How Television Can Hurt
AT ONE time, some researchers thought that television programs did not have any lasting negative influence. A few even claimed that programs featuring violence could help by serving as “safety valves,” helping to curb such tendencies in people.
But that was before there had been enough time to analyze the effects of the viewing of TV programs for years. Now, prolonged studies almost unanimously agree that, when improperly used, TV can hurt, and hurt badly.
It Does Influence
The claim that a steady diet of TV programs featuring violence, depravity and immorality has little or no effect does not stand up to scrutiny. If this is so, then why do companies spend billions of dollars advertising their products and services on TV?
These advertisers know that TV, as a medium of communication, has a profound effect. Their advertising conditions people mentally so that they will buy their products. Surely, the commercial leaders of the world are not so simple-minded as to throw away money if TV advertising has little or no effect.
The same is the case with the content of TV programs. People are bound to be influenced one way or another by spending large amounts of time watching them.
To say that a steady diet of bad TV programs has little effect on the mind is like saying that a steady diet of bad food has little effect on the body’s health. To a large extent, your body’s health depends upon good food. Eat bad food long enough and your health will be damaged. In the same way, your mental health is largely determined by what you feed your mind. Too much bad mental food over a long period of time can adversely affect your mind.
The facts show that what a person sees on TV does influence him. The magazine TV Guide acknowledged: “Although a few early scientific studies suggested that TV violence might actually make viewers less aggressive, by allowing them to release or ‘cathart’ their pent-up hostility vicariously, later research has contradicted this theory.”
Hence, there are good reasons why much is being said that is critical of TV. There is genuine concern about the polluting of the mind, just as there is genuine concern about the literal pollution of air, water and food.
Yet, in spite of this concern, the steady diet of bad TV programs continues. Younger viewers may not be able to note the deterioration that has taken place in programming, but older viewers can make the comparison. An example of this is when writer Michael Dean returned to Australia after a long absence. He wrote in The Australian, a Sydney weekly: “Seeing Australian TV again after thirteen years is a body-blow to one’s native optimism. It’s as though Hans Andersen had returned to his childhood pond to find that the ugly duckling had become an uglier swan.”
True, violence, crime, immorality and depravity were not invented by TV. But the evidence shows that these things are made worse by TV. This is particularly so in countries where commercial TV has practically a free hand, or where censors are very liberal, allowing things to be shown that would have been unheard of decades ago.
One Way It Hurts
There are a number of ways in which bad television hurts. One way is in regard to the actual physical health of people.
The American Medical Association states that television depravity and violence can make some people physically ill. Many of the doctors surveyed said that the effects of such TV programs are showing up in their offices and hospitals. Similarly, more than 22,000 California doctors—the vast majority in that state—have jointly testified in court supporting the diagnosis that TV violence and depravity is “a hazard to health.” It can affect the emotions in a bad way, leading to literal physical problems.
Another hurtful aspect relating to health is that TV watching requires nothing of the body. But prolonged periods of inactivity are bad for physical health. Lack of exercise is a killer. Also, many people eat between meals while watching TV, contributing to excessive weight problems.
Doctors are finding that a large number of patients with blood clots have a long history of too much TV. Such prolonged inactivity does not provide enough contractions of the muscles of the lower limbs. The deep veins of the legs and feet, if not activated by muscular contractions that come from walking and exercising, may develop blood clots that can kill a person.
Lack of proper sleep is another hurtful effect of watching too much TV. Television has a type of ‘hypnotic power,’ in that one program often leads to the next. As a result, many people keep watching late into the night when they should be in bed sleeping. Since they still have to get up at the same time to go to work the next day, this means a loss of sleep. Insufficient sleep is a serious health hazard.
In addition, some programs stimulate the mind to the extent that when a person does go to bed, he often finds that he cannot get to sleep for a long while. When invited to tour the United States, a group of workers from the Soviet Union, where television is state controlled, said: “Television was another disappointment. We watched television the first night we were there and could barely sleep afterward with the killing we saw.”
Does TV Encourage Violence?
A serious effect of bad TV programming has to do with violence. TV Guide states: “One psychology professor recently summed up the evidence by saying, ‘There is little doubt that, by displaying forms of aggression or modes of criminal and violent behavior, the media are “teaching” and people are “learning.”’”
In a typical experiment, one group of adults was shown TV programs aimed at encouraging good relations between people. Another group was shown programs with the usual amount of violence and depravity. At the end of the test period, researchers said that the results were “startling.” Those who constantly watched the bad programs became increasingly hostile and aggressive. They were grouchier with their families, less tolerant of their children, and they generally engaged in more hurtful behavior.
In Canada, a government study claimed that 20 percent or more of the aggression and violence in Canadian society could be attributed to the short-term effects of such TV shows. An additional 10 percent was attributed to the long-term effects. The report stated: “Watching violence increases aggression and can trigger violent attacks.” It warned: “Even if aggressive attacks are triggered in only a small proportion of viewers, when as many as 40 million people watch a brutal scene people will be hurt as a result.”
This study also rejected the idea that a person can ‘let off steam’ by watching violent programs. Instead, it stated that “observation of violence tends to increase subsequent aggressiveness.”
In addition, in some people it causes a mental state that makes it difficult for them to separate myth from reality. Thus, when a patient in a psychiatric hospital hit an employee on the head with a pool cue, he was baffled because the employee failed to get up. The patient could not understand why the employee was unconscious because on TV people often get right up again after being hit on the head.
Convicts have admitted getting ideas for crimes by watching programs on prison TV. A surprising 90 percent in one survey said that they had actually learned ways to improve their criminal techniques. Four out of 10 said that they had already tried specific crimes that they first saw on television. One declared: “TV has taught me how to steal cars, how to break into establishments, how to go about robbing people, even how to roll a drunk. . . . Everybody’s picking up on what’s on the TV.”
Another grim aspect of TV violence is noted by behavioral scientists. They now believe that a steady diet of watching television violence, not only makes many people more aggressive, but also makes them more insensitive to violence committed against others.
Columnist Harriet Van Horne wrote in the New York Post: “Something dreadful has happened to decent, ordinary people. Something shaming, alarming.” She commented that when many people observe an act of violence against someone else, “they will watch and do absolutely nothing,” as though they were seeing it on TV. They will not lift a finger, not even to call the police.
True, there always have been persons who did not want to get involved. But is TV making this problem worse? Columnist Van Horne concludes: “Violence, pain and death do not shock us as they once did. . . . Has 20 years of TV mayhem shriveled the good Samaritan in us? Reluctantly, one says yes.”
Hurting Family Relationships
Still another bad effect is that too much TV watching of poor programs can hurt a family’s relationships. Indeed, watching too much of any kind of program can.
True, a family may watch together, but this does not bring them closer together mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Many family members admit that they feel farther apart when they spend too much time viewing TV. There already is a communication gap in many families, and television can make it worse. Indeed, some even say that TV is the main cause of this gap in many homes.
Not only does watching TV take away time that could be spent in the normal give-and-take of family communication, but it makes it harder for some people to relate to others. As noted in the book The Plug-in Drug, one woman states: “I have trouble mobilizing myself and dealing with real people after watching a few hours of television. It’s just hard to make that transition from watching television to a real relationship. I suppose it’s because there was no effort necessary while I was watching, and dealing with real people always requires a bit of effort. Imagine, then, how much harder it might be to do the same thing for a small child, particularly one who watches a lot of television every day.”
All too many TV programs degrade family life. In the daily El Nacional of Caracas, Venezuela, José Ricardo Eliashev tells of two privately owned TV stations whose programs are filled with “[illegitimate] children, unrevealed fathers, and unknown brothers.” He observes that in these programs, “children are not creatures deserving of love and unconditional tenderness. Instead they are used and manipulated by adults—kidnapped, abandoned, renounced, or otherwise victimized.” He concludes: “Family structure, at least in Christian terms, is destroyed.”
And that is one of the things that particularly disturbs God-fearing people. They are also disturbed because many TV programs undermine high standards of morality. The programs condone fornication, adultery, homosexuality. And frequently, the atheistic viewpoint is promoted.
Commenting on this, the editorial in a recent issue of U.S. News & World Report declared:
“Executives of television can excuse even their most banal programs by saying they will be eaten alive unless they give the public what the public seems to want. But they deserve blame. They could at the very least exercise courage and imagination in considering what the public is to be shown, instead of trying to outdo each other in drivel and bad taste. . . .
“Congress wouldn’t stand still for a minute if a prominent industry pocketed a billion dollars in pretax profits—as commercial broadcasting did last year—while piping sewage into our rivers and lakes. Yet neither Congress nor the Federal Communications Commission raises an eyebrow while commercial TV stations pipe their raw ‘entertainment’ garbage into American homes, polluting our minds.”
But the mental polluting continues. And nowhere are the results more unfortunate, even devastating, than in connection with the minds that are least able to cope with it. These are the minds of children.
[Blurb on page 10]
There is already a communication gap in many families, and television can make it worse.
[Blurb on page 11]
Many TV programs undermine high standards of morality by condoning fornication, adultery and homosexuality.
[Picture on page 9]
Too much TV robs one of the activity needed to sustain good health—it is hazardous mentally and physically