Hurry, Gwen, They're Killing People!
January 31, 2010
You don't have to be in the JW camp, with its cautious stance toward 'entertainment overload,' to conclude that 7.5 media entertainment hours a day is a lot. I mean, what with sleeping and work/school, is there really time for anything else? Yet the Kaiser Family Foundation just released a ten-year study that indicates today's young people do exactly that, be it TV or YouTube or Hulu or Facebook or Twitter or Tooter or God knows what else. And since they multi-task, they manage to wring 10 hours' content out of that 7.5. Kids [from another source, not Kaiser] are developing rickets, of all things. Rickets!....that disappeared 200 years ago. And yes, Kaiser found all the correlations you would expect: lower grades (from an already dismal level in the U.S.) and increased trouble with the law.
Kaiser said the largest block of time percentage-wise was still TV (counting streaming video), so I'll limit my remarks to that. Besides, that's what I know best. It's my generation. With regard to newer technologies, I know enough internet to blog, of course, but I'm hardly cutting edge. And if you ask me WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) I will reply that Jesus would use a phone with a wire attached to the wall - he would never use a cell phone, let alone one with 'apps'! So TV is what I'll write of.
One of the toughest things about working in the group home was that the TV was always on. It was sort of like a shrine in the center of the house, and it wasn't easy to avoid. The volume was always turned up. And...what was it?....it wasn't so much the soft porn, though there was plenty of that. And it wasn't so much the graphic violence, though there was plenty of that, too. It was the breathtaking stupidity of most of it.....a common thread you never got away from.
"Hurry Gwen, they're killing people!" I'd holler when CSI or some like show was coming on. "Oh boy, now we're talking!" she'd respond. "Blood and guts! That's what I want to see!" I'd once said something 'judgmental' about such programs, only to find that she loved them, so I gave it up. You can't change grown people. Besides, she was a good worker, likable, and I got along with her well. Why, as Eccles 7:16 queries, be 'righteous overmuch?' We'd joke about it -we had our lines down pat - what else could one do? "Why'd God make bad people?" I'd ask. "To kill em!" she'd reply. On nights too busy for her to fit in the shows, I'd offer to call the TV station. "Can you cut out the plots tonight?" I'd propose. "We're a little tight on time right now. Just line the folks up, good and bad alike, and kill em! We'll fill in story ourselves."
One day Gwen came to work with an axe and killed three co-workers and.....Oh, all right!...I made that part up, but you never know when she may start! I must have seen hundreds of TV murders that season, and that's without trying. I mean, I didn't glue myself to the set, as some did, but you'd still stumble across several per night.
Actually, those Law and Order type shows are not the ones I have in mind for "breathtaking stupidity." The writing here was generally crisp, even clever, though obsessed with sex and violence. But they were ever apt to become propaganda pieces for contemporary issues. One character would parrot boiler-plate liberal lines for a given topic; another would spit back the conservative line - man, I hate being preached to by TV cops! In my experience, law enforcement people don't do that. Largely apolitical, they go about their work with a gallows humor, ever convinced that, in true SNAFU fashion...Situation Normal - All F**ked Up (**'s mine)...their best efforts will be undone owing to some screw-up at higher levels.
No, the real drivel and tripe was to be found in reality and gossip shows. These I couldn't abide at all (nor could Gwen), though I might be sucked into a 'cops and robbers' program sometimes. TV execs went orgasmic when they discovered, not only will people debase themselves for free, but others will tune in to watch them do it! And celebrities....listen, they're okay if they're singing or acting or whatever they're supposed to be doing, I guess, but get them talking -like in an interview.....well, four times out of five, you just don't want to do that. I mean, as often as not, they don't know anything, yet these are the role models put before kids 7.5 hours a day.
Make no mistake, this 7.5 hours is not the fault of the kids - you don't blame them for it - but of the adults and of a society that cannibalizes its young, exploiting them for money, pitching them product after fad after gadget, hooking them in any way a profit can be made. More specifically, it's my generation at fault - all of those in it really, except me, oh....and others of Jehovah's Witnesses. Um...and a lot of others too. In fact, most persons are exempt as individuals. But collectively there is much blame. Fueled by self-interest and a colossal misunderstanding of what makes people tick, the world embraced values that almost guaranteed decay - the only question was 'when.' Regarding the Kaiser study, the FCC is said to be studying the findings. Do you think they'll do anything? Not anything of substance, anyway. Maybe they'll invent some ratings, offer some recommendations, coupled with stern warnings that parents ought to do a better job in monitoring what their kids view. Well....who would argue with that?...that's how I ended up at that Weezer concert....wasn't I the only grownup there?...but a healthy society constructs itself so as to not make a parents' job impossible; in the final analysis, you sort of need parents if you think the species ought to survive. And no parent wants to play 'bad cop' 7.5 hours a day, even if, by some miracle, they have the time to do it.
I remember when Paul McCartney was said to have died in a car crash, and the other Beatles covered it up with a look-alike, and campus radio spoke of nothing else for days on end. My roommate urged me (unsuccessfully) to install a reverse gear on my turntable so as to play all Beatle records backwards, looking for hidden clues such as were to be found in Strawberry Fields (I buried Paul) or Revolution #9 (turn me on, dead man). The mainstream media was oblivious to the story, notwithstanding that the Beatles were the most popular rock group to date. They didn't ignore substantive news to break in breathlessly with update after update, as they would today, as they recently did with....say...the Tiger Woods sex escapades. I recall only one grumbling opinion piece, after several days had elapsed, to the effect that the Beatles...those precocious kids... may have fooled us all with their practical joke, but it was a sick laugh they must be having. That's how it was with 'young people' stories. I was upset about it. I wanted more airtime for our g-g-g-generation. Some sensational group would be the rage among the young - I'd want to see them on TV, and all I'd get was a lousy five minutes at the end of the Ed Sullivan show!
No, I didn't like it. But now I see it was a protection, from adults who still felt a collective sense of responsibility toward the younger generation. Or maybe they were just fuddy-duddys out of touch with changing times, but nonetheless, it was a protection. Let kids have their own generation, let them cultivate their own interests, but not to the exclusion of all else. Construct your society so that doesn't happen. Link them with ideas of the past, ideas that have roots, ideas that have endured over time.
Sigh....has not the now-older generation largely given up on their roots...roots that didn't work out too well, anyway, so as to live vicariously through their young? That's why the prurient interest in youngster's 'sexuality.' That's why pedophilia episodes get top ratings. That why the VH1 "news special" The New Virginity, (younger staff watching it eagerly at the group home, convinced they're watching real 'news') whipping up interest in how long this or that young celeb will hold out.
That's why I don't chafe much at the Watchtower's cautions on today's entertainment, even though, just between you and me, they lay it on pretty thick. But they don't lay it on 7.5 hours a day, do they? Take it as a sign of concern. These are decadent times. There is a place for forthright counsel, and one does well to take it to heart.