Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is Television "tell-a-lie-vision," "Death of a nation, breeding ignorance and spreading radiation"?

The effects of television have been questioned and critiqued almost from the moment that this medium appeared. And in particular, its negative effects on children have been widely assumed. (My mother banned the watching of the "Popeye" cartoon in our house in the mid-fifties, after reading that it might insult violence in children. So we watched the show at our neighbors' house.)

Anti-t.v. sentiment is particularly prevalent among the middle-class would-be literati. Sometimes I think the only people in the US who don't own television sets are university professors, and the Honors students I teach are likely to claim that they don't watch t.v. And although I appreciate how Five Percent hip-hoppers break the word television down to its basics ("tell-a-lie-vision") and I love the Michael Franti-led Beatnigs' 1988 song "Television" ("TV is the reason why less than ten percent of our nation reads books daily"), I couldn't live without my Mad Men and my Daily Show and my Breaking Bad.

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal that argues that t.v. might, under certain conditions, have positive effects. (Although I'm not sure that could ever be the case with Fox News.) Here's an excerpt:

University of Chicago Graduate School of Business economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro aren't sure that TV has been all that bad for kids. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics this year, they presented a series of analyses that showed that the advent of television might actually have had a positive effect on children's cognitive ability.

The two are part of a tight-knit group of young economists using statistical techniques to examine how television affects society. The group's research suggests TV enabled an earlier generation of American children in non-English-speaking households to do better in school, helped rural Indian women to become more independent and contributed to lowering Brazil's fertility rate.

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