16 September 2013
Television: Hurting or Helping?
As I sit here and watch “The Office” between my classes, I think about an essay I read in English class the week before: “Watching TV Makes You Smarter” by Steven Johnson. He writes in his essay how today’s television is making us smarter by using complex plot lines. While there are a few intellectually challenging shows aired on television today that one could strongly argue are beneficial to our intelligence, we still have the simple and thoughtless shows and the frequencies that they are watched to account for.
Modern television has changed a lot over the years and this has led some to believe that it’s not just the shows that have changed, but the effects that they have on their viewers as well. Today, we see something in shows that we didn’t see fifty years ago: complexity. For example, my grandmother’s favorite shows to watch are CBS’s “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family” (originally aired from 1951-1957 and 1971-1979, respectively). They were very popular shows at their time and featured very simple comedy, such as a character taking sleeping pills the night before and then being impossible to wake up for work the next day. Another important note about these shows is that one doesn’t have to have seen all of the previous episodes to understand the current one. Today’s television features shows exactly the opposite, such as AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and AMC’s “Lost.” Both shows carry much more complex plot lines and character interactions than those that Mema watches every evening. But does the fact that writers for television programs are becoming more intellectual mean the same for us viewers? Some argue yes, but they are forgetting about all of the other shows that we love to watch, such as Fox’s “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons,” and the shows our children love to watch, like Nickelodeon's “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Cartoons like “SpongeBob SquarePants” are a typical place for parents to turn when they need to effortlessly entertain their children. The magical show about a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea captivates our young (and us too), and one can watch the show for hours without getting bored. However, the show could actually be training our children to be more impatient as well as devastating their attention span, suggests Rick Nauert PhD. from PsychCentral. The article he wrote discusses a study involving three groups of four-year-olds with similar television watching habits. One group was shown “SpongeBob” for nine minutes, another group was shown educational television for nine minutes, and the third group was given paper and encouraged to draw. After the nine minutes, each group was tested and, not surprisingly, the “SpongeBob” group tested the worst when it came to paying attention and problem solving. This suggests that the cartoons our children watch are dulling their intelligence and hindering their ability to learn.
But what about the cartoons that we watch? “Family Guy” has been dumbing us down since 1999. The cartoon is about the typical suburban family and their dog, frequently displaying drug use, alcoholism, prostitution, pedophilia, beastiality, rape, and countless other bad influences for their increasingly younger audience. Despite the show carrying an “R” rating, one of the show’s primary audiences are adolescent boys drawn to the show by the immature humor. The main character, Peter Griffin, teaches these children that the typical “family guy” that they will one day become should make fun of sexual orientation, religion, and mental/physical retardations. Another show that holds our society back is MTV’s “Sixteen and Pregnant.” While some argue that the hardships faced by the teens influences the audience to participate in safer sex and avoid the mistakes that the cast has made, the show ultimately glorifies the scene of parenthood at an early age and teaches the viewers that it is not all