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Front Page » January 12, 2010 » Opinion » Staff Column: Has television affected our civility?
Published 1,804 days ago

Staff Column: Has television affected our civility?


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Last week I hurt my hand when I fell on some ice and so this past weekend I couldn't do much in the way of going outside and enjoying this great winter weather and sunshine. Consequently, with pills in my system to mitigate the pain a bit, I spent a great deal of time in front of the television, dozing off and catching programs in between my cat naps (literally because both my cats were sleeping on me much of the time).

As I spent the day watching the programming, I found so much that I hated that at one point I just wanted to barf (or maybe that was the pain pills doing that). While the tube is filled with infomercials, commercials and various other kinds of junk, that wasn't what made me feel crumby; it was the kind of programing that is mostly there.

I love detective shows, but I am also a fall guy for a good love story. I watched two really good (clean and sweet) love stories on one channel on Saturday afternoon and then changed the channel to a detective series that I had seen a couple of times before.

I realize people want realism, but sometimes the things the producers of these kinds of shows depict, particularly on the scientific investigation venues, is a little much. In the first five minutes of the show I tuned in they showed a guy who had been killed and dumped in a river with "cement overshoes" six months prior to his body being found. Within five more minutes they showed a person (or what was left of them) that had been torn apart by wild dogs, while chained to some kind of pipe. After watching the two uplifting romantic comedies, these scenes were certainly a shock.

Now true I didn't have to watch the detective show, so as soon as I saw what was happening on it, I changed the channel to something else. My right to do that and of course it was someone else's right to keep watching it.

My problem is that it seems as we have filled the airwaves with more and more of this kind of thing, we have become desensitized to the horror of murder, mayhem and human cruelty. I realize the detective shows of the 1950's didn't even show blood when someone was shot on television, and that was wrong too. But I do get concerned about the graphic nature of what is on television sometimes. I think people have the right to produce it, and others have the right to watch it; I would never want censorship of these shows. But the fact that people want to watch that kind of thing, makes me very concerned.

I generally watch television to be informed, to get a few laughs or to be uplifted by a programs theme. I never watch to be horrified, particularly by programs that are fiction. There is enough horrifying stuff on the news to satisfy that urge.

Some may say that these shows are just showing things the way they really are or that they show what law enforcement and others must face on a daily basis. Personally I think what they face is often worse that what is portrayed on television. Talk to any officer of the law and they can tell you stories that turn your stomach.

My concern here is not that people watch this stuff, but that what they see bleeds over into their view of the world. I certainly don't think anyone should be a Pollyanna about what goes on in our society, but on the other hand, what does a constant stream of this stuff do to us as individuals.

The two love stories I watched that day were silly, they were unrealistic and they, of course, turned out to be of the happily ever afterish genre. No, they are not real, and are, after all, just as distorted as the cop show was in their own way. But they made me feel good and positive about the world, instead of horrified by it.

It's been pretty much proven that civility in our society has gone way down in recent years. No one can point the finger at any one thing that has created this trend, but developing a negative and suspicious view of everything around us certainly can be influenced by these kinds of programs. For me, seeing the light and fun side of life seems a better alternative most of the time in contrast to seeing cruelty, anger and pain on the small screen each of us have in our homes.

I think we all need to consider what the shows we watch on television do to our attitudes about the world and the people who live on our planet.

And then we should select accordingly.

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January 12, 2010
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