Given the derogatory names of “boob tube” and “idiot box,” television has generally been considered inferior to its more majestic, expensive and long-winded counterpart of cinema. The value of television, however, is underappreciated and often unnoticed.
People often seem to feel guilty about watching hours of TV. In some way, it is considered an accomplishment when someone can proudly say they’re too busy for TV. This is a reflection of our societal obsession with constantly being busy. I’d argue, however, that it’s time to slow down and relax with some of the seriously intelligent shows that are out there. It’s time to accept the need to relax without guilt.
One of my classes is taught by a BC trustee, owner of four BC degrees and prominent lawyer; he is highly intelligent and an interesting lecturer. However, the premise of our class is the history of racism and our laws in America as shown in the television series Eyes on the Prize, because anything he could convey to us with his words is trumped by the visceral nature of showing us what actually happened on TV.
We see the fire hoses turned on young children, the charismatic speeches of the leaders and the first-hand accounts of those most involved in the marches, sit-ins and Freedom Rides for Civil Rights. Television allows for the combination of interviews from the past and present with major speeches, images and music of the Civil Rights Movement in order to create a comprehensive explanation of the many events and people of this era. Were our professor to lecture at us for two and a half hours, we would not gain nearly the same appreciation for the fight that activists went through.
Similarly, the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters is entirely based around the practical application of science to the perpetual rumors of society, cultivating an interest in science, math and physics. The West Wing provides a fictionalized account of the goings-on of the White House, while teaching the audience about the intricacies of American civics and our country’s laws.
There is a direct value in shows today which encourage and create enthusiasm for various subjects and fields in a way that a book or lecture cannot. Television, by nature, exemplifies the popular college essay advice, “Show, don’t tell,” in order to engage its audience.
Not all television shows have so respectable an intention as to teach. The television show Girls is in my viewing rotation because it gives a realistic portrayal of what my life may look like in less than two months when I graduate from BC. The uncertainties about the future, the difficulty in finding a career, the un-idealized characters and the lack of glamour in adult life are shown in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.
I do not believe my life will be at all like those of the Girls characters, but in an implicit way, their problems and struggles will become mine shortly, if they aren’t already. I identify with these characters and plot lines, which makes me feel less alone in my concerns and provokes discussions among friends, giving me some perspective regarding the lack of severity of my seemingly important anxieties.
Television has also moved in a distinctly satirical direction with the popularity of shows like The Daily Show, which pokes fun at the absurdities of everyday life in the United States and abroad. The perspective provided by these shows points to the contradictions evident in many of our news sources and politics. For the average citizen, this creates a necessary critique of those in positions of power and generates awareness of inequalities of our societal systems. Even The Soup points out the utter ridiculousness of television in a thoughtful way (every medium needs its critics).
One of my favorite activities involves reading a book, watching the movie and then comparing the two. Shows like Game of Thrones and True Blood (and even Pretty Little Liars) provide this opportunity in television as well. I can engage in a critical discussion of the merits of character and plot changes with my friends instead of unthinkingly watch these shows.
The characterization in Game of Thrones of the fictitious continent of Westeros brings the words of the book to life visually and aurally. So while these book-to-television shows may seem like simple dramas, the potential for intellectual stimulation is there.
Even more superficial series such as Workaholics or Arrested Development which serve only to provide laughs for 20 minutes are just as important. In our incredibly packed days, oftentimes meals are cut short, “hellos” are passed between classes and time to unwind is kept at a minimum. These shows and their comedic scenes provide a needed respite from the stress of the day.In these programs the jokes are often subtle and devilishly clever; the audience can appreciate the writers’ talents. Whether it’s laughing at the utter goofiness of Arrested Development, or getting caught up in the soapy drama of Scandal, anyone can take a much-needed break from a stressful day.
Parents often tell their children that watching too much TV will melt their brains or make them stupid, and there is a truth to this. Watching hours of anything instead of playing outside, reading or participating in other more engaging activities is not good for anyone’s mental, physical or social development.
In fact, I was banned from watching Arthur for a short time in my childhood because I was treating my younger siblings in the dismissive and mean way in which Arthur would treat his younger sister, D.W. (she deserved it, for the record). Television can certainly influence behavior, but once maturity has hit, we should be aware enough to realize that what happens on TV is not always worth mimicking (e.g. Jersey Shore drinking habits). Then, television can become another medium of expression or art to enjoy; intellectual and artistic appreciation should not be limited to films.
Television is often written off as a waste of time or mind-numbing, but it does not have to be. All things in moderation, of course, but there is significant value in many television shows. The significance is for your intellectual and mental health. So, next time you refer to watching TV as a guilty pleasure, don’t be so hard on yourself. Television can be so much more than an inane boob tube; it can be a stress-reliever, conversation partner or dialogue-stimulater.