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To watch or not to watch: That is the question

Updated on January 6, 2017

People watch television for different reasons-to be informed, to be educated, and to be entertained. But, are we aware about how television can change our mindset and the way we perceive world?

Television is important in our lives. We watch television for many reasons-to be informed, to be educated, and to be entertained. But for many people of all ages, TV watching has become a serious addiction. Surveys indicate that an average American spends 3 hours and 46 minutes of television each day, and that by age of 18, an American youth will have watched some 15,000 hours of TV. That addiction is becoming obvious when hard-core viewers try to kick the habit.

Cultivation Theory

Cultivation theory by George Gerbner studies the long term effects of television to the viewers. This theory is very interesting, since people nowadays have increased their time spent in watching television, and its effects can be seen in the viewer’s behavior. Gerbner claimed that TV contains so much violence, that "people who spend the most time in front of the tube develop an exaggerated belief in a mean and scary world." The theory also suggests that people who watch the same programs on TV share the same beliefs and perception of the world, creating a standardized behavior. The standardized behavior becomes a rule, a norm, until it is accepted by the society as the truth.

There are three assumptions for this theory:

(1) Television is essentially and fundamentally different from other forms of mass media, since TV has a visual element. We are convinced by the visual contents we see on TV more than what we have heard on the radio. Just like how a single picture worth a thousand words, the visual element of TV is one big factor of how it became an effective media to people.

(2) Television shapes the way our society thinks and relates. How the people view the world today might be greatly influenced by the images shown on TV. What we see is what we learn, and what we learn is what we believe.

(3) Television's effects are limited, but those small, limited effects can be a pervasive influence leading to make a crucial difference.

How watching TV changed their lives

Although Gerbner's theory is not an absolute one, it is one of the most frequently used theory in mass communication research. Many people would agree to Gerbner that violence has greatly influenced the minds of the people, especially the young ones. But aside from violence, there are many ways on how TV has changed people's behavior dramatically.

Korean culture has been very popular to the young people, not only to pop music and dance, but also in drama. My Love from the Star, a Korean drama which was aired from 2013 up to 2014, became popular to Asia. But more than the fans screaming and girls daydreaming, one article described it as, “An insanely popular Korean drama" that is "ruining lives in China: My Love from the Star has such an intense following, it’s got its fans acting crazy.” In Jiangsu, an eastern Chinese province, a pregnant woman nearly suffered a miscarriage from binge watching the show late into the night and eating too much fried chicken. (The show has sparked all sorts of trends, namely one for chicken and beer as it’s the heroine’s favorite food combination.) In Chongqing, a major city in Southwest China, a woman supposedly dumped her boyfriend after he refused to buy her fried chicken in the middle of the night because he wasn’t as romantic as the show’s leading man. Another story reported that a 50-year-old Chinese woman suffered a heart attack from late night binge-watching and getting too “emotional” over the storyline. Allegedly, a manager in Fujian, a far eastern province of China, gave his employees the day off just to catch the series finale. When it was aired in the Philippines, the drama becomes trendy for the popular lines of the heroine like saying ‘sawry’ instead of ‘sorry’. Students were also dreaming that a hot professor like the main character will motivate them to study well.

To watch, or not to watch? Answer the question!

It is never too late to control the effects of watching too much TV. Here is an interview of a teenager named Wyant, a TV addict, in a book entitled "Questions Young People Ask: Answers that work".

Interviewer: How old were you when you got hooked on TV?

Wyant: About ten years old. As soon as I came home from school, I’d turn on the TV first. I’d watch the cartoons and kiddie programs. Then the news would come on, and I’d go into the kitchen and look for something to eat. After that, I’d go back to the TV and watch till I wanted to go to sleep.

Interviewer: But when did you have time for your friends?

Wyant: The TV was my friend.

Interviewer: Then you never had time for play and sports?

Wyant: I have no athletic abilities. Because I watched TV all the time, I never developed them. I’m a terrible basketball player. And in gym class, I was always the last one to get chosen. I wish, though, I had developed my athletic skills a bit more-not so that I could have gone around boasting, but just so I could have at least enjoyed myself.

Not only TV can lead to poor athletic skills, it can also lead to poor reading habits, diminished family life, and laziness. But to overcome those, one should have self-control.

This does not necessarily mean that TV must be viewed as evil. Just take a hard look at what shows you’ve seen watching and examine their effects on you. Am I being violent because of this show? Or am I becoming so hopelessly romantic? If we continue to read Wyant interview, this is how it ended:

Interviewer: Obviously, you’ve overcome your addiction?

Wyant: I started breaking away from TV after I entered high school.

Interviewer: What about today?

Wyant: I still have the problem that if the TV is on, I cannot get anything done. So I leave it off most of the time. In fact, my TV broke down a few months ago and I haven’t bothered to get it fixed.

The experience of Wyant illustrates that the key to control TV viewing and addiction is also within us. We should not get affected by what we see on TV, and we should remain aware about the reality. Television is a medium of entertainment, education, and information which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, watch news at the same time, and see the world at the same time, and yet remain lonesome. Why? Because life is still more enjoyable outside the black box called television.

How spend an hour a day on television?

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