The Television Problem

By Bargo


Wait a Minute, What's the Problem?

Well, there are actually several problems:

If you're thinking that's just my own deranged opinion, I invite you to prove to me that television is not an inert activity, that it doesn't attempt to program its viewers, and that it is a not a waste of time. I wish you the best of luck, because I believe that those three points above are logically true. But this isn't about judging the viewers and fans of television (by the way, stop identifying with this kind of stuff), it is about the dangerous effects of television viewership, so if I haven't offended you too much thus far, let's dive into the deep end.

(A quick note: my definition of television includes traditional media syndication, AND streaming services like Netflix. Not everyone includes streaming services, but with their abundance in 2021, it would be foolish to ignore them.)

As an Inert Activity

I don't think anyone will really argue that television viewing is a physically engaging activity so I'll do no more than simply acknowledge that nonfact, but it is not a mentally engaging activity either. TV doesn't require you to focus, hang on every word that is said by its characters, or take a long stare at the images to get the point across. The shows are made to be as easily followable as possible to appeal to the lowest common denominator of people: as a result, the potential viewership is anyone with access to a TV. When programming is so easy to digest, its not mentally engaging enough to be anything more than an inert activity.

Now, this isn't to say that I mean that television is not fun. It can be fun, but the issue is that it isn't productive, or rejuvenating fun, that is, fun that makes the viewer more skillful, or fun that is restorative. Productive fun could be painting, reading, playing a musical instrument, and rejuvenating fun could be taking a nap, going on a nature walk, or spending some quality time with your special someone. Some of these examples even overlap, giving the participant the benefits of both productivity and rejuvenation. Television offers none of that productivity or restoration, it is a thing-in-itself that people watch because it is there: it is self-induced boredom pretending to be live experience.

Since television is an inert activity, an activity in which a participant does nothing, it is physically harmful in that the participant could be doing something physical instead, or even something more mentally taxing to better his mind. TV is a large part of the obesity problem in America: people would rather watch TV than do something physical, and keep in mind, since I write a lot about autonomy and such, that if one is not physically capable of much other than consooooming product, then they are a dependent of the system seeking to strip them of their freedoms. Consooooming television has the detrimental effect of convincing us that we are experiencing the events on the television in some way (vicariously, that is), but in reality we are staring at a screen with moving images doing nothing but getting fatter, and getting further programmed to which we now turn our attention.

Programming or Programmed?

Television has programming on it, and perhaps back in the day that was its main purpose, but now it seems TV is used mostly to program people. We've all seen examples of this: every news outlet has either a left-wing or right-wing bend to it; kids' shows, no matter their intentions, ultimately hinder children from acquiring experiences; and reality TV impresses upon its viewers that THIS is how real life is. Whether the producers of this content cognizantly do this or not is irrelevant; whether viewers of said content get these programmatic hints or not is also irrelevant, because if they watch the videos enough, they will begin to absorb the hints subconsciously. And don't worry, they'll watch enough: the average American, despite claiming to be terribly busy, always manages to squeeze in 4 or more hours of television per day; with that kind of consumption, it is inevitable that the viewers will eventually absorb the positions of their TV programs. Viewers are programmed no matter the intentions of the TV programming.

"But Bargo, What About Bob Ross?"

Yes, there is a miniscule amount of televised content that is actually educational, but is that what everyone is tuning in to? Do programs like Bob Ross' program from back in the day make a lot of money? You know the answer to both of those questions, so I won't answer them; as Neil Postman said in Amusing Ourselves to Death, television is best at producing junk, furthermore, I'll add that that's precisely what its viewership expects.

Let us consider for a moment the potential pitfalls of being programmed by our programs: news stations with a strong political bend will likely persuade its viewers to its side, or further indignate its opponents. Kids' programming, due to all of the humor in the more popular shows, doesn't teach anything of value, if anything it counterproductively teaches that foolish behavior is acceptable. That argument works for something like Spongebob Squarepants, but maybe not Sesame Street, so to that I'll counter that it replaces important developmental time, that is, acquiring new experiences with... nothing. Great job kids programming!

Reality TV is the biggest sinner of them all, so it gets its own paragraph! Unlike the other genres mentioned which apply a light nudge to think a certain way, reality TV applies a force equivalent to the smack from a 12-pound sledgehammer. And the answer is in the name: reality TV presupposes itself to be REAL, and acts as non-programmatic as possible to give the viewership the impression that this is how life is. The potentialities for manipulation are endless, and reality TV has succeeded when its viewers genuinely ask each other if they think it was staged.

Here's a real life example of just how effective reality TV is: when Pawn Stars and American Pickers came around, EVERYONE in my hometown and neighboring towns opened an antique shop, because they thought they could get rich doing it. Seriously, in my small, hokey town of about 5,000 people there are 5 antique stores. While this is fairly innocuous, imagine some edgier ideas that reality TV could adopt, and how the general public would respond. The possibilities are truly endless.

Time Waster?

"But Bargo, is it a waste of time if I enjoy it?"

While a waste of time is often defined by each individual, I would still argue that TV is almost always a waste of time; I'll explain that "almost" in the next header. Consider my examples of fun from the first critique, but further, let's apply this logic to another activity: how about my own writing here. That's right, Bargain Bin Philosophy is about to go meta: I am writing a basic critique on a common occurrence in the American household that no one may ever read; for the most part, I am enjoying doing it; but the difference here is that there is an output: this document. By writing, for fun mind you, I have a finished product to show for it, a new understanding of the topic of the work, and hopefully the work will influence its readers. That's a pretty serious payout for a little fun don't you think?

So that's the productive fun, but how about an example of rejuvenating/restorative fun? Here's another personal one: I recently purchased a hammock for 20 bucks that I can hang between any two trees about 20 feet apart. It might be the best 20 bucks I've ever spent: I can relax in the sun on warm days just snoozing, I can read a book, or even take it camping at some point for sleeping purposes. The hammock has been probably the most restorative thing I have ever acquired, and I can swing about in it for hours at a time: all the while, I can enjoy the birds singing, the warmth of the sun, and the lovely sensation of being off the ground.

Now tell me this, what has TV given you that comes even close to that kind of productive fun or restorative fun? Let's be honest and cut to the chase: the answer is a resounding nothing. It may be enjoyment, no one will deny that, but the fact that TV does not leave its consoooomers with anything to show for said enjoyment is indicative of its status as a time waster.

One Caveat

So far, my treatment of this subject has been quite harsh, and rightly so. TV has robbed an untold amount of time from the average person, but even worse, the culture of television has infected children as well, leading them to believe that watching TV is what they are supposed to do when they are bored. But there is a caveat from Amusing Ourselves to Death: TV can be beneficial to the old, and the infirm. TV can give these people, especially the ones who physically cannot do much, something to keep them from falling into an abyss of depression through vicarious experience. Sometimes, a good laugh from some old cartoon is a good thing, especially if the viewer has no one to keep them company.

But the average person is not laid up in a hospital, or terribly lonely (that is, of course, if they actually try to meet people) so television offers them no real benefits. It is a time waster, and while I believe most people realize that fact, no one seems to care enough about it to go do something productive or rejuvenating.


Television, it is an inert activity that programs its viewers and wastes their time. It simply is not healthy to sit in front of television for many hours, and absorb its opinions and definitions of reality. That last part, that reality, I'll have to explore in another article as hyper-reality, but I must very strongly admonish the waste of time that television is for the time being. Even if it strikes my dear readers as a little cringe-worthy, we only have a limited time to live, and no one knows just how much they have. If our time is spent, rather, wasted, on such a foolish activity, then that reflects very poorly on us as people. It says that we have all the time in world (which we don't) that we could use to accomplish great things, or simply have some natural fun, but we'd rather waste it doing, quite literally, nothing but consoooom product.

Since we may die at any moment, every moment is best spent deliberately. When I was still playing videogames, I probably played them obsessively for probably around 4 or more hours a day. That time seriously adds up; I've probably wasted an entire year or two or more of my life doing nothing and with nothing to show for it. TV consumption is no different; just imagine how much time a 60 year old has sunk into television, and consider how that time could have been better spent with artistry, relaxation, or spending time with their friends and family. Television is a choice between real-life, and escapist life which could be said to be life denial, that is, to ignore reality and create an otherworldly, non-existent reality, and if Nietzsche taught us anything, it was that to deny life is downright dehumanizing.