After extensive and pleasurable reading, when one’s eyes are too tired to continue, he may be inclined to try his luck at finding some further acceptable diversion by means of his very accessible television set. He most likely will be disappointed, but not (experientially) surprised.
Specifically and expressly excluded from this critique, are the many worthwhile media offerings of public and educational television (whose existence and success are eternally under threat from our populist Administration and Congress) and the occasional good movie.
The medium of television, considering its vast potential capability for quality programming, and the unlimited extent of its public reach (even the most modest household has at least one television set) has eternally and shamelessly, offered low quality programming, presumably in accord with the mass marketers’ low esteem for, and stereotypical perception of the taste of the public consumer.
We know of no suitable or rational method for their respective ranking, but would nominate the following as equally deserving of an Olympic gold medal for consistent and ample generation of ennui and nausea:
Among the top contenders is any and all programming featuring the religious preacher. These oily, smarmy, self-adulating egotists espouse the “ultimate truths,” based upon their neurotic claims of personal inspiration from the deity; such inspiration guiding their perceived life mission to convert the non-believer and to secure compliance with every identified syllable of the bible. The latter, to be clear, was authored by various men, all of whom were so divinely inspired with ultimate wisdom, that they believed that the sun orbited abound the earth. We will confess, with only a little twinge of guilt, to our feelings of divine satisfaction and authentic schadenfreude when, as often has been the case, these zealous merchants of religious morality are discovered to be a loyal patrons of a rural house of ill repute.
With the express exception of a discreet number of quality discussion programs such as Charlie Rose, The Open Mind, Metro Focus, To The Contrary, Tavis Smiley and a few others, talk shows, especially afternoon talk shows, are so repulsive as to defy adjectival description. These, less than erudite populist “seminars,” generally feature panelists distinguished only by their excessive cosmetic use and garish attire in combination with a tasteless show of glitz and bling, all of which accompany a remarkable deficiency in mature judgment, good taste and basic good sense. The typical subjects discussed, are vital philosophical and esoteric mysteries, such as the latest mode in interaction between the sexes, show business divorces and celebrity culture, and trends in “cool” attire. They feature the articulation of the very latest in inane populist wisdom, peppered with useless aphorisms and expressed with unhesitating (and unjustifiable) confidence, to the raucous applause of an appreciative studio audience.
The ubiquitous game show is another contender in the race for the gold. Consistently hosted by a host whose entire toolkit of qualifications consists of the possession of a smile white enough to qualify for toothpaste commercials and the ersatz happy personality of a lady’s shoe salesman .The selected subjects for the typical game show contests are barely challenging enough for a middle school sophomore, yet the correct answers are applauded by the studio audience and congratulated by the game show host with an enthusiasm appropriate to the discovery of penicillin. In the past there were a small number of game shows hosted by erudite personalities and dealing with challenging subjects; these of course, never survived the test of perceived commercial criteria.
The viewing of television sports programming is certainly acceptable for those who are sport fans. But many sport fans have little interest in other, possibly life enhancing means of entertainment, and forgo exposure to many valuable cultural experiences. What is especially deplorable are sport shows, featuring retired, semi-literate professional athletes, sitting in professorial seminar, discussing the performance or peccadillos of performing athletes, or the perceived significance of player trades. To put it sardonically, these exchanges do not quite attain the quality of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, nor the erudition and significance of the contest between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant, over evolution; but seem nonetheless to be conducted with like energy and presumed significance.
By the process of elimination, it would seem that major news programs would be our remaining choice. Certainly, it is a useful practice to remain knowledgeable in current affairs, national and international and with issues concerning climate change, scientific and medical advances and other developments. However, since the (disastrous) election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency, the subject of Mr. Trump’s unprofessional and erratic behavior has apparently overpowered and displaced most of the media time needed for more essential and more appropriate news content. Reporting on Trump is akin to reporting on the bad behavior of an insecure and neurotically needy child who tactically invites parental punishment as a proven mode of attracting desired attention.
The television medium, with its vast resources and capabilities can do better. This clearly has been demonstrated by its PBS, educational and nature programming, as well as its occasional offerings of quality entertainment in music and drama. It has instead been led Pinocchio-like, down a wrong and irresponsible highway; one emphasizing, in the purported interest of mass marketing, the erroneous necessity of catering mainly to the unsophisticated, low information viewer. In addition to improving the quality of its offerings in entertainment, it has the capability, by virtue of such resources and unlimited outreach, to perform vital societal services in many areas of need, including employment, education and literacy, language instruction, health and responsible social outreach.
We continue to live in hope.