Writing Center
Fall 2009 Edition

Watching Values Fade

Jordan Gullo
Argumentative 2010 1st Place
Professor: Bryce Christensen

Stumbling into my home after an eventful day at work, I called out, "Hello family! I'm finally home!" Silence answered me. I continued around the corner into the front room to witness a scene far too often repeated. My little brother was sprawled out on the love seat, while his unwanted clothes and unopened books lay spread around him. My mom sat on the outer edge of the couch as if she were getting ready to stand, only to take newly washed shorts from the laundry pile, habitually fold them, and place them in the empty space behind her. My father reclined his lazy-boy chair, bag of pretzels in hand, and sighed with contentment. The lights were dim, and all their eyes were locked onto the latest Survivor episode displaying on our 50-inch plasma screen TV. The sound of my entrance to the room released them from their unified trance. My mom touched the pause button on the DVR, and finally welcomed me home. Interrupting my summary of the day, my brother snapped, "Come on sissy, we're trying to see who gets voted off!" Grinning with part of his last pretzel still rolling around in his mouth, my dad mumbled, "Yeah…" I rolled my eyes, and my mom tried to sympathize by telling me we would talk after the show concluded, before clarifying, "Oh, and after CSI." The television had won my families attention. The technology of television is useful and generally entertaining. Despite this, without rationed or proper use, traditional family values are being compromised by television consumption. Some of the consequences of excessive TV viewing include decreased family time, diminished parental influence, damage to the nuclear family structure, and a lack of needed communication.

Philo Farnsworth invented the television. The idea for it stemmed from the science fiction accounts that chose rotating mirrors that just were not fast enough to catch valid lighting for a moving image. Over months of pondering, Philo hypothesized that if he were to confine light in a jar, and transmit the light in individual lines of electron beams, then he could magnetically deflect the single lines. Together, those lines would produce a picture in motion. His first successful telecast was in 1927 (Landen). Initially it had a limited impact, but the United States and Western Europe were gradually introduced to TV after World War II. Near the end of the 1950's, one or more television channels were available to majority of the countries in the Western Hemisphere. By 1970 almost all households were equipped with at least one television set (Roberts). At present, in an average American household contains 2.24 TV's, and 250 billion hours per year are spent watching them (Herr).

Television undoubtedly has benefits. The world wide coverage of different various events can be brought to living rooms, health care offices, airports, phones, laptops, modes of transportation, and restaurants. There are channels provided specific media addressed to different preferences like history, cartoons, drama, movies, comedy, etc. Much of the output has the capacity educate lives, assuming viewers recognize the value of what they are watching. Telecasts of presidential elections, important emergency newscasts, and other digital meetings can be shown all around the world because of TV. Various other benefits include watching shows about different cultures, instant world and local news, and by enhancing desire to learn more about the world because of what is watched ("Good Things"). TV is good and should be watched, but to be effective it should create some kind of change.

Philo had expected the function of TV would be mostly educational. He envisioned people learning about each other, artistic displays of Shakespeare, and short views of history, all to help people's intellect and enrich lives (Goldstein). Though few in number, there are still channels that give attention to that form of enrichment. However, with changing times the screen has become increasing filled with violence, sexual content, and negativity in the news. At least one of these have appeared in eighty-four percent of television shows since 2001 ("Television's Impact"). Once Farnsworth realized that the subjects filling the screen were a low percent of what he dreamed, he restricted the television from being viewed within his own household and claimed, "I have created a monster, a way for people to waste a lot of their lives" (Goldstein). While the consequences of his invention are not as severe as other vices such as gambling or cigarettes it has impacted family values. Farnsworth never intended his breakthrough to jeopardize the values of the family.

A traditional, or nuclear, family is defined as a social unit made of parents and the children they raise. Values are the foundation for how the family, specifically the children, learn, grow, and function in the world, and these values are derived and strengthened from the amount of time they spend, or do not spend together (Duffy).

In the most successful families, the amount of time is only as important as the quality of the moments. Time spent "together" in front of a TV can defeat the purpose of being together. A 2007 study found when a group of four to six year olds were asked which they would rather prefer, to either spend time with their fathers or watch TV, over half of the children chose television (Herr). Memories of time as a family can recall laughter, accomplishment, struggle aided by support, and learning. Such growing moments have a far more lasting and greater value than mere entertainment.

Most people claim that there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done, which seems to include a lack of time for their family relations. Though 49 percent of TV owners claim they watch too much TV, the average American parent will spend only 3.5 meaningful minutes of time with their child per day (Herr). Meaningful, in this case, means that parents use the opportunity to reinstate the lessons of growth, answer questions, and listen.

Throughout the length of a typical day, where do the other 836.5 minutes go? For a parent, maybe 420 are sacrificed for work, and a grade-school student a possible 360 minutes are given to a classroom. Work and education time hold a strong priority, but average working adults still watch more then 240 minutes of television a day, totaling 28 hours of TV time a week, or 2 months out of year. As for the student, about 900 hours are spent in school during a typical year, but a usual child will accumulate 1500 hours of TV at the same time (Herr). These figures imply here is always enough time in the day. However, most people fail to realize that on most occasions the time they spend placed in front of a TV is wasteful, unproductive, and potentially damaging to the family.

Also, it is highly unlikely that those 3.5 minutes of parental guidance will have greater impact then what the TV portrays about the world. On average, by the time a child is done with elementary school, he/she will have witnessed 8,000 or more murders on screen. As well, they see over 20,000 30-second commercials a year (Herr).

With violence, sexual propaganda, and materialistic values found in both entertainment and advertisement, one can only hope that children do not believe the fictional world of sitcoms and commercials to be a reality. Additionally, fictional and inaccurate portrayals of parents and children can have a damaging impact on the real interactions of those who view them. This hope is relevant because television is simply inescapable within our current culture. People tend to depend on TV for everything including news, education, culture, sports, music, and especially entertainment (Media Awareness Network).

I was privileged to interview Dr. Michael Morgan, a communications professor at the University of Massachusetts and an author of many articles on the subject of family values and television. He caught my initial attention by stating in one of his research papers, "…on more than one occasion fictional television has been cited as a major contributory influence to the apparent destruction of the nuclear family" (Morgan, "Television") From this statement in his article, I asked him if he thought that the TV babysitter is influencing the children themselves to act differently. Michael declared, "The more people watch TV, the more they see the real world in the terms that TV portrays it" (Morgan).

Morgan is not the only person to believe this. In 2007 there were over 4,000 studies being done on the effects television has on children, and 79 percent of Americans believed that TV's visuals precipitated real life mayhem (Herr). Researchers have said that due to a constant viewing of violence and other improper acts, children can have an increased fear of the real world, be numb to the results of violent acts, and have indeed intensified aggressive behavior ("Television's Impact"). Proper parental influence is needed because of the power of visual interpretation.

As standards for entertainment have changed we can not ignore the historical change in TV families and standards. There are distinct differences in the portrayal of the family in the past compared to the acceptable family of today. These differences, or deviances, have affected family structure.

Sociology teaches that deviance refers to behaviors or attitudes against cultures norms. The deviance in TV families started after the 1950's. Social movements such as the Gay Women Movement, or the National Organization for women filled the media throughout the 60's and 70's. This gave the world new views on individualistic women, and led to acceptance of the gay community. All of these changes in society gave entertainment stations new stories to tell ("Deviance").

Television networks kept up with the times by changing the structure away from 1950's fictional but idealized families, like the Cleaver family in Leave it to Beaver. This family was nuclear and heterosexual. Also, they demonstrated traditional gender roles, where the man was the sole provider and woman was the homemaker. In the post-war era, most people aspired to have this type of family. Slowly, more diverse structures of the family were represented on TV as a result of the changes in society ("Deviance").

One particular series, Sex and the City, depicts the lives of four educated women. Their lives are focused on struggles with men, and the deviant nature comes from being single, and over thirty years old. Rising in number since 1996, single parent homes make up forty four percent of American households, and thirty three percent of births were to unmarried moms ("Deviance"). Even Dr. Morgan found throughout his research, "television viewing had a significant negative effect on so-called 'traditional family values' regarding single-parenthood" (Morgan). These new family structures were more widely accepted because of movements within society being shown fictionally on TV, but in no way is it the main cause for why parents choose or do not choose single parenthood. This is supported by another thought of Dr. Morgan, "The single-parent family fits TV's need for 'interesting' dramatic contexts/formats, and this ends up normalizing non-traditional families. On one hand, that's a good thing. But as we argue, the single-parent family of TV is not the single-parent family of reality, and this may be damaging to actual people" (Morgan). Probably one of the most important family values affected by television is communication. While paying attention to the screen, the process of conveying messages and creating a shared understanding cannot be done. In the same interview with Dr. Morgan, I asked him if he believed that television impedes the communication of the family, which is specifically related to his research. He responded:

[Because] the vast majority of time family members spent together was with television… Most family communication revolved around television. Even if they weren't explicitly talking, television was the context within which most family communication took place…But now, there is less and less co-viewing, with family members all watching in their separate rooms. This impedes family communication…but it also reduces the amount of conflict there used to be over television. Television is now more of a symptom of a lack of family communication. In the old days, television was the main thing they talked about; now it's not clear that they talk at all. (Morgan)

I found this important because Morgan has highlighted how communication has decreased because of the access to multiple televisions. Within my own home, there are seven TV's for a family of four. Sometimes my family and I can be home at the same time, and not know it.

Addictions like alcohol and drugs have long been known to cause damage to families. TV can also be addictive. "Millions of Americans are so hooked on television that they fit the criteria for substance abuse as defined in the official psychiatric manual," according to Rutgers University psychologist, and TV-Free America board member Robert Kubey. Like all addictions, it is necessary to recognize when there is one present. The fact that TV can be classified as a substance abuse based on the five dependency signs, should be a warning that there is a limit (Herr).

Like others affected by family members being hooked to TV, I lived with an addict. My mom does not recognize her limit. Those five dependency signs are evident within her lifestyle. For example, she tends to use the TV as a sedative, to get away from the real world. Often she will lose self-control and not realize how much time she spends in front of the TV, resulting in an angry outlook for letting herself. Yet, nothing stops her from watching all of her shows every week. Without her fill, she feels unhappy or stressed. Stats do show that at least forty nine percent of Americans know they watch too much, yet the numbers have not decreased (Herr). Whenever my mother was glued to the TV, I felt distant from her. Others in the same position understand how hard it can be to express feelings to someone who lives in their own reality show.

There are more long-term benefits outside of the television world. Families need to be engaged socially together, and with others, in order to use and harvest the values to make them a better person. Such things as outside activities, board games, discussions, road-trips, service projects, and family dinner can help strengthen time together without the TV.

In conclusion, there are positive and useful things that come from the television. However, excessive TV can diminish some of the important values like needed family time, parental influence, nuclear family structure, and communication. To get the best out of these values, moderation of TV is needed. In no way is it necessary to tear away the very foundation of traditional family values.

Works Cited
"Deviance and the Shifting of Center in TV Depictions of American Families." Deviance in TV Families. n.p. 5 Jan. 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2009.
Duffy, Susie. "Defining Your Family's Values." Family IQ. n.p. n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2009.
Goldstein, Ken. "6 Geniuses Who Saw Their Inventions Go Terribly Wrong." Cracked. Cracked Entertainment. 5 April 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2009.
Herr, Norman. "Television and Health." The Sourcebook for Teaching Science. Jossy-Bass Publishers. n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2009.
Landen, Hal. "The Birth of Television." Video University. Oak Tree Press. n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2009.
"Good Things About Television." Media Awareness Network . Media Awareness Network. n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2009.
Morgan, Michael. "Television and Family Values: Was Dan Quayle Right?" Mass Communication and Society 2.5 (1999): 47-64. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO Host. SUU Sherratt Lib., Cedar City, UT. 24 Oct. 2009.
Morgan, Michael. "Questions concerning your work on Television and Family Values: Was Dan Quayle Right?" E-mail to Author. 3 Nov. 2009
Roberts, Armstrong. "Television." FAQS. CORBIS. n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2009
"Television's Impact on Kids." Media Awareness Network. Media Awareness Network. n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2009.