Posted by: Average Joe | October 4, 2011

Is TV Bad, Good, or Neither?

A ninety-plus degree day, an inadequate ladder, shorts instead of jeans, and a non-English or even Spanish-speaking person to spot me on the ladder marked at least several ways in which I was ill-equipped for a recent, routine task. The satellite TV service provider agreement ended for the home in which my parents had been living (they moved to another board and care facility) and I needed to return certain items, including an LNBF (whatever that is) attached to the satellite receiver, or we would be charged.

I found a corner of the house and somehow made it onto the roof from the short ladder and struggled to get the piece off, albeit working at a bad angle on a hot tile roof while wearing shorts. When it came time to come down, imagine trying to listen to the coaching of a man who didn’t speak English or Spanish (he spoke Tagalog). I had to act quickly though, because the hot, slippery tiles could have given way at any moment. An overgrown, thorny bougainvillea hurried the process along and I reached for the top of the ladder with my foot and was incredibly grateful that my toe found it. I couldn’t see but I’m not heavy, so I was able to hang on while my divining foot prodded like an elephant’s trunk. Whew! The caregiver was all smiles, I was drenched, but the job was done. I don’t even want to know what this piece is worth: I’ll bet not much.

All of that backstory to say that with my parents’ move we found a different satellite TV service provider for their new place. It took more than a week and my dad (he’s 83) really let me hear about it, but once the company placed the new dish on the roof of the new home, he calmed down and enjoyed it. I’ll get back to my father and his television viewing in a moment, but first a detour.

Here’s the question: Is TV generally bad or good for most people?

A reflexive answer––one that is almost automatic for parents––is to say that TV is generally bad for most people and that there is very little content of redeeming value on television these days. Conservative talk show host Dennis Prager has commented (paraphrasing) that “allowing a television in a child’s bedroom is equivalent to allowing a loaded gun in the room.” Many parents wouldn’t put it quite that provocatively, but they don’t allow TVs or unmonitored Internet access in kids’ rooms.

To buttress that viewpoint, a study from the University of Queensland about six weeks ago, Every Hour of TV Watching Shortens Life by 22 Minutes, surveyed 11,247 Australians between 1999–2000 and tracked time spent watching TV and mortality rates for the country. They built a model in which they compared life expectancy for adults who watch TV to those who did not. Researchers found that every hour spent watching TV shortened life by 21.8 minutes.

And for those in the top 1 percent of the population who watch six hours of TV per day (in America that might be mild), they “can expect to live 4.8 years less than a person who does not watch TV.”

Sobering, but probably not terribly surprising for those who have observed sedentary lifestyles and obesity rates in America over several decades. Now, for a contrarian view.

Is it possible that television is one of the best luxuries available for some people and it truly enhances their lives?

Back to my father. He lives with my mother in a board and care facility. My mom suffers from dementia and communicates with him only in simple ways. The caregivers do not speak to him in Spanish––his native tongue. His mind is fine and he is extremely bored. We as a family visit as often as we can (he knows how to use his cell phone!) and take him out but it is not frequent enough. The TV affords him a measure of satisfaction that can’t be obtained otherwise. He reads a bit, and listens to the radio some, but for the most part the TV is on most of the day. When he didn’t have TV service for a week, he became agitated and did not understand why we had “taken it away from him.”

About eight years ago I had an emergency appendectomy. After the surgery, I recall being grateful number one, for good pharmaceuticals, and two, for the TV monitor in my hospital room. When it’s just you and pain and nowhere to go, TV is a welcome (necessary?) distraction.

Multiply these two examples by many millions to capture a snapshot of users and suddenly one can see a justification for the medium.

Is television just another tool that, given humanity’s sinful nature, we have commandeered for mostly vacuous, narcissistic, or offensive pursuits, but not always? What of the potential for service to humanity and promotion of the gospel? (I’m not speaking about much of what passes for “Christian TV”––that’s a different blog post.)

Here at RTB we are always appreciative of opportunities for our scholars to appear on television and still hopeful for that “big break” some day when the major news networks take us seriously and put Hugh Ross, Fuz Rana, or Jeff Zweerink on the evening news to explain their take on a discovery and then begin to do so regularly. That would put RTB into orbit; but more importantly, provide a much-needed service to those networks’ viewers: a perspective that is biblically faithful and scientifically credible.

So, do you pull the plug? Or, turn it on, baby. Your thoughts?



  1. TV is a-musing, meaning it make us stop thinking. Sometimes that can be nice, but it is definitely a drug and an addiction. If you don’t think so, just give up media for a week. Trust me, it’s not pretty. However if one is disciplined enough to control TV and not let it control him, it’s a wonderful luxury.

  2. I think that like many other things, it would be hard to argue that t.v. is an unqualified evil. There are just too many exceptions to such a rule that anyone could come up with. On balance, though, I tend to think it has certain tendencies as a communication medium that are generally not favorable. I’ll come clean and admit that my views on this have been shaped in significant part by the writings of Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) and similar authors who have argued that it is not only the content, but the very features of visual media and how they shape our thinking patterns that pose the problem. But concerning content, 0Ed Murrow warned against allowing the t.v. to become nothing more than a box of wires and lights, delivering triviality and nonsense. I’m afraid his warning was largely ignored.

    Malcolm Muggeridge recognized the problem of the video format early on, when he wrote about “the humiliation of the word”. Television simply isn’t suited to the communication of propositional truth, and seems to naturally lend itself to crowding out other ways of feeding the mind. We as human beings seem to be naturally given to its way of communicating, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing. As with all things, of course, there is a need for balance. Like with food, a little junk as a treat isn’t necessarily bad. But judging by how easily t.v. becomes the default medium in most homes, I wonder if we’ve been too hasty in welcoming it into our homes. I teach kids every week who eagerly devour their favorite shows and video games, but tell me they literally hate books (of course they do. I’m pretty sure that historically most have). If a reading culture is displaced in the home by a watching culture, how are we to build in them a competence and appreciation for the written word, which is the medium our Lord chose for communicating His Special Revelation?

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