don't you weep
bruce on gma

turn it off?

I've considered saying something about Turn Off Your TV week or whatever it's called, but keep thinking it's not worth the time. But Sara convinced me otherwise, as we had an excellent chat this morning that I'm going to reproduce here, with only a few edits to fix typos. It started with a post on the subject on Julie's blog, to which I commented that I thought the whole thing was a stupid idea. Here's the chat Sara and I had:

Sara: Were you trying to be funny about the t.v. turnoff week...or do you think it's really stupid.

Steven: I really think it's stupid.

Sara: How come?

Steven: For many reasons ... the assumption that a group of grouchy know-it-alls should decide what people do with their lives, the assumption that television is a worthless art form (they don't tell you to quit reading for a week so you can spend more time with your family), the assumption that these things are all-or-nothing, the assumption that people aren't capable of making their own decisions or that people don't know where the off button is on their teevees unless the know-it-alls tell them (OK, that just repeats the first one, but I'm typing off the top of my head).

Sara: Wow! I don't think any of those assumptions are what they are pushing as objectives for the project...nor that it is all or nothing...but rather that for many people who spend more hours on t.v. than anything else except maybe work or school, may need to refrain completely as an exercise to break the cycle of watching t.v. every single day as a way to just lessen the amount they watch. Also, the marketing poster was made for kids... and studies show kids watch way too much t.v. and don't exercise enough...or socialize... which is bad.

Steven: So kids should exercise more and socialize more ... they can do that without changing their teevee habits, and BTW who decides what is "way too much tv" ... and again, why not pick on reading, which is just as sedentary an activity and in fact is even less social, since you can watch teevee with friends but reading a book is a solitary act, so maybe we should ban reading.

Sara: How can kids socialize more without changing their tv habits, unless they watch t.v. with friends, if they watch t.v. for most of the hours in between school and bedtime? And i would say we can all decide what is too much t.v. but at this point it would be when you only have a certain number of hours a day to do things and you watch t.v., when you don't do other activities that are more important such as homework, exercise, cooking healthy food instead of grabbing a fast bite, spending time talking to your family. Why not ban reading? Hmmm, because i am pretty sure recent studies show that people are not reading as much as they used to and have replaced it with watching television, and both activities could be shared, and back in the day (should be b.i.y.d), we didn't have a population of obese individuals with tons of health problems, which are caused in part by sedentary activities, which often include commercials that support a capitalistic view of life and encourage us to buy more products that are unhealthy (I know that modern t.v. often doesn't include commercials, but also that books don't either - in the why t.v. versus books).

Steven: I think you are identifying plenty of problems with today's society, but I am not at all convinced that these are the fault of television ... it's like Barry Bonds, no matter how many baseball players are taking performance enhancing drugs, Barry is an easy target so all efforts are directed towards him, as if sticking Barry Bonds in jail will solve problems ... turning off your television is not a solution to any of the problems you talk about, it's not teevee that's the problem, but it's an easy target. If, for instance, a major problem is our diet and poor health, which it is, then there are many ways we can change and improve ... you know a lot more of these than I do, it's what you do and hope to do with your life ... people can eat better, they can eat food "closer to home" like that thing you emailed me suggested, they can quit supporting fast-food conglomerates, they can get more exercise ... and they can do all of these things and still watch television, television isn't the problem, but it's easier to just say "isn't teevee bad, let's get people to quit watching." There is also the assumption that there is nothing worthwhile on television ... just turn it off for a week, you won't miss anything ... as if the entirety of television consists of reruns of What's Happening on TV Land ... people would be less informed, not more informed, without television. And I've already said this, but the hierarchical notions inherent in the TV Turnoff campaign, whereby you are supposed to give up television but not other leisure activities (like reading, because again, I think reading creates exactly the same problems they blame on television, if you follow their lame logic), pisses me off. I mean, I'm the person who included a television show in a course on American Literature at SF State, so I'm not going to agree with the idea that teevee is the bastard stepchild of American culture.

Sara: I would argue that turning your t.v. off is part of a multi-level solution to the problem (when you layer solutions you get maximum effectiveness, as most major health problems, etc are caused/effected/supported by various factors). Also, I think you are assuming that the organizations that put together prevention strategies that support turning off your television are short sighted and are just deciding to turn off t.v. without checking out past programs that have worked and past research, and think teevee is bad just because.  No - this is based on research that has shown what kinds of activities individuals are doing instead of others...and part of the reason we as consumers do not do all the activities you listed is because we are inundated through mass media to do something else...and the bulk of us use the mass media known as television. Part of what we hope for does come from these media sources which do not include a variety of options on how to live our lives. (I agree that this gets at your point of a larger problem, but still think that based on research and my humble opinion, it is a good step to get people out of the mold and thinking that we don't have to take our cues on how to live from this media source only.) And again - yes people can do all these things you listed about better diet etc, but again if they are watching television for so many hours a week as many people are, then there is simply not enough time to do these things you listed. The campaign is not saying turn your teevee off forever, it is saying BREAK the CYCLE of watching so much so you can have a moment to be creative about how you spend your time. I agree people may be less informed without teevee, but again it is not saying to give up teevee forever, but for a lot of people it can be necessary, and not everyone is watching t.v. to critically examine our society as you are. i think it is great that you include television in your courses, although i am not sure why in literature, when by no definition is t.v. literature... but even for the fact that it is so important to our culture, to ignore it in many classes is ignoring reality. Also, if t.v. is the bastard stepchild of our culture, we have a few options for the is to quit having bastard stepchildren... the other is to pay attention to it.

Steven: I am not arguing for an uncritical approach to television or mass media ... there are plenty of areas ripe for useful analysis, especially of the news organizations. What I am saying is that the people who put together these turn-it-off programs are singling out television is a stupid way. They are not being intelligent about it, they are attacking television as the one target they think everyone will accept. Their goal is to get people to exercise more, say ... so they say "turn off your teevee" when it would make just as much sense to say "quit reading." They don't pick on books ... in fact, one of their arguments in favor of turning off the teevee is so people will read more, which assumes reading is "better" than watching television. They think watching teevee is a passive act for mindless people, while reading is somehow more than that, which tells me they haven't watched any television for a couple of decades, since very many popular television shows now require an intense attention to what's going on.

Sara: OK, lets say "t.v. is not bad" and does not cause the problems associated with sedentary lifestyle, poor health, lack of social contact and feeling 'a part of a community' or other pieces the campaign is pushing. If, however t.v. still inhibits the action of doing positive behaviors such as moving around, getting exercise, doing homework, etc...would it not be right to focus a campaign on lessening the amount of t.v. watched? So, t.v. does not equal negative behaviors and outcomes, but t.v. at this point in time is the main cause of an individual not engaging in another activity. It would only make sense to target t.v. as a solution to the problem of inactivity. By the way.... these types of campaigns often give ideas for what to do when not watching t.v. so you are not left to fend for yourself and assume that because of lack of teevee you will do other things. My co-worker told me this was a service learning action one of our students did...and part of the project was for the youth to make a list of things they could do in place of watching t.v....which is usually a part of the overall campaign.

Steven: Not sure I agree, but I see your point. For me, it's like this: if the problem is "people don't exercise enough," the solution isn't "quit doing X" but rather "start doing Y" ... exercise more, not watch teevee less.

Sara: Yeah, but as a person who has studied a number of theories...and put them into practice...on behavior change strategies we can see that this line of thinking does not get the end result. Also, again, if you have to exercise more you have to stop doing something else. And currently what kids and many people are doing is watching t.v.

Steven: "not left to fend for yourself" ... if I understand that correctly, it means these folks don't trust us to do what they think is the right thing ... if left to our own devices, we'll do what we want, not what they want. So they have to control all of our actions in order to get their desired results. Am I reading this wrong?

Sara: No they don't have control of our actions...they encourage the participant to come up with their own list of activities they could do instead of watch t.v.

Steven: oh, ok

Sara: So, quit watching t.v. start exercising more.

Steven: Or exercise while watching tv or work one less hour a day and use that time for exercise or walk up more stairs and use fewer elevators.

Sara: Yes those are all good strategies but what has seemed to work has been the turn off your t.v. strategies or others and this strategy also promotes awareness around these issues.

Steven: But if I want to make people aware of issues, I'd do it by addressing the issues, not tricking folks with an unrelated side issue ... if I want to promote awareness of health problems, I'd discuss the health problems, I wouldn't say "quit watching tv" ... in fact, I might get my discussion of the problem on tv so more people could hear what I had to say.

Sara: It is not unrelated!!!!! I understand you think it is not the problem,....but go research it --- it is related!!! People spending time on t.v. versus other activities is a reality and it is related.... why do you think it is attacking television? You are right in assuming it is one target people will accept which is why it works for public health. The goal is to get mass amounts of people to engage in positive health this point t.v. has been a hindrance to doing other behaviors...and by using television watching time as a starting point we can encourage people to pay attention to the activities they are doing.

Steven: Because in my opinion it IS attacking television ... how else should I interpret the statement "turn off your television and your life will improve."

Sara: Well - I think that statement is saying that if you are watching more t.v. than other things, turning it off will give you some time to be creative and engage in other activities that will improve your life. Health problems and t.v. watching are is statistical analysis.

Steven: And that assumes that watching television is un-creative.

Sara: Well - it can be but other than deciding which show to watch it is not too creative... you can critically think about life issues if you have a friend to talk to, or a PHD for a dad...

Steven: Then neither is reading a book creative, or going to an art museum, or listening to a symphony, but you never see these organizations saying "quit looking at art work, it's not creative and it's sedentary."

Sara: But to add - those activities are not the ones that people are spending all their time doing. This is not a theoretical argument it is an argument about activities that people actually do.

Steven: I know, we agree that more people watch tv.

Sara: And if people are spending all their time on one thing versus another we do not need to only analyze it and argue about theory but rather use theory to address the issue at a real level that will get people to CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR ... I am making a statement about actions - i.e. how people spend time overall ... I am talking about behavior change and positive health behaviors and statistics on which behaviors individuals are doing versus others which are sedentary and feeds you capitalist loveliness, and does not encourage healthy behaviors overall and so, you can say people should only talk about the negative behavior and not what people are doing instead of the positive behavior and I will say that to get people to change behaviors you have to address both sides what they should be doing and what they are doing in its place.