Who tells you what to do?

My friend blogged the other day about how her boys, when allowed to have whatever they want for breakfast on their birthday, choose cereal. Not just any cereal, but the type of cereal with so much sugar it makes your toes curl. They don’t want pancakes or waffles or strawberry-flavoured milk or ice cream—nope. It’s all about the “vitamin-enriched” bits of crunchy wheat, enhanced with green marshmallows or chunks of chocolate. What’s not to love?

And so it is with my husband and I when we get to take off for a few days. More often then not we’ll choose a hotel room somewhere and hole up quietly there for days learning all about what the world has become while we weren’t paying attention. We’re the sheltered sort, you see, subsisting on nothing but Netflix and the movies and TV series lent out by the local parish priest. Cable? What’s that? Our little country eyes are opened wide when we’re out and about on vacation—positively glued to the Captain Crunch of the adult world for hours at a time. The Television.

Yet this time around I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I normally would mostly because I’ve been reading a book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander (with my husband eyeing me suspiciously). Because of it, our most recent sojourn into the worlds of Duck Dynasty and trashy teen dramas ended in a much more recollected state than it normally would have. Even just reading through the introduction of the book was enough to confirm the suspicions I’ve had for a while: that the TV and all of it’s shows (including the news) are almost exactly the same as the fructose-laden cereals these days—full of hot air and unnaturally bright colours and entirely devoid of any nutritional value.

What is it about that glowing blue screen with moving pictures that attracts us so much? We don’t experience anything of actual value, only a lulled stupor and manufactured emotions. Not only that but the images that are presented to our eyes along with the music presented to our ears connects with our brain in a specific way to create impressions deep within the psyche – impressions that are difficult to erase at times. And if you think that’s not true how many of you ladies out there recall how you felt when you watched the “king of the world” scene in Titanic, or for the guys, the “Freedom” scene in Braveheart? Goosebumps? Tears? And how is it that we can remember slogans and jingles from 20 years ago—yet we can’t recall what we had for dinner last Monday? I finally admitted to myself that contained in this box is some truly powerful stuff.

And it’s getting even more powerful as the advertising world pours billions (that’s thousands of millions!) of dollars into figuring out the human psyche, and then using that information to their financial advantage. All the while we sheep sit dumbly by, absorbing the subliminal messaging directly into our brain stems without knowledge or complaint. And then to teach these companies a lesson, we go out and give them our hard-earned money for products we generally don’t need, which, in turn, allows them to fund further, even more in-depth studies. As Mander says it, “The necessity for ever-growing markets, the need to create new need, the search for nuances of artificial discontent have required delving ever more deeply inside the human psyche to root out more subtle aspects of experience. Thousands of psychologists, behavioural scientists, perceptual researchers, sociologists and others have found extremely high salaries and steady, interesting work aiding advertisers. Like miners seeking new deposits of coal in the mountains, these social scientists attempt to mine the internal wilderness of human beings.” It’s one gigantic mind-numbing cycle—and we’re buying into it.

And it will numb our minds right down into the doldrums if we let it. As I was nodding off to sleep one evening last week I decided to log my “symptoms.” I noticed that I was exhausted after “resting” and watching TV for several hours late into the evening. I was bored, I recalled several unsavoury images, and I was still “seeing” the blue glow even though the TV was off and the room was dark. Yet the most concerning symptom (to me at least) was the recollection of certain people or plotlines as real—when they were anything but. What comes into my heart and mind from that box affects me and I find myself still contemplating the lives of fictional characters several days later. This isn’t the same as the characters in books, mind you. While books can garner a similar result, for me it’s the fact that the TV places images into my head—images I wouldn’t necessarily choose to put there in the first place—while a book provides words and your brain puts the rest together. Reading requires work, creativity and a little bit of interaction…whereas the TV requires me to do nothing but sit and veg.

So I’ve come to a point in my life where I have to make a choice—a decision about what I will and will not put into my heart and mind. I’ve already had to cut out the majority of crime/forensic shows and those that contain emotionally disturbing plots—but I think I might have to go further. I don’t think complete elimination of the television is possible for me (one has to consider that the lines of what constitutes a television these days are quite blurry with screens surrounding us on every side), yet even contemplating a decrease in daily screen-worship makes me twitch. What does one DO with four whole hours (the average amount of time spent watching TV in a day) of down time every night? I suppose I could read, or write, or bake brownies, or just sit and think about thinking. Because there’s no telling what kinds of thoughts will go through a person’s head when they’re not told, specifically, what to think.