Yeah, I know, hating on television is old news. Most people these days are aware of the ill-effects too much boob-box can cause you and have switched instead to the internet, where there is far more choice in what you put into your brain and don’t.
And yes, the variety, scope and depth of programming has grown almost immeasurably over the last couple of decades, we know all this.
Yet there’s still a staggering amount of television being consumed through the internet, and if you’re paying close enough attention, certain underlying values that are so persistent they appear to be hard-wired.
Like it or not, the medium of video has become the campfire of the modern world, the stories it has to tell transmitting the values our children integrate into their world-view as they grow, and continue to receive for the rest of their lives.
Time for a little exposure.
If you didn’t realize these values were continuously being put into your brain, you do now. Watch for them.
1) Beauty is Your Master
By far the most insidious and prevalent myth television persists in pushing is the tyranny of physical human beauty. This is not new. It is something that travels all the way back to television’s very beginnings — when the term “a face for radio” first cropped up — and is built right into the fabric of the medium itself. Producers want ratings, and this means featuring people who are easy on the eyes, simple as that. The easier, the better, particularly for women.
Yet just as the ancient greeks who carved statues of Gods of immense beauty looked nothing like those statues, it is easy to forget that the people we see on the screen are not a reflection of the general population.
Worse than this is the tendency to begin unconsciously comparing the physical qualities of yourself or the people you encounter in real life to these false icons. It is an immense distortion that sets standards that are not only unrealistic and unhealthy, but undesirable.
Allowing the exaggerated, one-dimensional version of it we get through our screens to cripple our ability to see beauty in its full scope and complexity — which includes things such as character, variety, originality and idiosyncrasy, to name just a few — is to allow a terrible narrowing of one of the most empowering and innately human abilities we can possess.
2) The World is a Horrible, Terrifying Place
Watch any news station. Then remind yourself of all the pleasant things that happened in your life and your community today. Enough said.
3) Violence is an Acceptable — and often Glamorous — Way of Solving Problems
Yes, 14-year-old boys love explosions. And yes, most men are still 14-year-old boys inside. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. As always, good parenting trumps most else, and there are many men who are great husbands, fathers and community members who love violent movies and sports.
I am in no way advocating censorship here, just a growth of awareness in the viewer themselves, and much of the time there remains a very powerful subliminal message of might is right that continues to be transmitted– as opposed to the far less exciting values of co-operation, understanding and solidarity.
So what about excessive and gratuitous violence? Again, it’s up to the individual to decide. Is it art, or sensationalism? Does it have a purpose or is it propaganda? Everything has a right to exist. Your decision to consume it or not — and the underlying reasons therein — remain an entirely different matter.
4) Being Clever and Quick-Witted is the Height of Personality Achievement
Sitcoms are particularly terrible for this, but it is unfortunately something that continues to be found nearly everywhere– many movies persist in perpetuating it as well.
Much like the beauty issue mentioned in point number one, it is, in a way, built into the medium itself. People want excitement. They want interesting, quirky personalities, and, in the case of sitcoms, a laugh approximately every minute or so. The world of video is filled with extroverts– and of course! Nobody wants to wait for minutes as a quiet, in-depth thinker ums and aws their way through a painfully complicated sentence.
Apart from well-written, engaging character studies, dialogue has to be pared down to the bare essentials and delivered fast. Keeping the audience’s attention is the key goal here. The only problem with this is the mirroring that often takes place in real life. Spend five minutes in any office environment and you’ll get the idea pretty quickly. Having a sharp tongue and a quick mind grants you the gold.
The fact that so many people can’t see beyond this, however, is the real tragedy. While there is nothing wrong with being clever and quick-witted, there’s far too often a taste of cruelty and competition beneath, if not well-veiled cynicism. In so many situations it just seems to boil down to a refined ‘adult’ version of kids trying to ‘out jerk’ each other on the playground.
Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I love outrageous (and often dark) humor, improv and highly spirited exchanges between quick minds. But the underlying feel here is what we’re talking about, and it either includes a ‘shaming’ aspect (however subtle) or not.
When it comes to an office environment, where hierarchies, spoken and unspoken, are established but continually under pressure, humor is so often simply a tool of cruelty. But LIFE is not a sitcom! A silver tongue is an empty achievement if it is not carried on the undercurrent of heart, and heart is slower, kinder, and very often silent, coming to be known over time through actions, not words.
5) The Nuclear Family Unit Remains the End-All Be-All
This point ties in with the difference between soul mates and life partners. Romance sells. Period.
People are forever seduced by the idea that true happiness can be found in someone else— someone that fulfills all of their grandest dreams about what another person can mean to them and bring to their life; someone who can ‘complete’ them. And this dangerous myth is perpetuated in more ways than one.
While we have definitely come a long way in the last couple of decades in terms of how family values are represented on television (think LGBTQ+ rights) the 1950’s nuclear family unit still lies at the subliminal core of so much of the TV-world’s value system. Mom, dad, and 2.5 kids living a 9 to 5 lifestyle remains at the heart of even many so-called racier shows.
And while many may challenge the problem with such a value, it’s not so much in the value itself than in the lack of alternatives. There is still virtually nothing else being touted as being as wholesome as this, undoubtedly resulting in many people feeling like less for desiring something different.