The Toxicity of TV

“All television is educational television.  The question is:  what is it teaching?”
Nicholas Johnson

“The Toxicity of TV” 

by Lama Marut

The last few issues we’ve been talking about the importance of “fighting the power” of consumer capitalism in order to cultivate contentment – the opposite of the dissatisfaction engendered in us by advertising and the beginning of the true happiness we seek.  A spiritual life requires a renunciation of its antithesis, the values of secularism, and for us this means rejecting the ideology of shopping mall culture which is entirely designed to keep us discontented and unhappy.

Lama Marut The all-pervasive and thoroughly corrosive worldview of consumer capitalism is principally disseminated through the mass media, and most especially through television.
In his classical cautionary tale, 1984 (originally published in 1949, long before my family had its first TV), George Orwell imagined a future where everyone would have a television that was on pretty much all the time, broadcasting mindless pap or violence and propaganda designed to keep the populace in a constant state of unhappiness.  That time has come.  We are living the nightmare Orwell foresaw. 

99% of all American households now possess at least one TV, while 66% have three or more.  The TV is on in the average home 6 hours and 47 minutes a day.  The typical person now watches over four hours per day, or 28 hours a week.

Lama Marut That’s two months of non-stop television viewing a year.   By the time the average person is 65, he or she will have spent nine years watching TV.
These numbers are staggering.  And they go on.  According to statistics, parents spend all of 3.5 minutes per week in “meaningful conversation” with their children, compared to the 1,680 minutes per week the average kid spends in front of the TV.  While a child typically spends 900 hours per year in school, he or she spends 1500 hours per year glued to the TV set.  Children spend more time watching television than in any other activity except sleep.
It’s not just the sheer number of hours of our precious and finite human life we waste staring at the TV.   What, exactly, are we and our children spending huge parts of our lives passively watching? 

First of all, a whole lot of commercials cleverly designed to instill over and over again the idea that we should never be satisfied, that we should always “need” more, and that our happiness lies outside ourselves – in money, acquisitions, status, or entertaining experiences.  The average kid sees 20,000 commercials a year.

Lama Marut By the time the typical American watcher is 65, he or she has seen 2,000,000 TV ads.  Two million.
And then there is the violence. The average child has witnessed 8,000 murders on TV by the time he or she finishes elementary school.  By age 18, that same kid has seen 200,000 violent acts. 

In case you were wondering if watching hundreds of thousands of violent acts on TV has any effect on people, 2,888 out of 3,000 studies show that TV violence is a causal factor in the real life version. According to a report issued by the American Psychological Association, children often behave differently after they’ve been watching violent programs on television.  Kids who watched violent shows were more likely to argue and strike out at their playmates.

TV inures us all to violence (making possible, for example, mass support of wars waged in our name) by depending on it so heavily for what supposedly is “entertainment.”  Watching other people harming and killing each other for our amusement calluses us to the suffering of our fellow human beings.

Lama Marut Kurt Vonnegut cynically remarked that it is “One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”
And its only getting worse.  As the tolerance level for TV violence goes up, the producers of such “drama” shows just amp things up accordingly. “Violence is like the nicotine in cigarettes,” says one observer.  “The reason why the media has to pump ever more violence into us is because we’ve built up a tolerance.  In order to get the same high, we need ever-higher levels. . . . The television industry has gained its market share through an addictive and toxic ingredient.”  

Toxic indeed.  And, apparently, highly addictive.

Lama Marut If you are serious about your spiritual life, you can start by turning the TV off.  Get your time and sanity back.  Not watching television is an easy way to recover a bit of peace in one’s daily life.
Having weaned yourself from the addiction, eventually just get rid of your TV.  You won’t miss it.  In fact, you’ll be suddenly aware of how much more time you have for things that matter and how much more peace of mind you have automatically by just not exposing your consciousness over and over again to what is being broadcast. 

In Orwell’s book, the protagonist is astonished to discover that in the homes of the elite the television can actually be turned off.  Be a real individual.  Be part of the 1% of the population who isn’t willingly allowing themselves to be mentally poisoned over and over again, for hours and hours every day.

We become what we repeatedly put in front of our consciousness.  Try to remember that the next time you’re tempted to turn on the TV.


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