While television viewing, especially by children, is a favorite bugaboo — it turns your mind to mush, it makes you violent, etc., etc., etc. — there’s a growing body of research suggesting that much of TV’s bad reputation is undeserved.
Especially when it comes to educational TV, this would seem to make sense, at least on one level. Just think all of the resources devoted to creating the TV programs that are delivered into your child’s home for a few pennies. All the writers, producers, actors, editors, etc., who create Sesame Street, for instance, work for thousands of collective man hours just so your little one can view an hour of coherent edutainment. Whereas when that little one tots off to nursery school, he’s competing with lots of other kids for very limited teacher time.
That said, in the wonderful new memoir The Crowd Sounds Happy, by Nicholas Dawidoff (disclosure: he’s a friend; but the book is still wonderful), there’s one of the most cogent arguments against TV viewing I’ve ever seen:
That last year in New Haven, I could go out to friends’ houses more or less when I wanted to and watch television as often as I liked, only to find that now I agreed with my mother about TV. I had begun not to like what happened to me when I watched.
Given the chance, I stared like a guppy, immobilized for hours in somebody’s den on an increasingly itchy wall-to-wall carpet, intent on things I didn’t even enjoy, passive and yet also anxious, too aware of how soon the hour would be up when the little world in front of me would evaporate and I’d have nothing left but an uneasy regret and another new show beginning that I couldn’t get up and walk away from.
It was so easy not to resist because television was doing all the work for me, making all the decisions. That was especially true, I noticed, when I watched baseball. The field became reduced to the fragment that fit on the screen, minimizing the game into a fraction of itself, implying that everything happening off-camera was irrelevant. The players were minimized as well, because they did not exist unless the ball came their way. Then the lens swooped into their faces and there was too much of them — which weirdly created distance.