Kill your TV

‘Half man, half tree’: it’s not a news headline because it’s not news. It’s exploitative tripe, the title of a the latest in a series of Channel Five documentaries about people with severe deformities. You know the sort of thing. They’re usually called ‘remarkable lives’, ‘being human’ or ‘just like you and me (only with something spectacularly wrong with them)’, because some clever marketing type knows that if you play sympathetic music and pretend to be making a serious, sensitive documentary, people won’t notice that what it is is a freak-show. The callousness we deplore in people who jeered at Joseph Merrick has been given a different gloss. In the nineteenth century, it was ‘scientific’, today it’s all about ‘human interest’. We know it’s sick, but we watch it anyway, because it’s on tv. Because it’s as easy as a click of the remote, we sit for hour upon hour, voyeuristically taking amusement from someone else’s suffering. Because it’s on tv, even the Telegraph last week ran a piece about the man with warts that resemble roots on his hands, creating legitimate news out of PT Barnum style exploitation.

Because something is on tv, because it is given tv budget, scripting, direction and visual treatment, we think we are somehow better than Victorian crowds looking at human beings in cages at a fair-ground. That is the illusion of television. One of the many.

But before I get on what channel five might call ‘the boy whose pony did heroin’ (or: ‘my high horse’) let’s be honest: it’s not about watching better tv. TV, in itself, as a whole, is of the devil. Too harsh? Okay, answer this: why do so many Christians live only for themselves from day to day rather than running soup kitchens or witnessing to their neighbours? ‘No time,’ is the common answer. And what is the greatest time-thief of them all? Where can we lose an evening without realising it, every day of the week? I’ll give you a clue: it’s not the gym and it’s not church. In 2006 the average American tv consumption was 8 ½ hours a day.

Many Christians dislike tv because of the filth and violence on it. They are missing the point. Beyond the ADHD it breeds in children, the negative messages about sex, body image, violence, money and consumerism, tv is bad because it is so good at entertaining us we have given over most of our free time to being entertained. And every Christian who doesn’t realise that being entertained is not why we were born (or born again) has missed the point of his faith.

It’s not the content, the physical freak shows of Channel Five or the social freak shows of most day-time tv. It’s the fact that it occupies both of your most powerful senses, making you a passive receiver of whatever information it spews out. It’s the fact that it sucks away your time in increments of hours or half hours. It’s the fact that we’ve become so addicted to it, ‘family time’ is now ‘tv time’ (not sure that’s true? Where do the sofas point in your living room? What does that say about our ‘family values’?).

From 21 to 27 April 2008 is International TV Turnoff Week. Think of it as fasting, think of it as a second Lent. Think of it as an opportunity to see for yourself what a hold tv/PS3/Wii/Xbox has over you and your family. Go cold turkey for a week. Who knows what you’ll do, who you’ll spend time with and what God might show you when you’re not staring at that screen? Visit , and for information on the 2008 and 2007 campaigns.

Without a hint of irony i now share something from tv:


2 Responses

  1. Hey can I reference some of the insight from this blog if I reference you with a link back to your site?

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