The Negative Influence of Television

The negative influence of television takes many forms. It's up to us to guard against them.

The negative influence of television is a concern to me because it has been a key factor in reshaping who we are as members of a family, community and country. Sure, there are the obvious effects of television -- the distraction, time consumption, and leading us to be less satisfied with our lives and therefore helping us to be the greatest consumers and debt-ridden spenders on the planet.

But there is something more alarming than that. The big concern for me is how television is reshaping our culture.

It's difficult to escape TV in modern America. Only when we're keenly aware of the negative influence of television can we effectively guard against it.

Please note that this article digresses from the core theme of frugal living, but as you're aware, it's one of the big factors that helps encourage us to be irresponsible with our money. The following discussion gets into some of the political ramifications of television in our lives, and I offer it as a way of wrapping up the issue (for now anyway). If I didn't complete this thought, I would feel like the issue wasn't thoroughly discussed.

I don't mean to step on your toes with my views about the negative influence of television.

I know I'll step on some toes here, but I don't mean to. If you're a big fan of television, I hope you'll forgive me. I'm trying to shed light on something important, not smash you with my big foot.

With that as an introduction, let's divert our attention for a little while and look at the negative influence of television. I think in many respects, TV is an illusion, and just like any other form of advertising and propaganda, it has a lot to say about America. And, it's time that we as individuals do something about how it influences our lives.

As a first step, let's take a look back in recent history to help us keep the negative influence of television in perspective.

The Invasion

There are so many places now that have televisions seemingly everywhere. The sports bar, family restaurants, airport waiting areas, breakfast areas in motels, the back of airline seat, waiting rooms in medical offices, and the list goes on and on. Is it necessary? Well, some people think so.

It's hard to avoid the negative influence of television, what with all of the televisions we have seemingly everywhere.

In high school, we had a foreign exchange student from Germany who spent a year with us. During a class she was asked about her first impressions of America -- the single thing that most impressed her.

Her answer was "Fernsehen." In English, that translates directly to "remote seeing." In other words, the television.

Our foreign exchange student was most impressed with how much of our lives centered on television -- and that was back in 1974.

Let's do the math, 2013 minus 1974 equals...39 years ago. Now, do we think the influence of TV has increased or decreased in the past 39 years? I know, it's a rhetorical question.

I also remember in my high school days, a science teacher asked about the number of televisions in our homes. One student remarked that her house had seven televisions. It was almost a game of who can top this. Even today, with the ever-present television sets and flat screen displays and electronic billboards, having seven TV sets seems like a lot of for one home.

So, if America seemed fixated on TV back almost 40 years ago, what must it look like now -- a complete addiction? That's my view of the situation.

The negative influence of television starts early as we use it as a babysitter.

If the truth be known we only have ourselves to blame for the negative influence of television. We are to blame because we watch it, promote it, use it as a babysitter, enjoy it as background noise, and count on it to keep us company.

We only have ourselves to blame because we're the ones on the receiving end, and we haven't stopped looking for what it has to offer. For many of us, it's our "window on the world" and that's where our troubles begin -- we believe what we see.

Richard Nixon once said that Americans won't believe anything until they see it on television.

The following is a bit over the top, but the character makes good points about Americans and our TV addiction. This movie clip is from the mid-1970s, but the points about the negative influence of television are absolutely as valid today in the 21st century. Smile at the showmanship but focus on the truth in the message.

The message about the consequences of TV were made loud and clear by our preacher friend (played by Peter Finch). His showmanship and passion (and the fact that it's a movie) should not dilute the message -- we're starting to believe in what we see, even though it's largely an illusion created by others.

The Negative Influences of Television

Let's look at what I believe should be good examples of the negative influence of television. I'll focus on the most serious ones. My intention here is to get you to think about what TV is, instead of what it appears to be.

One particularly negative influence of television is it makes others unimportant, even at the dinner table.
  • TV makes people unimportant. When it's important to have a television on at mealtime, then the people you're eating with are no longer as important. Whether it's the kitchen TV, the TV that you can see from the dining area, or the dozens of televisions at the restaurant, it's clear that TV takes center stage in our lives.

Often the television is more important than those you're having lunch with.

When your fellow diners are distracted by a television program, doesn't that make you feel less important? I believe if you leave the television on when company comes calling at your house, then you're sending a message to your visitors that the TV program is at least as important as they are.

When every airline seat has a video screen that allows us to have a convenient excuse for not engaging our neighbor in a conversation, we're sending a similar message of how unimportant people are to us. It's so wonderfully convenient that we can simply ignore people by watching the video screen, just like we can do the same with a set of headphones or ear buds.

TV in a bar is common, but do we really need a television for every table in the place? It's a statement about how fixated we are on TV.

A leading negative influence of television is simply that its presence indicates its importance. It's ubiquitous in our culture. There is hardly anywhere outside your home where you can escape it. And, the more we watch it, the more clear it becomes that those who are so highly paid to entertain us might very well be viewed as far more important than others in our lives.

If the importance of entertainers and their viewpoints on current events isn't a negative influence of television in our culture, then I don't know what is.

Another negative influence of television is it can thwart our thinking...we're handed our opinions by talking heads.
  • TV can stop our thinking. When we have talking heads and news anchors providing us with a constant stream of information, insights and observations, we can easily find a source of opinion that allows us to stop our critical thinking. During a news broadcast long ago, a commentator noted that people in Poland stood in apparent amazement as an America visitor jogged by. He speculated that they must have thought jogging to be an incredible waste of energy.

His conclusion was simple: if you want to help the Polish people, then give them food.

Wow, what a mindless commentary. He could have said they needed freedom and economic opportunity, so they didn't have to stand in line to get food from the state controlled marketplace, but instead he said they simply needed food. Commentary like this certainly highlights a negative influence of television; the ability to paint a picture that is irrelevant, unrealistic, and focused on unimportant and distracting issues. It's okay that people make mindless comments, but they're being aired for one simple reason -- millions are listening and they can be misled.

  • TV can limit what we know and what we're interested in knowing. When we watch a 30 minute news cast, we often think that what we see is what there is to see and hear and know. After all, if there was more, wouldn't they show it to us and tell us about it? Walter Cronkite used to tell us, "And, that's the way it is on (insert date)." We were assured that what happened that day is what was reported. It couldn't be more misleading. Remember, the news also includes weather, sports, traffic, entertainment, and sometimes cooking and science projects and and gossip and commentary. So, how can we be hearing and seeing all that's important? We can't. There just isn't enough time. So, one clear negative influence of television is simply that it appears to portray or report reality, but it only gives us a small peek at what's really going on.

Also, if you watch different channels, you'll note many of the same stories are offered. That's because the stories are shared with affiliates and provided through news services. So, if you're looking for a different perspective, a broader view, a story that isn't just plain vanilla, then you're going to have to search for it. Searching takes effort, and most of us are satisfied with our evening news as being quite enough effort. Again, it's our fault because we're watching and believing what we see and hear.

Another negative influence of television is the power of mass communication is placed in the hands of so few.
  • TV puts influence in the hands of a few. Television and other forms of media put just a handful of people in charge of spoon feeding us our news and opinion, and they have the power to slant it anyway they want. Here is a prime example. In 2002, the Appalachian School of Law saw a tragedy on their campus. A student opened fire on students and faculty until he was stopped by two other students. Those two students saved lives. The media swarmed the campus and heard accounts from the two students. More than 30 media representatives were there. In the several hundred news accounts of that incident, the reports explained that two students tackled the shooter. The real story was that two students ran out to their cars, retrieved their handguns and held the assassin at bay until two other students tackled the shooter. I think this is a perfect example of the selective nature of news coverage that is influenced by the few who control the editorial process. Yes, the whole story got out, but it was purposely watered down by most of the newsrooms. The more complete story can be found in only a few isolated places.

I remember this shameful incident being discussed by Alan Keyes on Making Sense, in a newspaper account in North Carolina, once in The National Review, and as a lead story in the NRA's First Freedom magazine. Out of hundreds of stories, only a handful of reports told the most important story -- if it wasn't for armed students, there would have been more deaths and injuries. Clearly this perspective on firearms isn't shared by a majority of editors and story writers, so it just didn't get through. "The man behind the curtain" didn't want you to see something, and so you probably didn't. The negative influence of television is that we're given half truths, and rarely do we get, as Paul Harvey liked to say, "the rest of the story."

  • TV dumbs us down. This claim would appear to fly in the face of all of the educational programs on television. To be fair, there really are some fascinating and educational programs on TV, but the overwhelming majority of television programming is designed to spoon feed entertainment, information and news (in that order). There is scarcely a program out there that requires us to think. Most of what we see is rapid fire information that gets little discussion to generate real rational thought. If you sit down with friends to talk about abortion, gay rights, gun control, foreign intervention, or the economy, you could go on for hours and hours on any one of the topics. On television, you're lucky if you get just a few sound bites. The simple fact that programming is designed to match our attention span means that we rarely will have any thought stimulating discussion in a 30 or 60 minute program. And, rarely is an entire program dedicated to a single topic. Again, a negative influence of television is that after watching it, we're only armed with enough information to be somewhat informed. Again, it's our fault because we're watching and we're believing what we see and hear.
Who is supporting the negative influence of television in your life? It's you because you're watching it throughout the day.

Like just about anything else in our lives, if we're looking to see who is to blame, it's the person looking back at you in the mirror. We're either supporting a harmful activity or we're letting it happen to us.

It's not difficult to correct most of the problems we face, we simply have to stop feeding and nurturing them. Don't look for any corporate media source to expose the negative influence of television in our lives, that's something we have to figure out and correct ourselves.

Wrapping it Up

I'll stop lecturing about the negative influence of television.

I'll stop lecturing now on the negative influence of television. Thanks for getting this far down the page. I hope that I have at least awakened some new perspectives on TV and media in general.

When you boil it all down, the negative influence of television is something that we control -- simply because we're the one's watching it. If we all stopped watching TV, it might not go away, but it certainly would change for the better. It would have to in order to reclaim viewers.

There isn't a better demonstration of our power as viewers than Fox News. They are popular with a large segment of the country because they represent a different slant on things -- a slant that many folks have been looking for.

I've never seen networks calling one another names and making remarks about employees of the other networks until Fox News became popular, so you know that their viewership is creating lots of pressure on the other networks.

It's all because of us. It's all because of what we choose to watch.

My message to you is to be selective in what you watch, how much you watch, and in any event question everything you see and hear. Like anything else, some of us can handle it, and some of us can't. As Clint Eastwood's character reminded us, "A man's got to know his limitations."

For me, my solution to the negative influence of television is to keep it out of my life. I have rarely found anything on television that required me to take action, so I have excluded it from my life. So far I don't think I've missed anything important.

Eliminating TV won't be a desirable option for many people, but I hope my views have given you something to think about. Perhaps the best approach to addressing the negative influence of television is the tried and true method of "everything in moderation." At least that seems like it might be a good place to start.

Done with Negative Influence of Television, back to Frugal Living Tips

I'm certainly not a certified expert in media or culture or broadcasting, so perhaps what others have to say will be helpful as you address the issue of the influence of television.

In the event you're looking for more help than I'm offering, here are additional resources that might be of interest to you.