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Can Your Watching Television Benefit Society?

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There are some nights that I sit there and watch TV and just kind of wonder why I do it.  There I was last night watching V and just wondering why I still had the show on my TiVo.  There are unquestionably moments of it that interest me, but by and large it’s a show that I just seem to watch because there’s nothing else I watch on Tuesdays at 9pm.  

Is that a horrible reason for watching the show?   

Conventional wisdom would argue that it is – that if I’m not really intrigued by what I’m watching I shouldn’t bother having the television on at all (and obviously there are those who would state that even if I did enjoy what I was watching I still ought not watch… we’re not going to talk about those people).  Not being one for conventional wisdom though, I’m going to take the opposite side of the argument.  I think watching something just because there’s Photo Credit:  ABC/SERGEI BACHLAKOVnothing on that you hugely want to watch is still not a horrible reason for watching (provided, of course, that you’ve taken care of the things you actually have to do).

Look at last night’s V – Anna, the head of the evil aliens is on some sort of quest to remove the human soul from the body.  Apparently the aliens don’t have souls.  The series, consequently, is asking really big questions about the nature of life, the nature of humanity, and what makes us so different from everything else in the universe (if anything). 

Gosh, isn’t that worth thinking about? 

Oh sure, you could argue that you could think about such things and discuss them with others, but would you really?  That’s a great discussion to have with others, but others aren’t necessarily always available, so why not ruminate about them by yourself for a little.  Isn’t that worth watching television for even if you’re not hugely into the series?

It strikes me that television can promote discussion on any number of topics, not all of them are quite so weighty as the nature of the human soul, but that doesn’t make them not worth talking about.  The television audience may be more fragmented now than it has been in the past, but I’m not sure that a fragmented audience means that television as a whole is any less a part of the our national consciousness and therefore shows raising weighty questions can promote national discussion.  Surely that’s a good thing.  Aren’t we, as a nation and as a world, facing some pretty big issues and isn’t talking about them beneficial?

Even if television shows don’t ask questions about the specific issues that we’re facing (and I would argue that on occasion it certainly does) isn’t opening a channel for dialogue in general a good place to start?  Think of it like an ice breaker, a conversation starter, an opening, a place to begin.  Who knows where your talk with someone we’ll go after starting with the latest American Idol contestant, but it has the chance to go somewhere.  To me that makes it worth it.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Tumah

    I read about a place in India where women literacy and primary education rates are much higher than in the rest of the country. The only explanation researchers have found is that the increased number of TVs being given out by the local council has made the male heads of family more tolerant of women thanks to American TV shows where women are usually treated as equals.