Lately I’ve been getting pretty excited every Monday, because Mondays mean a new episode of Better Call Saul.
If you want an argument, come around and tell me that Better Call Saul isn’t the best thing on television right now, a magnificently written, shot, and acted portrait of people subject to slow moral decay.
Better Call Saul, like Mad Men and Six Feet Under and The West Wing and Sopranos are often cited as proving, definitively, that TV is just as valid an art form as novels or theatre or film.
I don’t think that’s at issue at all. For all that it spent its first 30 years being demeaned as the boob tube, we knew TV could be great ever since Lucy and Ethel got their job at the candy factory, or when Rod Serling warned us in voice-over that we were entering another dimension, one as vast as space and timeless as infinity.
Yes, TV can be good. It can be art.
Is that a sufficient argument for its continued existence? Scrimshaw carving and puppet theatre and yodeling can also be art, and we don’t give those nearly as much of our time.
The bigger question is, is TV good for us? Is it good for us as individuals, as families, as a society?
I think my weirdest personal opinion is that it is bad for us, on balance.
Great shows like the ones I listed don’t outweigh the fact that TV as a social force mostly serves to pin us to our couches after dinner, reduces social interaction, limits community activities, and impacts health.
Seriously. Think about what you’d do if you didn’t have access to TV – no streaming, no cable, no shows on your phone.
How do you imagine your life changing? Heck, how do you imagine the layout of your living room changing!
If there was a button that could wipe TV off the face of the earth, I’d push it.
(After the Better Call Saul series finale, of course.)
“Is that technology good for us or bad for us?”
We don’t ask that question often enough.
Technologies don’t just embed themselves in our lives on an individual level. At a certain point, not owning a TV becomes the act of a snob or a contrarian. You begin to lose connections to your friends and co-workers. How can you talk about the latest water-cooler show if you’re playing Settlers of Catan or going for walks or reading books? Your refusal to participate becomes a refusal to acknowledge the indisputable art that TV produces. You are missing out.
But once you let TV in, only the most iron-willed of people won’t just idly turn it on, searching for something to fill time.
(I certainly have watched my fair share of vapid reality TV.)
We are surrounded by technologies that don’t just mold us individually, but socially. And we don’t judge their positive or negative effects until they’re too deeply embedded to easily remove.
I don’t have any answers to this question.
But I think that we ought to consider it more often.
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