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Learning the Truth About the Value of TV

It amazes me now, looking back, that I was ever really interested in television. At 22, I hate TV. I think its an utter waste of time and generally an insult to my intelligence. But truthfully, I didnt always feel that way. I, too, was one of those people who were consumed by TV, to some extent.

My earliest recollection of my personal experiences with TV goes back to when I was about five or six years old. At that time my mom and I lived with my uncle and my two older cousins. We were allowed to watch TV when our homework was done (I was in kindergarten) and I remember that there were definitely shows and movies we were not allowed to watch. My mom even tried to get my uncle to have one of those lockout boxes the cable companies used to offer installed so we couldnt watch the forbidden shows. Well, he didnt. And I remember several times when we sneaked downstairs from our bedrooms to watch scary movies, like Nightmare on Elm Street. I couldnt understand why we werent allowed to watch certain things if it was OK for them to even be on TV, until my cousin Linda and I started having nightmares about Freddy Krueger. Oddly enough, we would still sneak downstairs in the middle of the night.

When I was around seven or eight, I would wake up early just to watch cartoons. Since my mom refused to get up early on a Saturday just to wake me in time for the Care Bears or the Snorkels, I remember I even used to set an alarm clock so I wouldnt miss my favorite cartoons every week. Luckily, my room was right next to the living room, and the TV, so I didnt have far to trudge half asleep. At the time, it seemed perfectly normal, but as I got older and sleep became more and more precious, I couldnt believe I would ever do such a ridiculous thing.

The next experience I can recall was when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Sixth and seventh graders parents hated heavy metal, which is probably why we thought it was so cool. So, I would try my hardest to stay up late on Friday or Saturday night to watch Headbangers Ball on MTV,which came on at around midnight or something. On Monday, what videos were played was the most important topic among my friends at school. God forbid if you admitted falling asleep before the show was over. You just had to pretend you saw the same videos everyone else did.

In eighth grade and high school, when I was between 13 and 17 I suppose, the coolest shows were first Beverly Hills 90210 and later New York Undercover. Im sure it was unconscious at the time, but now I believe the reasons my friends and I watched 90210 was because we all wished we could be cool rich kids like Kelly and Brenda. Im sure this was hardly healthy. New York Undercover was the thing to watch, I guess, because growing up in an urban public school, it glorified the gang and drug activity we saw everyday. It spoke to us. It was real. Those shows were so important, I had my VCR programmed to record them every week. Recently I even found a bunch of the tapes while cleaning out an old cabinet in my house. I threw them out.

Once I got to college, I didnt have time to even think about watching TV. When I did break down and turn it on, to relax for a while before diving into my books, I truly couldnt believe I used to watch some of the things I did so faithfully. I began to realize what insignificant garbage people consumed through TV. I was almost ashamed I used to be one of those people.

My most recent experience with TV was just a couple of weeks ago. I had turned on the news but left the TV on afterward while I was getting ready for bed. In the middle of Jay Leno, NBC interrupted with a special report. Between President Clinton's impeachment trial pending and the blizzard conditions wed been having in Chicago, I was sure it would be something important, so I stopped to pay attention. I was completely disgusted when it was a sportscaster, reporting from NBCs weather center, announcing the Associated Press expectations that Michael Jordan would soon be announcing his retirement. I couldnt believe it! A special report about a pro sports figures retirement from the NBA now warranted a special report, according to the broadcast media. I was literally sick to my stomach. I mean, the last time I saw such a report was when my mom had the TV on while we were decorating the Christmas tree and they interrupted about the U. S. dropping bombs outside of Baghdad. Now that was newsworthy. But Jordan?

Im currently the editor of UICs newspaper, the Chicago Flame, so I even stopped what I was doing right there to write an opinion piece about it. My disgust with the journalistic values upheld by the broadcast media formed the bulk of that opinion. For me, it was just another reinforcement of the waste of electricity it is to turn on the television. And just when I thought it couldnt possibly get any worse than that, it did. I was watching the State of the Union Address, and when I saw Sammy Sosa sitting next to Hillary, I vaguely remembered hearing somewhere that he had been invited as one of her personal guests. Fine - Hillarys the First Lady, she can invite whomever she wants, right? I couldnt understand it, but I accepted it. What I couldnt understand or accept was when Clinton stopped to recognize him in front of the whole country, and ABC felt it necessary to flash his baseball stats across the screen. Unbelievable. Clinton also stopped to recognize important figures in our country like Rosa Parks and the woman whose name I cant remember who lost her children to one of the recent school shootings that have swept the nation. ABC flashed brief synopses of their stories across the screen too, identifying who they are and why they are important figures in our country. I thought that was wonderful! But the message the whole episode sent to me was that record homeruns in baseball are now consideredof equal importance to great strides in the Civil Rights Movement and the problem of violence among children that has plagued our country.

So, where have all these experiences left me? Disgusted with TV as one of the most popular forms of mass media today. Im not one of those people who think entertainment is a waste and that all channels should mirror PBS. Television is full of great potential, for both education and entertainment, it just fails to use them in what I would consider worthy ways. What saddens me even more is that I often feel there are very few people who share this view, who recognize what slaves they have allowed hemselves to become to the "idiot box." I mean, that term came from somewhere, right?

January 21, 1999

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