The Television Police
“Public virtue is a kind of ghost town into which anyone can move and declare himself sheriff.” — Saul Bellow
This is no more true than when the would be sheriffs draw down with their verbal six-shooters on television. For example, “If we are forced, at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events, this constant stream of ghastly impressions will deprive even the most delicate among us of all respect for humanity.” Is this a blast at the evils of television? It could be; but this time, it isn’t. Cicero made this sheriff-like pronouncement two thousand years or so ago. Al Gore added “vulgarity” and “shocking” to the litany of social ills. “In a time of social fragmentation, vulgarity becomes a way of life. To be shocking becomes more important – and often more profitable – than to be civil or creative or truly original.” If Gore were asked, it is likely that he would point to TV as a case in point to support his thesis. As Nicholas Johnson put it, “All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching?” It’s most unlikely that he believes that civility or creativity or originality are what is being taught. It seems that Gore and Johnson lean in the same elitist direction as the famous Anon. “I wish there were a knob on the TV to turn up the intelligence. There’s a knob called “brightness,” but that doesn’t work.”
The elitist view has been around for a long time and isn’t likely to go out of vogue any time soon. Even Groucho Marx took a potshot at the medium that made him a household icon, “I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.” The message is that reading a book, any book, is an educationally better choice than watching TV. No less an authority than George Bush joined forces with Groucho. “We cannot blame the schools alone for the dismal decline in SAT verbal scores. When our kids come home from school do they pick up a book or do they sit glued to the tube, watching music videos? Parents, don’t make the mistake of thinking your kid only learns between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.” There you have it, direct from the President’s mouth to your ear. Books, any books, are higher on the after school agenda for responsible kids and parents than music videos which, of course, are mostly on TV. At least it lets the Department of Education off the hook for not educating your children. Since they didn’t learn what they were expected to learn at school, TV is as good as anything else to blame.
Jerome Singer put a uniquely different twist on the same theme, “If you came and you found a strange man
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