Television, Vigilance, Truth

Product Details Douglas Groothuis calls television an agent of truth decay in today’s (post-)postmodern world.  Os Guinness, in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, from a slightly different angle, comes to a similar conclusion.  So this post and the one quoting Groothuis should be read together.

[[Before I quote Guinness, I do want to note that I’m not saying we should throw our TVs out the window (although doing so might result in an improved Christian life!).  I’m simply pointing these things out so that we, as Christians, might exercise moderation and vigilance when it comes to what we watch and how much we watch (whether in the theater, on the laptop, tablet, smartphone, or actual TV).  We are indeed surrounded by screens, so we need to think about how this might affect the Christian life.  As another side note, these discussions might help us think about violence on television and its relation to the tragic shootings in the past years.]]

Here’s Guinness (slightly edited):

First, television discourse has a bias against understanding.  With its rapid images, its simplistic thought, and its intense emotions, television is devoid of the context needed for true understanding.  Its superficiality amounts to a form of disinformation…‘misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”

Second, television discourse has a bias against responsibility.  The same rapidity, variety, and intensity of images that provides the viewer no context for true understanding also prevents the viewer from engaging with the consequences of what is experienced.  The abrupt – sometimes absurd – discontinuities between programming and advertising particularly makes this so.  ‘There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political burden so costly…that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying ‘Now…this.’”

Third, television discourse has a bias against memory and history.  Its very place and style create a nonstop preoccupation with the present.  Incoherent perhaps, irresponsible certainly, the ceaseless, breathless flow of the Now renders viewers incapable of remembering.”

Fourth, television discourse has a bias against rationality.  With rare exceptions, television so disdains ‘talking heads’ that the very act of thinking becomes unthinkable on television.  A thinker questioned might pause to reflect, ‘Now let me see…What do you mean?’  But on television such thinking is too slow, too uncertain, too boring. …It is theatre rather than thinking, entertaining drama rather than edifying debate.”

Fifth, television discourse has a bias against truth and accuracy.  Credibility was once linked to veracity – someone or something was believable because of being true or not true.  Today, however, credibility serves as a synonym for plausibility – whether someone or something seems to be true.  Credibility in the television age has little to do with principle and all to do with plausibility and performance.  ‘Is it true?’ is overshadowed by ‘Was it compelling/sincere/entertaining/charismatic?’

You can find the entire discussion in chapter 9 (called “Amusing Ourselves To Death” after Neil Postman’s excellent book) of Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness.

shane lems

sunnyside wa