TV or Not TV?

If the television craze continues with the present level of programs, we are destined to have a nation of morons. -Daniel Marsh, President, Boston University

Ooh, isn't that a good quote? " . . . Destined to have a nation of morons." (If we insert one letter into the middle of the word we get, " . . . we are destined to have a nation of Mormons." That would be nice. Oh well.) Daniel Marsh made that comment in 1950, and the "level of programs" has changed dramatically since then. They're much worse than they used to be. There's more trash than ever before, and there's more to come! Have you ever filled a pot with hot water, then tried to drop a frog in it? Or have you ever put a frog in cold water and heated it up? Me neither. Sounds kind of rude. But it makes a great analogy. If you did drop a frog in a pot of hot water, what would happen? He would jump out! What if you put a frog in cool water, and heated it up slowly? The frog wouldn't notice the gradual change, he would get comfortable and, before he knew it, he'd be cooked! Hi, ho, Kermit the soup here.

Like that frog, we are all in "hot water." Television has changed over the years, but the changes have been so gradual that they've gone largely unnoticed. Meanwhile, we're getting cooked. When I was younger, one of my favorite shows was about a small-town sheriff, his deputy, his little boy, and his aunt who made great apple pies. They led a simple life, ate lunch at the diner, sang in the church choir, and went fishing. They also taught a good lesson in every show, while at the same time making us laugh. But times have changed, and television has changed too. It's getting hot in this pot, and people are beginning to notice. It's in all the papers. Let's read all about it, shall we?

Headline: Pediatric group suggests cutting TV viewing in half.

The scoop: Long-term television viewing is one cause of violent or aggressive behavior in children and contributes substantially to childhood obesity, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Monday. (Associated Press story appearing in the Daily Universe, 17 April 1990) < br>Headline: Turn on the TV and bingo: You're brain dead.

The scoop: Wat ching television is like doing nothing at all, only more so. That's essentially the conclusion Memphis psychologists came to after they wired up 31 kids, stuck them in front of a television set, turned on "The Wonder Years" and watched their vital signs plunge. "The metabolic rate during television viewing was even lower than it was during rest," the psychologists reported. (As cited in Deseret N ews, 28 February 1993, A2)

Headline: TV taking its bite out of academics.

The scoop: More than 40 percent of Utah County's school children spend more time watching TV than studying, according to their parents. Many experts sa y this has an adverse effect on the kids' mental ability and performance. (Mich ael Morris, Utah County Journal, 16 February 1993, A1, A3)

Television has become a part of our lives. Chances are, the most worn-out furniture in the house is facing the television. Unfortunately, the TV has replaced the library as the center of learning. We watch it, we plan our evenings around it, and we talk about it at school. How many times a day does someone say, "Hey, did you see ___ ____________ last night?" And we hope we saw _______________ last night, because we want to fit in.The question is this: Is there any nutrition in this mental diet that we call television? And who's in charge of the menu? What's cooking in Hollywood for us to swallow tonight? Suppose you walked into your favorite restaurant and saw the cook putting floor sweepings in your spaghetti. Would you e t it? Yuck! If you did, you'd throw up! What about the stuff you put in your brain? Your brain can't throw up. If you see something gross on TV, it's yours forever. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:

The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food, but the brain won't vomit back filth. Once recorded it will always remain subject to recall, flashing its perverted images across your mind, and drawing you away from the wholesome things in life. (As cited by N. Eldon T anner, Ensign, January 1974, 8)

Yes indeed, if television is food for our brains, we'd better talk to the cooks, and see what's happening in the kitchen! Newsweek magazine talked to the cooks almost ten years ago, and here's what they found out:

Hollywood really is different from the rest of the country. A survey of 104 top television writers and executives found that their attitudes toward moral and religious questions aren't shared by their audience.
Believe adultery is wrong: Hollywood 49% Everyone else 85%
Have no religiou s affiliation: Hollywood 45% Everyone else 4%
Believe homosexual acts are wro ng: Hollywood 20% Everyone else 76%
Believe in a woman's right to an abortio n: Hollywood 97% Everyone else 59% (Kenneth L. Woodward, "The Elite and How to A void It," Newsweek, 20 July 1992, 55)

The problem with the restaurant of television-or rather, the problem with us-is that we'll eat whatever they give us, whether we ordered it or not. Most of us don't plan what we're going to watch. We just plop down on the couch to "watch TV" and let it feed us whatever's on the menu. The point is, "we are what we eat," and perhaps we ought to pay mo re attention to our spiritual diets. Sometimes we're like the frog that is slow ly being cooked; in the comfort of the warm water, we go a little crazy. We think the thirteenth Article of Faith says, "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things, unless our favori te show is on." Or we think Moroni said, "Deny yourselves of all ungodliness; an d fast forward the bad parts" (see Moroni 10:32). We must not allow Hollywood to make us hypocrites! We say, "We believe" when we repeat the Articles of Faith. Well, do we? Do we really believe what they say? Moroni gives hard counsel when he says, "deny yourselves of all ungodliness." Is "all" a pretty high percentage? When Hollywood is criticized for its programming, the usual response is, "If you don't like it, turn it off." Hmmm, that's a new thought: Turn it off. What would happen to your life if you did? Here's another headline:

Headline: Turning off the tube may be 1st step toward turning on life

The scoop: People sometimes ask why I, a professor of communication, do not have a television in my home. Television presents a dilemma: Many of us find that it does not represent a productive or enriching use of time, but we nevertheless find it attractive as a source of entertainment and information. . . . Television seeks audiences for only one reason-to sell those audiences to advertisers. When I watch television, I am investing uncompensated time as a "commercials viewer" and my time is being sold to an advertiser by a network. No, thanks. I've got better things to do. . . . Television robs relationships of time. Relationships among friends and family members take time to develop-quantity time. . . . Television steals the time it takes to build and enjoy relationships, which are to my mind a lot more satisfying than sitcoms. (James A. Herrick, Deseret News Opinion/Editorial page, 16 March 1994)

I agree; we've got better things to do. We have our own goals and dreams to pursue! What do you think, my friend? Do you think you could turn the TV off for a week? Two weeks? A month? TV or not TV; that is the challenge. We could look at more headlines, but maybe we ought to bag all that and prove to ourselves what effect TV has on us. When Moroni wrote his last words in the Book of Mormon, he didn't try to prove it was true. He simply said, in effect, "read it for yourself, and ask God." Maybe that's the best way to come to a conclusion on this media-influence issue.

Would you like to try a little experiment? Do you have the courage? I'm going to make a challenge here-are you sure you want to keep reading? Here it comes. Ladies and gentlemen (please imagine a drum roll somewhere in the distance), I challenge you . . . wait . . . I challenge thee (it sounds more, you know, like a commandment), I challenge thee to fast from TV for a month! No TV, no movies, no videos! (Okay, end the drum roll and imagine a cymbal crash.)

Well, what do you think? Are you saying, "You've got to be kidding"? If so, I'll answer you. No, I'm not kidding. I did it myself-I fasted from TV for a whole month. It wasn't that bad. In fact, it was great. I had no idea it would affect me the way it did. If you feel you can't do it, I'll understand. I won't judge you unrighteously or anything. I'll still think you're great. Just write your pathetic, miserable excuse in the space below, you big party pooper.

Lame excuse ____________________________________________

One excuse you can't use is, "I don't have time," because television takes time. As for those of you who didn't write an excuse, who have decided to accept the challenge, may I offer you literary high-fives? And may I take a moment to express a few thoughts? I think you're wonderful, heroic, courageous, stupendous, marvelous, intelligent, terrific, outrageous, sensational, superb, splendid, fabulous, remarkable, fantastic, phenomenal, incredible, amazing, magnificent, miraculous, glorious, and nifty.

I'd like to make a few predictions. I did this little experiment myself a few years ago in February (okay, I picked the shortest month, but it's still a month), and I think I know what will happen to you.

Day One. You won't know what to do with yourself. You'll think, "Is Nintendo allowed?" (It isn't.) You'll say, "Mom, there's nothing to do," and she'll give you a list, starting with "Clean up your room." You'll never complain to her again.

Day Four. You'll begin to notice how much time you have, and it will be exciting. You'll compile a list of things to do during your TV fast: books to read, places to go, projects to complete, and so on.

Day Ten. You'll notice you're having a much easier time controlling your thoughts. You'll realize that the main place where "the truth and values we embrace are mocked on every hand" is on television. You won't be hearing the crass jokes and witnessing the illicit situations on prime time. You'll remember a scripture you once read: "For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God" (Alma 12:14).

Day Fourteen. You'll find it's hard not to judge other TV watchers around you. It will seem like that's all everyone else ever does. You'll say to yourself, "Everyone seems so lazy all of a sudden-did I used to waste time like that?"

Day Sixteen. You'll find it much easier to concentrate when you read your scriptures or pray. You'll notice you don't have to take a minute and clean out your brain before such activities.

Day Twenty. You'll say, "Why didn't I try this before?" You'll be getting your homework done, you'll read good books, you'll exercise, you'll even have a cleaner room! (Mom will love that.)

Day Thirty. You'll think a lot on this day. You'll ask yourself, "Do I really want to start watching again?" You'll think about how we try to protect ourselves from things: We put dead-bolt locks on the doors, motion-sensor lights in the yard, and burglar alarms in the entrances to the house. To keep things warm inside, we buy double-paned glass, insulation, and weather stripping. Then we kneel down as a family and say "protect us from harm or accident."

But Satan is clever. He can find a way into our house. He can come right through the antenna (or the cable). Or we can actually pay money to rent his influence at the video store.

A month has passed, and now your experiment is over. If you start watching again, you'll notice that your vacation from television has increased your sensitivity. You'll realize that you used to be accustomed to the language of television, but now it will bug you. You'll hear the Lord's name taken in vain, and other crude language, and your mental taste buds will say, "Yuck, this is sick."

I hope you will take the TV or not TV challenge. I know you can do it because I did it. Try it! Prove it to yourself and see what happens. Keep a journal and take note of what abstaining from television does for your spirit. I can promise you four things: First, you'll have much more time. (They say the average daily television viewing per household is seven hours four minutes per day!). Second, you'll have an easier time controlling your thoughts. (You know what they say in the computer-programming business: "Garbage in, garbage out!"). Third, your spiritual sensitivity will increase. As you "deny yourself of all ungodliness" (see Moroni 10:32), you'll feel closer to the Lord. Fourth, you'll be more selective in the future. You won't just sit down to "watch TV." You'll choose carefully what you watch instead of punching the remote from a slouched position for three hours.

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:

I am suggesting that we spend a little less time in idleness, in the fruitless pursuit of watching inane and empty television programs. Time so utilized can be put to better advantage, and the consequences will be wonderful. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 621)

Any powerful tool can be used as an awful weapon. Of course, there are excellent programs on TV, programs that can lift and inspire. Watch that kind of program when you choose to watch. But remember that Satan has found a way to use the media as a weapon as well. So, fellow frogs, maybe now would be a good time to jump out of the pot, because something's cooking, and I think it's us!
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