Turn On Your TV


This week is “Turn-Off Your TV Week” here in the U.S., the only week I know of designed to disengage and disparage a major aesthetic and information form. For years I’ve tried to get people interested in sponsoring a “Music Free Week” or “Week Without Reading,” but I’ve yet to get traction.

As you might gather, I’m not a fan of this (or any) brand of anti-TV activism for a number of reasons. While I do believe that a medium does have an impact beyond just its content or formal elements, I have yet to be convinced that anything about television is so pervasively evil to warrant its eradication. If you object to hypercommercialism, watch public TV or embrace your TiVo; if you dislike the limited mentality of TV news, watch some great dramatic and comedy programming; if you feel that watching TV is too sedentary, get a Stairmaster (and that objection goes for books & computers too). Television as a medium surpasses any of these common objections.

Some people argue that it’s an educational experience to abstain from something so commonplace as television to assess its role in everyday life. I buy that to a point, but only if you follow that logic with other media – how does life change without reading or music? Media literacy needs to move beyond the assumption that teaching people to be critical consumers means rejecting the dominant media – I believe you can learn media literacy far more effectively by actually watching television and critically engaging with it rather than turning it off.

So I’m watching television proudly this week (and all others), attentive to the various roles that it plays in my life without needing to dedicate political activism to such a futile and misguided effort. Anyone interested in a more scholarly (and slightly less polemic) analysis of this phenomenon and arguments against the TV-Free movement, check out my article “The Cultural Power of an Anti-Television Metaphor: Questioning the ‘Plug-in Drug’ and a TV-Free America” from 2000 – a bit dated in terms of examples, but the basic discourses haven’t changed much alas.

Gotta go watch TV…


5 Responses to “Turn On Your TV”

  1. 1 C W Walker

    I’m with you 🙂

  2. 2 Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.

    Jason, I agree that watching TV responsibly, and in moderation is fine. But most kids watch ~3 hours per day (Kaiser Family Foundation reports) and while it entertains, it doesn’t help kids problem solve with their hands and minds working in synergy. It provides the images for us, so we don’t have to create them for ourselves, as we would when reading a book. I once wrote a column offering suggestions on what to do when the TV is off during the week. I actually received calls of thanks from well-educated people telling me they honestly didn’t know how to fill their time because they were so used to watching TV. Amazing.


  3. 3 Tama

    Given how many people ‘watch TV’ via downloads and streaming YouTube (etc) clips, wouldn’t this have to be ‘turn off your computer week’, too? (And, no, I wouldn’t support that, either!)

  4. 4 Chros

    In fact, they’ve actually renamed it just “Turnoff Week” this year, because we’re supposed to turn all electronics off for the week, not just TV.

  1. 1 Turn on your TV (again) « Just TV

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