A bookaholic's guide to television

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob -

ONCE in a blue moon, I try to watch more television. It’s a struggle, but sometimes I think I shouldn’t have my head buried in a book all of the time. I also happen to think it is important to keep up with pop culture.

I enjoy watching game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. The best part of Jeopardy comes when contestants tell some nerdy anecdote about themselves. It’s refreshing to know that a long-running game show like this can still elevate quirkiness to the realm of cool.

I look forward to CBS Sunday Morning, a news magazine programme that has uplifting features. I cry through the entire show because the stories featured are so beautifully structured and written. They serve as excellent visual models for creating structure and support that students struggling to write essays can benefit from seeing.

I also enjoy cheering on journalist Jane Pauley, the show’s anchor. She got a raw deal when she was replaced on the Today show by a younger version of herself, Deborah Norville, who now appears as a host of Inside Edition. That’s poetic justice for you. The BBC and Al Jazeera are my favourite news sources.

The television news magazine 60 Minutes demonstrates good investigative journalism, but other 24-hour news stations are cringeworthy. They have political agendas and run on speculative stories and opinions. MSNBC, CCN and Fox News offer insulting criticism of political foes, which puzzles me. They’re already preaching to the converted. People who don’t support their political views don’t tune in to their stations, so all they are doing is stirring the cauldron of hatred.

Also shocking to me is how many television programmes serve as examples of inappropriate interaction. Television shows rarely demonstrate how men should treat women or how good leaders should act.

We expect our teenagers to grow up and have happy, successful marriages, satisfying careers and meaningful lives, but television doesn’t offer models of the values they need to accomplish these goals. Instead, television often elevates selfish, mean, dishonest people.

To make matters worse, many shows perpetuate lies. Survivor shows pretend that people are stranded in some remote place, and we are expected to watch contestants undermine each other for money. Dating games like the Bachelor franchise feature backstabbing men and women who lie and connive to win the affections of a possible fiancé.

Even harmless shows, which should offer entertainment and some semblance of learning prove disappointing. I tried watching The Voice because I loved the idea of famous singers choosing aspiring singers based on their voices and not their looks.

But seasoned singers serving as mentors attack each other personally in their attempts to win contestants’ favour. Can we have no one to look up to in this world? Are courtesy and truth not exciting enough to sell a television show any longer?

What worries me the most is the message that young, impressionable teenagers are getting from television. I won’t even touch what is happening on social media, where fake news and falsehoods abound.

If we don’t see positive values in the shows we watch on television, and if we can’t find positive values in our entertainment and sports heroes, where do we develop the notion of fairness, decency and respect? And how do we expect positive values to magically appear in our leaders someday? Is creating leaders even important to us any longer?

Most of the behaviour I see on television is disgusting. Sarcasm prevails over humour; personal attacks triumph over logical arguments; emotions win over facts. We don’t get to see models of virtue on TV. Is it that virtuous people don’t make for good television or is poor behaviour the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to create conflict?

Whatever the case, we are left with the tedious and uncomfortable task of using bad television as lessons for our children.

Decades ago, I read an essay in which the famous child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim lamented how poor television content was

Fair enough. Constructive criticism is a value children need to learn. I tried this with my children and it worked well as long as I remained unemotional and avoided being preachy.

As for me, I still prefer to bury my head in a good book rather than watch passive, bad television. At least books make me think.


"A bookaholic’s guide to television"

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