the greats that I am glad I didn’t miss: Sid Caesar, I Love Lucy, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan, Dick Van Dyke - I’ll let you guess the rest.

So, how do you feel about TV? What category do you fit in? Hate it, love it, want to get rid of it, or learn from it? Send me your comments.