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Volume 71, Issue 6, Monday, August 29, 2005

Opinion

TV ignoramuses not missing much

Jennifer Jackson
Opinion columnist

It was an awkward moment. I was the only one with my hand raised high. But it sunk sheepishly back into my lap, as all eyes, including the professor's, wide with amazement, were trained on me. She must have thought the question almost rhetorical, because she clearly expected no affirmative responses when she asked, "I mean, is there anybody in here who doesn't own a television?" She no doubt would have hurried on with a "Yeah, my point exactly" tone in her voice had I not been so inexplicably eager to look like a complete cultural weirdo in front of my peers. I really didn't expect to be completely alone. 

After she picked her jaw up off the floor, my professor hastily concluded, "Well, obviously, only less than one percent of the population doesn't own a TV." Since there are only about 50 to 60 students in the class, my self-esteem did not improve at the idea that she considered me to be less than a whole person. 

However, being reminded of the vastness of the television audience raised the familiar question of why. Television and movies get picked on a lot and blamed for a myriad of negative influences. Everything from the Columbine High School shootings to obesity has been chalked up to television, so it's not a new target for criticism, but it does beg the logical question, why is it still so popular? What is it on those televisions that Americans find so irresistible and believe we can't live without?

It's not as though we really need to be instructed about the content of the movies and television we watch. However, just for the sake of logical argument, we should realize that according to recent studies, roughly 80 percent of the movies that come out of Hollywood are rated PG-13 or R. As for television, and primetime television shows in particular, most of us would admit that the majority of the content on those shows is not "appropriate for children," however that is decided. But somehow it's OK for us, because we're "grown-ups."

And now we've stumbled upon the most nonsensical element of the television and movie industry: ratings. We all seem to agree that certain inclusions -- such as nudity, sex, violence or "strong language" -- are, in some vague definition, "negative or immoral elements." We all likewise agree that the more negative elements there are in films or television shows, the more inappropriate they become for children. 

This is where the logic starts its downfall. If certain elements are immoral or inappropriate, aren't they immoral or inappropriate regardless of the viewer's age?

Nevertheless, here we sit, literally, in our television- and film-saturated society, acknowledging that 80 percent of this powerful medium is pouring out negative, even immoral elements, which we would "never let our children watch." So this is what we find so irresistible, so necessary about television.

And then we scratch our heads in confusion or stare in shock at individuals who don't saturate themselves with this influence. If this is an enlightened society, I cringe to think of the unenlightened ones. 

Now, honestly, I would very likely own a television if my income were not sapped dry trying to cover rent, bills and gas. So I can't exempt myself completely from the madness I'm describing, but I can say this: If "missing out" on television means I'm a cultural misfit, I'll gladly wear the label.

Jackson, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at  jennifer.jackson@mail.uh.edu

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