March 23, 2011

Maybe It's Me: TV Will Rot Your Brain?, or, Changing the Channel from Over-Indulgence

Everyone knows that watching too much TV will rot your brain.

After all, the act of watching television is basically the equivalent of literally doing nothing. At least that’s what experts would have us believe. It requires little to no effort, energy, or thought; and, it’s a completely passive and sedentary activity that’s seen as both wasteful and not edifying or rewarding in the least.

Personally, I don’t see TV being as detrimental to our physical, mental, or emotional health as those so-called experts claim; I tend to think that our nation’s poor eating habits is far more a traumatic and damaging thing. You’re telling me something that changed the world by not only addressing issues/bringing information to the people instantly and helped us communicate better as a global community is worse for me than consuming (and thus supporting) factory-farmed, decaying animal flesh that was injected with hormones and fed pesticide-ridden, genetically modified corn?

I don’t think so.

I understand that excessive television is bad. But excessive anything is bad. And over the years we’ve stripped away the original beneficial aspects of television, consumed with the false notion – thanks in part to media itself and our nation’s worsening obesity issues (which people need to stop blaming entirely on television; especially those folks over-consuming fatty, mass-manufactured foods) – that television is nothing but addictive; while the news programs are biased and incomplete, and shows for entertainment value are dumbed-down to appeal to the masses. Top it all off an over-abundance of commercialization, and TV is viewed as an unnecessary evil.

Moderation is key with everything, including television. If we weren’t over-indulgent or abusive towards things, we wouldn’t have to deem them as “bad” or “unhealthy.” It’s because we, as a culture, do not necessarily excel at self-governing. And moderation, unless forced on us or taken care of for us, tends to be difficult for everyone in some aspect of their life. It’s one of the reasons why people no longer appreciate the value behind television. Maybe it’s me, but it’s high time we adjust our rabbit ears and channel our inner-disciplinarian.

Why am I such an advocate for appropriate television use? I don’t necessarily watch a lot of it; I certainly don’t live for it; as it is now, I only get four channels: the three major networks and a French-Canadian channel from Quebec. Yet, my past experiences with television have proven to be a common dominator, cultural, bondable, and educational.

Like food, I think TV has the power to be a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what our race is, if we’re rich or poor, happy or sad, young or old, sick or healthy, living here or there – people across the board understand the concept of sitting down to watch a show on the TV.

This segues perfectly into how “cultural” television can be. From what I’ve seen, there is no major divide between cultures or languages where TV is concerned. When I lived in Spain, every Wednesday night the family I was staying with would watch a comedic TV sitcom about this group of people who all lived in the same apartment building. I didn’t know Spanish, but I knew comedy and I knew the aspects of apartment-living and, because of that, could understand enough to enjoy the show. Each week I looked forward to sitting down with them as a “familia” to watch it.

Even when living in Ireland, the boy I au paired for and I did not speak the same language. I spoke English and he spoke Spanish. I spoke frustrated adult and he spoke irrational toddler. We met in the middle by watching reruns of American cartoons and Muppet movies dubbed in Spanish. There was never any crying (on either of our parts) from misunderstandings when we were sat down to watch those shows. For that brief half hour or so, we were on the same exact wave length.

Which is part of why I also believe watching TV can be a bonding experience. Besides TV, that Spanish boy and I had absolutely nothing in common except maybe the individual aching we each felt to go back to our own countries.

My grandfather was one of my best friends. And while we spent plenty of time outside walking or playing in his garden, we spent just as much time (especially as he got older) sitting peacefully on his couch watching very bad soap operas he had been faithful to longer than I had been alive or very long afternoon baseball games. It wasn’t so much about the shows (that’s a lie, it was always very much about the baseball) as it was being able to enjoy one another’s company in near stillness, and have that stolen moment together despite being nearly sixty years apart in age.

And, finally, it’s unsettling to me how easily dismissed television can be as a source of education. Some studies say that watching television doesn’t engage the brain at all, but I beg to differ. One of the best ways to keep an aging brain active is by challenging it; playing trivia games, reading, doing crossword puzzles, anything that’s going to keep the neurons firing. My mom, like her father before her, nightly watches a particular quiz show with a unique answer-and-question format that features trivia in literature, pop culture, sports, science, history, the arts, geography, etc. My grandfather was mentally on-point until his dying day – he never showed signs of mental deterioration or dementia; and, I credit that to his participation in word games, whether they were on paper or on the screen.

Which, to me, seems like the very opposite of rotting one’s brain, doesn’t it?

It’s only an addictive, biased, dumbed-down, commercialized, unnecessary evil when we’re abusive with it. After all, we're the ones holding the remote control. Yes, if you let it, TV can be the equivalent of literally doing nothing. It can be a totally passive activity that eats away your precious times (and the older I get, the more I acknowledge the fact that nothing is as valuable as our time and what we spend it on).

On the other hand, if you let it, TV can also be an exceptional common dominator, cultural unifier, bonding experience, and educationally or mentally encouraging.

So, let’s all actively change the channel from over-indulgence to moderation and appreciation.