Thursday, November 20, 2008

In Defense of Television - A Vast Wasteland No More

There is a sharp division between people who work in my law office. The division is not between Democrats and Republicans... okay there is that, but a deeper schism exists between those who praise the options provided by modern television broadcasting and those who see television as an evil or not very important. People in the former camp, such as me, have cable or satellite with a plethora of channels. Those who believe in the latter are still getting their television by using rabbit ears. One associate actually talked about pulling the plug on television completely in February when the date for digital conversion hits. I tried to assure her that would be child abuse to her young son, but thus far my warnings have fallen on deaf ears.

In 1961, Newton Minow, in his first public address as head of the Federal Communication Commission spoke how television had become a "vast wasteland." Today, 47 years later, I hear people continue talking about how there is nothing good on the tube, and decry the harmful effect of television. To those detractors of television, I have to ask...what planet have you been living on for the last 20 years? There has been an explosion of new educational channels filled with programming that enriches the viewing experience. Let's start with the channels. Here's what I found on a random trip through my Comcast viewing choices:

History Channel, Travel Channel, Discovery Network, The Learning Channel, Animal Planet, House and Garden, Food Network, Military Channel, A&E, History Channel, the Education Channel, Discovery Health Network, C-SPAN 1, 2 and 3, National Geographic, Science Channel, the Green Channel, BBC, Biography, History International, and DIY (Do It Yourself) Network. As far as news choices, I have CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC to name just a few. If for some reason I don't find a quality viewing choice on any of those commercially supported networks, I can tune into PBS or the local PBS affiliate WFYI. The number of good quality, educational choices on television today is virtually unlimited.

What have I been able to watch on these stations? Well, recently I watched an excellent four hour biography on Lyndon Johnson. I learned from watching several shows on the Science Channel about the plan to take a mission to Mars. I saw the documentary called "The Smartest Guys in the Room" which detailed the fall of the Enron Corporation. Maybe the best television ever was Ken Burns "The Civil War" which appeared on PBS. I saw high definition television footage of the most arid place in the world, an isolated portion of Antarctica which has not seen rainfall or any other sort of precipitation for over a million years. I have watched shows about the development of our 4.5 billion year old planet and how we have had global warming and global cooling, long before Al Gore arrived on the planet to warn us of climate change.

Television is a powerful medium that today provides a wide assortment of quality viewing choices. The opportunities to learn from television today are endless. The fact that some people choose to vegetate in front of the television watching Jerry Springer and Maury Povich, doesn't change the fact that television can be a wonderful educational tool for those who choose to use it wisely. Television is a vast wasteland no more.


varangianguard said...

Still, for every good show there is a balancing bad show. Almost any "reality" series, the number of which has ballooned up about to the level of extreme nauseation.

Paul K. Ogden said...

True, but in the olden days with 3 or 4 channels you didn't always have the chance to turn to something better or more educational like we do today.

I can't wait until the reality show fad ends. They can truly rot your brain watching them. But if a person is going to make the decision to watch bad programming, I don't think there is a lot you can do about it.

eskimo said...

I wish there were more telathons on TV.

varangianguard said...

Oddly enough, some of the best televsion was produced in the 1950s and 60s.


I would keep TV just for Boston Legal, which now airs every night on ION channel which you can get without cable.