The appendix of Truth Decay by Douglas Groothuis is a short essay that describes how television is a “potent agent of truth decay” in today’s postmodern (or post-postmodern) world. I found the essay to be helpful, so I’ll summarize Groothuis’ five ways television has contributed (and does contribute) to the decay of truth in our culture. (Note: this has to do with movies as well.)
“First, television emphasizes the moving image over written and spoken language. It is image-driven, image-saturated, and image-controlled. …When the image overwhelms and subjugates the word, the ability to think, write, and communicate in a linear and logical fashion is undermined. Television’s images have their immediate effect on us, but that effect is seldom to cause us to pursue their truth or falsity. …As Kenneth Myers stresses, ‘A culture that is rooted more in images than in words will find it increasingly difficult to sustain any broad commitment to any truth, since truth is an abstraction requiring language.’”
“Second, [television brings] a loss of authentic selfhood…the self is filled with a welter of images and factoids and sound bites lacking moral and intellectual adhesion. The self becomes ungrounded and fragmented by its experiences of television. …Postmodern illiterates live their lives through a series of television characters (better: shadows of characters), and changing channels becomes a model for the self’s manner of experience and its mode of being. Moral and spiritual anchorage is lost. The self is left to try on a pastiche of designer personae in no particular order and for no particular reason.”
“Third, television relentlessly displays a pseudoworld of discontinuity and fragmentation. …The images appear and disappear and reappear without a proper rational context. …This is what Postman aptly calls the ‘peek-a-boo world,’ – a visual environment lacking coherence, consisting of ever-shifting, artificially linked images. …Without any historical or logical context, the very notion of intellectual or moral coherence becomes unsustainable on television.”
“Fourth, the increasingly rapid pace of television’s images makes careful evaluation impossible and undesirable for the viewer, thus rendering determinations of truth and falsity difficult if not impossible. With sophisticated video technologies, scenes change at hypervelocities and become the visual equivalent of caffeine or amphetamines. …This means that one simply absorbs hundreds and thousands of rapidly changing images, with little notion of what they mean or whether they correspond to any reality outside themselves. …Habituation to such imposed velocities tends to make people intellectually impatient and easily bored with anything that is slow-moving and undramatic – such as reading books…experiencing nature in the raw, and engaging in face-to-face conversations with fellow human beings. …The overstuffed and overstimulated soul becomes out-of-sync with God, nature, others, and itself. It cannot discern truth; it does not want to. This apathetic attitude makes the apprehension and application of truth totally irrelevant.”
“[Fifth], television promotes truth decay by its incessant entertainment imperative. Amusement trumps all other values and takes captive every topic. Every subject – whether war, religion, business, law or education – must be presented in a lively, amusing or stimulating manner. …Even off the air, people now think that life (and Christian ministry) must be entertaining at all costs. One pastor of a megachurch advises preachers that sermons should be roughly 20 minutes in length and must be ‘light and informal,’ with liberal sprinklings of ‘humor an anecdotes.’ Just like television, isn’t it? The truth is that truth, and the most important truths, is often not entertaining. An entertainment mentality will insulate us from many hard but necessary truths. …Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles held the interest of their audience not by being amusing but by their zeal for God’s truth, however unpopular or uncomfortable it may have been. They refused to entertain but instead edified and convicted. It was nothing like television” (p. 283-292).
In posting this I’m not saying we should never watch TV or movies (although that would probably be really good for us!). I’m simply using it as a gentle encouragement to limit screen time in our homes and personal lives. Our moms were on to something when they told us to shut the TV off and go outside!
You can read the full article in Truth Decay by Doug Groothuis.