Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Good, Bad, Ugly Television

The good is shrinking or barely holding its own, the bad and the ugly proliferate with amazing speed. Television is a cesspool with a few non-polluted islands.

I am not one of those people who never watches television. (That's another post - all the people who swear they don't watch television. Some I believe; many I don't. But it's a trendy kind of thing to disclaim being a viewer.) And I am not a knowledgeable critic. I know what I like, what I don't like, and what offends my ethics and my sensibilities.

Television is good for coverage of breaking news. I know no one who is old enough and owns a TV set who did not watch coverage of 911. Images of birds in the Gulf of Mexico covered with oil, still trying to move have impact in a way that even the most amazing still shots don't - one blink that signals a still beating heart says it all.

Television is good for live coverage of sports events - the Olympics, Stanley Cup, World Cup, Superbowl. Watching the play unfold and not knowing who will win is exciting. Radio just isn't the same.

Beyond that, it gets dicier. Reality shows ARE television to many, and they attract millions of viewers. Mostly, I don't care for them. Many are some form of competition. Many show people at their worst. All are voyeurism in a way that is worse than that in movies and fictional programs. Not only is much of the content idiotic, watching all that greed, naked ambition, and nastiness isn't much fun.

I refuse to watch any reality show with children - they have no say, no informed consent. Who wants to have the potty training episode turn up at the wrong moment in the future? Much worse - the fact of being on the show must shape the very essence of the childhood experience and can't help but give a child a somewhat skewed idea of his or her relationship with others.

Sitcoms insult the intelligence, most of them anyway. Dramas can have good storylines, backstory, and characters, but overwhelm us with the very most degraded aspects of human life. I don't want to spend any of my precious time watching endless twists on rape, murder, torturers, and serial killers; it's enough to stay informed about all the madness in real life.

Many shows on politics and current events devolve into partisan shouting matches, while some bring in an endless stream of celebrities with no expertise on the subject. If all else fails, bring in the psychics and mediums, the life coaches and charlatan healers - who else could better advise us on wars, disasters, and complex diplomatic issues.

There are some shows that I genuinely like and watch, but even those have advertising that is manipulative and intrusive. Some of PBS appeals. Perhaps I am just in a downward cycle with television.

Selectivity is the key. And the mute button, don't forget the mute button.


lifeshighway said...

Which is why we tend to have National Geographic or the History Channel or maybe AMC on most of the time.

It is so amazing how there can be so much bad.

But in times of stress or sleeplessness, an old movie with good dialog is soothing to the soul.

angelshair said...

Ah finally, I got it!
I suddenly thought I was cut from the world, as I don't watch TV, my informations come from the web.
Really interesting post!

ChrisJ said...


I like those as well and should have included them in the good stuff, but the post was getting too long!

ChrisJ said...


As I said in the last comments, I think you are smart not to watch tv at all.

I hit the publish button too fast and then pulled the post back - that's why you couldn't get it - sorry.

Trulyfool said...


Mostly, I hit the DVD trail, and some of those -- more and more, it seems -- are BBC Inspectors Morse, Lewis, Lynley, Tennison (Prime Suspect) and Barristers Kavanagh and the New Street Law folks in Manchester.

PBS is too self-consciously 'social-betterment' oriented to yield enough -- enough -- of the artistic or 'simply' entertaining.

For me.

The ones who make TV other than Newton Minnow's 'vast wasteland' are the producers who come up with shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, and The Wire -- all under HBO auspices, notice -- and Mad Men, first offered to then turned down by HBO and picked up by someone very smart at AMC.

In those above-mentioned instances, what we have is what someone tagged 'TV novels' -- a genre suggesting the dramatic and social depth and artistry that terms like 'mini-series' or 'spin-off' just don't carry.

ChrisJ said...


The Sopranos was excellent, and I enjoyed Inspector Morse. I never took to the Lynley series as the characters were too firmly cemented in my mind from the books.

Hels said...

Mostly I agree with you Chris. I would ban reality tv competitive events like Bridezilla or Paris Hilton Cleans Toilets, and I would imprison the directors for the rest of their lives.

Just occasionally there are some programmes so full of information that it takes my breath away. It may only be for 8 hours a month, so we have to ask if paying $60 a month for Foxtel tv is worth it. Probably not.

But I will never forget Simon Schama's analysis of working class girls' employment conditions in 19th century Britain. Nor will I ever forget the crucified Canadian soldier in world war one Ypres.

ChrisJ said...


Isn't it a shame that television doesn't do what it can do brilliantly more often?

Ciss B said...

Since we don't have cable, I have the box with my antenna and we get the Create Channel, PBS and the international and of the channels I watch PBS and MHz Worldview. My programs? Mystery, International Mystery, Masterpiece Theater and of course the cooking shows that can be found on Create.

I don't watch much news either. I find reading to be a wonderful way to unwind...we've gotten to be people who don't watch much TV here.

Owen Gray said...

Fifty years ago, Edward R. Murrow gave a speech in which he spoke of television's potential and mourned its failure to live up to that potential.

Not much has changed -- except the number of channels.

Still, a few words of praise are in order. The BBC is the best news organization in the world. PBS shows like Frontline and The American Experience offer excellent documentaries. And TVOntario was on all the time in our kids pre-school years.

Occasionally, hope flickers across the screen.

ChrisJ said...


I totally agree about the BBC and some PBS.

But you are right, just like the song says - "57 channels and nothing on" - trouble today is that it's in the hundreds!

ChrisJ said...


Having fewer channels to choose from can be a blessing, and I agree about reading - it's much more rewarding.

cooper said...

I'm an on and off again news junky as time allows, BBC and PBS are staples here. I grew up watching virtually no telly.

I watch no reality T.V., but watch The Tudors, Dexter and True Blood.I watch some sporting events.

I read when time allows. I love old movies when I can catch them, which is often late at night.

ChrisJ said...


I have a theory that those who grew up not watching television have an easier time being selective with it now. It didn't become a habit in early life.

Vivien said...

Ever since I first saw Elvis shaking his goods and the young gals crying when I was a kid, I have rejected television. As for 911, I never saw the images of that for months and months after the fact — I don't have a TV that receives programs although I do subscribe to Zip.ca and watch movies all the time. My choice, no commercials and not nearly as expensive as cable.

ChrisJ said...


You are a wise woman.