TV is a turn-on

by Andy Dehnart
April 24, 2002

I  love TV. I also love grass-roots efforts that aim to change our world. I do not like TV Turnoff Week. Here's why.

This week, April 22 to 28, is TV Turnoff Week. The nonprofit organization that organizes it "encourages children and adults to watch much less television in order to promote healthier lives and communities."

Just that comparison annoys me. It's like we either have a world with TV, or a world with healthy lives and happy fun communities. And that's so disingenuous -- just as it is to say that a single week without television will help solve problems that are very real and deserve attention. It's so easy, isn't it? Turn off your TV, and your kid will lose weight, your family will be happy again, and your community will come together like never before.

Stepping back for a moment, why are we so obsessed with finding something easy to blame and then just ignoring everything in the periphery? And why blame TV for these admittedly real problems?

The TV part is simple: it's an easy scapegoat. Television is the boob tube, and a lot of stuff on it sucks. I have 90 channels; I know this all too well. It's also a faceless, dismissible entity, and it's not complicated. Culture has become a targetable façade for our problems because it's everywhere.

But TV actually does have value. I hate exclamation points but I think that sentence deserves to be repeated with the addition of an exclamation point and maybe even some italics: TV actually does have value!

It's often only about entertainment, but what's wrong with that? We all need escape sometimes, a laugh or a cry or just some cheap fun. TV is also a vital source of information, education, even community. As we were reminded last fall, TV can connect us to events and people in an unparalleled way. Who's to say that the value television provides isn't legitimate?

I'm not advocating spending our entire lives staring at our TVs, glassy eyed, butts planted firmly on the couch. I watch a heck of a lot of TV, but I also take long walks, go to grad school, play tennis, hang out with friends, write, read books sitting by the lake, and more. And I have no doubt that doing other things besides watching TV would be beneficial; I just have a problem with the fact that TV alone is being blamed, and with the fact that TV Turnoff Week is basically sold as a neatly packaged, single-serving, one-week solution to major problems.

Adbusters is participating in TV Turnoff Week, which disappoints me because I generally love Adbusters' various noble efforts. But while I think their overall rhetoric is questionable, I like their stated goal for the week: "simply to get people thinking about the clutter in their mental space." Still, they are encouraging people to turn off their TVs.

Turning off your TV and pretending it's the source of all problems is delusional and stupid, period. As a personal challenge, trying to not do something you do often -- like watching TV -- is awesome. But turning off the TV for a single week won't really combat childhood obesity, encourage reading, or "engage in our communities" (all goals of TV Turnoff Week according to their site).

I think TV Turnoff Week would be much more valuable if it was about exactly what Adbusters says: "thinking." Instead of reaching for the remote, reach for a pad of paper or your keyboard, recording and thinking about what you watch all week.

That's what I'm going to do, at least. I'll record every single show I watch for the next seven days on my personal web log. And as I do, I'll try to be as critical as possible about my viewing choices, considering the value I get from each show. Maybe I'll realize I need to buy three TiVos and quit my job and just watch TV 24 hours a day because there's so much good stuff on, or maybe I'll decide that I really don't need to need to watch certain programs anymore.

At the very least, I won't hurl my TV out the window and then pretend all my problems and those of the world around me are solved.