|OR THE FIRST time, most American homes have more televisions than people. According to the latest data from Nielsen Media Research, the average U.S. household has 2.55 people and 2.73 TVs.|
Much of the programming, alas, is religious.
Whenever I think about television, I am mindful of the late Neil Postman who penned a tome entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it, he briefly contrasts Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. The year '84 has come and is now long gone, said the author, but don't feel too good about it.
Postman, however, doesn't stop with the passing of 1984. He quotes a former executive director of the National Religious Broadcasters Association who stated all too plainly the obvious law of television preachers: "You can get your share of the audience only by offering people something they want."
- Orwell feared those who would ban books. Huxley feared there would be no reason to ban them, for no one would want to read one.
- Orwell feared those who would deprive us information. Huxley feared so much information that we would be reduced to passivity.
- Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
- Orwell feared those who control by inflicting pain. Huxley feared those who control by inflicting pleasure.
- Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Huxley and Postman were correct in surmising that the "Brave New World" should be our greatest fear. And television should elicit part of that alarm.
Postman:"I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether." (Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death)
"You will note, I am sure, that this is an unusual religious credo. There is no great religious leader -- from the Buddha to Moses to Jesus to Mohammed to Luther -- who offered people what they want. Only what they need. But television is not well suited to offering people what they need .... As a consequence, what is preached on television is not anything like the Sermon on the Mount. Religious programs are filled with good cheer. They celebrate affluence. Their featured players become celebrities. Though their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings, or rather, because their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings.
"I would never let my children even come close to this thing." Such are the musings of the late Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, Russian-born inventor of the television set who, evidently, had some misgivings about the whole project when reflecting on his life's work on his 92nd birthday.
Many, if not most of us, can resonate with the Zworykin attitude, although it might be uncomfortable to do so. For, says Jerry Mander, former advertising executive and author: "I'm learning that people can hate a lot of television, hate their own viewing habits, hate what it does to them and their families." Nonetheless, says Mander, we "still think it's bizarre that anybody wants to get rid of it."
I have done talk radio for 12 years in our city. Most of those years we have had a "Throw Out Your TV Set Day" when we have actually challenged people to do what I did to my set 20 years ago -- get up on the catwalk of the nearest building and provide a "heave-ho" to the favorite family addiction. People would call the program and agree how horrible television was. And then I would ask: "So -- you're throwing yours out?"
No. Never. No.
It is not just that television will stunt your kids' intellectual development, shorten their attention spans and decrease the time spent in conversation with you the parent, or impair logical thinking, or expose them to sexual and immoral images that can never be erased, etc.
It is worse than that.
From time to time your kids will be exposed to religious programming that appeals to their base animal instincts -- innocent as they might be -- instead of to the "life of God in the soul of man."
Matt Friedeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary. Respond to this column at his blog at "EvangelismToday.blogspot.com."
More columns by Matt Friedeman