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In Defense of Television

Almost daily, I hear a neighbor, a cohort, a friend, trash talk television.

“I just cannot believe the open sexuality on Sex and the City,” one might say. “They should call it Sluts in the City.”

“I can’t stand Paris Hilton and her show The Simple Life or Bam Margera or Ashton Kutcher, for that matter,” another might whine. “All they do is teach kids to be disrespectful and rude to people.”

“If I have to flip past HBO’s Real Sex one more time…”

“The profanity, vulgarity, bad manners, bad writing of it all. We’re going to hell in a handbasket.”

Okay, okay. I won’t argue with these points. Television is loaded with junk. But every time I hear someone say these things, I’m reminded of an episode of NewsRadio.

Dave Foley played Dave Nelson, the boss at the station while Maura Tierney played Lisa Miller, his love interest and one of the employees.

In the particular episode I am thinking about, Dave wanted to buy a television, but Lisa constructed arguments against it until one fine day she discovered C-SPAN. “You mean you can watch the Senate in action all day?”

The writers were reminding us that while much on television may be offensive, television can enhance our lives as well.

Imagine sitting in your living room and watching the first man walk on the moon. Unbelievable. Or perhaps you watched the fall of the Berlin wall. Heck, I’m blown away when it’s midnight on Saturday night, and I’m watching a world class musician perform. Someone like Yo-Yo Ma or Sting. Or hear an amazing singer like Joan Sutherland or Norah Jones.

The History Channel, Discovery, a PBS documentary by Ric Burns. Heck, some channels even broadcast college classes. And, what we would do without the food channel? Eat that same old baked chicken every night?

Like so much in life (I’m thinking about alcohol and guns especially), the problem does not lie within the thing itself. The problem lies within us.

How do we choose to use television? Will we guzzle all the junk food we are offered, junk that appeals to our baser instincts? Or will we exercise some self-discipline avoiding the marshmallows and reaching instead for the wild salmon and baby greens?

Television is an amazing invention. It offers us the opportunity to watch a speech by Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy, to hear Maria Callas sing, to watch Fred Astaire dance or Mark Spitz swim.

I submit this: if you don’t like television, consider what you’re watching. (And perhaps it’s time to expand your cable package!)

My only regret is that television has not always existed. What I wouldn’t give to see George Washington interviewed by the Larry King of his day.

July 2005

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