The Impact of TV
TELEVISION has revolutionized the field of communications. Through it, people can observe in detail things taking place in their own neighborhoods, or in lands thousands of miles away. The television camera has even penetrated the depths of outer space.
In America, from 95 to 98 percent of the people have a television set, putting TV ahead of the telephone as a means of communication. A published report shows that the average American spends about seventeen hours a week in front of a TV set.
Educator Dr. S. I. Hayakawa remarked: “The messages of television, with words reinforced by music and pictures and action, received in a darkened room and reiterated over and over, are the most effective communications ever let loose on the world.”
Television Can Be Beneficial
There is little doubt that such an effective and easily accessible means of communication holds vast potential for benefiting mankind. It can acquaint the viewer with the thinking, way of life and circumstances affecting his fellowman in distant places.
Television has made available some wholesome entertainment programs too. In the privacy of his home a person can enjoy a Shakespeare drama, the Metropolitan Opera, ballet and concerts. There is a television series produced in England that may be enjoyed with or without sound. When the actors talk to one another (which is very seldom) they also employ sign language. This makes available an entertaining and instructive program both for people who can hear and for those who cannot.
The field of education has greatly benefited from television. It makes available a variety of instructive material with a full view of the teacher and of any experiments or visual illustrations that he may provide. One can learn about mathematics, various other sciences, basic household skills, languages and many other things on educational television. Many enjoy “visual essays” that couple a fine view of live performances in arts such as music or dancing with commentary by an expert in the field. Some countries employ TV to cut down their illiteracy rate. Developing countries have found it an effective tool to train people for jobs where there are not enough qualified teachers. And television presentations can be stored on videotape for repeated use.
Young viewers can often talk intelligently on matters that the pre-television generations never dreamed of; and in the case of very young children, TV may contribute to a larger vocabulary, though it often has the opposite effect on older youths.
But television is merely a means of communication. Whether it benefits you personally depends upon the type of programs that you watch. Many voices have been raised in protest at the poor quality of much TV programming. In the United States television has been criticized for “pandering to the lowest common denominator in public taste.”
Materialism and Sexual Immorality
Many things that appear on television create in the viewer a desire for material things that may have little practical value. In this connection L. E. Sissman, writing in The Atlantic of February 1974, refers to “gruesome game shows . . . which dangle material carrots” before the participants “and make us [the listeners] shake with vicarious longing for the prize.”
Many commercials are designed to make people want things that they do not need, cannot afford, or that are really no different from products that they already have. And think of the effect of commercials that make children crave a steady diet of cakes, cookies, soft drinks and sugary cereals.
The trend of television toward the “new morality” is also a disheartening one. Startled viewers have seen shows that deal with homosexuality and lesbianism. Full frontal nudity has appeared on stations of the Public Broadcasting System. Comedy shows often feature off-color humor. And what about the “soap operas”? The pamphlet TV and the New Morality observes: “Daytime soap operas deal frankly with adultery and casually show unmarried couples in bed together.”
These programs may portray sexual immorality as a way of escape to avoid the frustrations of a wilted marital relationship. An unwary viewer could easily develop a feeling of identity with the characters portrayed and might seek similar solutions to his own problems. How unwise to expose oneself to such dangers in view of God’s stated position on sexual immorality as found, for example, at 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10: “Make no mistake: no fornicator, . . . none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, . . . will possess the kingdom of God”!—The New English Bible.
Of course, not all television programs are of this undesirable type. And when something offensive does appear on the screen, you have the freedom to switch to another channel, or to turn your set off. The kind of TV shows that you watch is largely up to you. If you are selective, television can benefit you.
Effect of TV on Human Relations
We have seen that television can bring far-distant events and people right into one’s home. It can also draw families together to sit down to watch a favorite program. Does TV, therefore, exert a unifying force over people? Does it make for more closely knit family life? It can, but often TV has the opposite effect. How so?
In bygone days when a person wished to learn of events or matters of local or world importance, he would have to get that information by direct communication with other people. Friends would gather at the village well or at the general store for an exchange of news and views. But with television, people may get the same information without bothering with their neighbors. If they are not careful, they can allow television to quash their incentive to communicate with others. One writer spoke of TV watchers as being “anonymous island-audiences, newly separated from one another.”
Can the same thing happen within the family circle? Well, do family members usually profit from associating with one another while watching television? Does the mere fact that they are sitting close to one another build a feeling of togetherness? An article entitled “Family Life in America” observes:
“Family members do not entertain each other when the family watches television; quite often, in fact, any person watching a TV program ignores all other family members present. TV amusement is a one-way road, involving no effort on the part of the family.”
But family television watching does not have to turn out that way. Steps can be taken to assure that television will not drive a wedge between family members. At mealtimes, for instance, it is unwise for families to let the TV set rob them of the opportunity to enjoy one another’s conversation. Says television writer-producer Norman S. Morris:
“Whether the adults choose to eat separately from the child or not, the television set should not be turned on. Mealtime should be a pleasant time; it provides the perfect opportunity for members of the family to communicate with one another. The togetherness provided by mealtimes is very important to the mental health of the family unit.”
Being selective in what you watch will further help to keep lines of communication open. If families include programs of educational interest, television can serve as a springboard to expanded communication. Programs that demonstrate how to prepare a tasty meal or how to make or repair things can lead to animated discussion and wholesome family activity. Norman Morris writes: “Television’s greatest power is sometimes released after the set is switched off.”
The Problem of TV Violence
What some people consider to be the most detrimental effect of much television programming is its emphasis on violence. Some programs feature acts of violence every few minutes; and this may go on hour after hour throughout the day. In a ten-year period a regular viewer can see some 10,000 lives snuffed out. This is bound to have adverse effects.
Last year, for example, a movie appeared on TV in which teen-agers were shown setting fire to derelicts for “kicks.” Shortly thereafter a group of youths forced a Boston woman to douse herself with gasoline and then burned her to death. During the same month three Miami boys were charged with first-degree murder for the same crime committed against a derelict there.
Earlier the same year a television movie opened with the stabbing to death of two young women. “Two weeks later,” says an article appearing in TV Guide of February 2, 1974, “a 17-year-old Atlanta boy admitted killing a young woman in a planned re-enactment.” A similar case happened last spring when a sixteen-year-old English boy kicked an old man to death in imitation of a television movie. The author of the aforementioned article, Jean Davison, explains:
“In confessing to murder, these two killers showed little emotion. Most behavioral scientists believe that watching violence not only makes both normal and abnormal people more aggressive, but research indicates it also tends to make people insensitive to violence committed by others.”
Television and Children
Youths, though they may profit from some programs, are the special prey of bad TV shows. One reason for this is the amount of time that they spend in front of the set. From age six to sixteen some children will devote 12,000 or more hours to television (about three hours a day). That is as much time as many youths will spend in school. Some will nearly double that amount of television time.
Another problem is that very young children believe what they see on TV; they do not distinguish between reality and a make-believe world. Youngsters also have difficulty relating events to context. How are they affected, for instance, when they see a “good guy” doing something bad? A code adopted in Great Britain to curb the amount of violence on television specified: “Good men doing evil things to secure a good purpose provide a bad message to young children.”
A child who watches television several hours a day sees a considerable amount of violence. As children are natural imitators, this can amount to a heavy incentive for even “normal” children to duplicate what they see. Dr. Robert M. Liebert, a child psychologist, pointed out: “Even perfectly normal children will imitate antisocial behavior they see on television, not out of malice but out of curiosity.”
Certain people object that only a small percentage of children will react to TV violence in this way. Should that make a difference? In 1972, Dr. Jesse L. Steinfeld, then U.S. surgeon general, stated:
“Most important here, is that there has been shown to be a causative relationship between viewing violence on TV and subsequent behavior. And I think it is not important to argue whether the number is 10 per cent or 20 per cent or 30 per cent. We have a large population, and if 10 per cent of 20 million children become aggressive and engage in antisocial acts, that is far too many.”
It is true that violence has been a part of human experience throughout the millenniums of man’s existence; this cannot be hidden from children. But alert parents realize that no good purpose is served by allowing youngsters to soak up hours of savagery each day. Bible believers can explain to their children that belligerence and violence are closely connected to selfish sensual cravings when these are allowed to go unchecked. (Jas. 4:1-3) They can point out, too, that man will never solve his problems by violent means, for “man’s wrath does not work out God’s righteousness.” (Jas. 1:20) God himself will act to rid the earth of violence and those who cause it.—Dan. 2:44; 2 Thess. 1:6-8.
Some Other Pitfalls
It is clear that television, though it has great potential for doing good, can be a menace where there is a lack of self-restraint. A major pitfall is that its ready availability at the flick of a switch can cause many to squander huge amounts of time in front of the TV set. While some diversion or entertainment is beneficial, too much frequently has a detrimental effect.
In a special article analyzing the impact of television, Life magazine of September 10, 1971, stated: “One out of every four viewers ‘feels guilty’ about the time he spends watching.” Doubtless contributing to this guilt feeling is the fact that many pilfer for television time that should go for household duties, homework, or other necessary activities.
Some, when deprived of TV, have experienced “psychological withdrawal symptoms.” Psychologist Henner Ertel stated: “With people who watch regularly, many behavior patterns become so closely related to TV that they are negatively influenced if one takes the set away. The problem is that of addiction.” Certainly you do not want this to be your experience with TV.
Television, as a medium of information, education and entertainment, can benefit you and your family. Be careful, though, not to let it dominate you. Be selective in what you watch; make sure that it helps, not hinders, family togetherness. And carefully regulate the amount of time devoted to TV. In this way the impact of TV in your life can bring benefits.