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It’s time to change the channel on long-lived television misconceptions.

Does TV Really Rot Your Brain?

Shutting Down TV Fallacies

It’s time to change the channel on long-lived television misconceptions.

By August Wright, College of Charleston


When I was seventeen years old, I developed chronic sinus infections that eventually led to surgery.

During this six month period, I was sick and usually stuck at home with nothing to do. Aside from playing countless hours of “Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker,” I also watched a ton of TV. My parents also really like television, so our cable package included every channel, which meant I was often rotating between movie channels, Cartoon Network, TV Land, Nickelodeon, The-N (now TeenNick) and then tuning in to Skinomax, which is late night Cinemax (We didn’t get the porno channels. Not the good ones, anyway).

I don’t have cable now, and I miss it. I know a lot of people are streaming because cable is very expensive, and websites like Netflix make it possible for people to pay a few bucks a month for a ton of shows and movies. But what I miss about cable is the channel surfing. Sure, I can look through Hulu’s huge library, but it’s not the same as mindlessly flipping and then becoming engaged in something that’s just on. If it weren’t for channel surfing, I would never have watched “The Nanny” (and if you haven’t, you should).

Channel surfing aside, though, I think everyone would probably agree that television has gone way beyond shows like “The Nanny.” Don’t get me wrong—it’s funny and sitcoms are my favorite genre of television, but the stories aren’t there. “King of Queens,” for example, operates on a very basic premise: Two self-absorbed, childless people are married and living in Queens, and one of them is a UPS-type delivery driver. The show’s funny, the characters are believable (albeit a little ridiculous) and the theme is catchy. But the key difference between “King of Queens” and a show like “LOST” is that I can tell someone I watched 8 straight hours of “LOST” and their reaction will likely be, “Oh my God, isn’t it so good?” whereas if I tell someone I did the same with “King of Queens,” they’ll probably say, “You should read a book,” or “TV rots your brain,” or just, “Why?”

Does TV Really Rot Your Brain?
Image via Viacom

With today’s shows, from “Stranger Things” to “American Horror Story,” I think it’s probably fine to ask whether or not TV really does rot your brain. Hours of watching “Jerry Springer” and “Maury”—two examples of my favorite, classically trashy TV—isn’t good for you. But what about shows that stimulate the brain (think “Brain Games”), or shows with well-written, compelling stories (think every season of “LOST” except the final one, or “X-Files”)? Do these “rot your brain,” too? I’d argue that it’s actually probably more stimulating to watch a documentary or a show like “Brain Games” than it is to read “Harry Potter” (because, let’s be honest, the story is good, but the writing is a C+ at best).

I think the supposed “disadvantages” of watching television are sort of dying out. Most of the problems people associate with watching TV are issues that we now associate with pretty much any kind of entertainment.

I’ll share some of these disadvantages with you:

1. Television Will Make You Antisocial

Alienation does sound like a problem, but isn’t social media sort of making everyone antisocial anyway? Unlike television, though, social media causes people to act in antisocial ways all for the sake of being “social.” For example, ignoring your friends at dinner because you need to re-tweet something and update your Facebook status and also you need to post a selfie to Instagram, take 50 photos of your food, post those online, etc.

2. Watching TV Is a Waste of Your Time

This disadvantage is my favorite because I can think of a hundred things that are more wasteful than watching TV. How about spending 20 years of your life with someone who eventually cheats on you or, worse, runs over your cat?

You could claim that getting hammered is a waste of time, too, but I won’t make that argument because getting hammered is fun.

3. Television Is Taken Way Too Seriously

Alright, yes, that Russian boy did commit suicide after his favorite “Naruto” character died, but that’s not most people. Also, what about people who take video games too seriously (namely my mom after she loses several races in Mario Kart)? And don’t “good” books do the same thing? I know plenty of people who were actually really upset by the multiple deaths in “Harry Potter” (especially Fred’s).

4. TV Is Shallow, and If You Watch It, You’ll Be Shallow

But don’t worry! Posting 300+ pictures of yourself to Facebook and Instagram—and then neurotically checking to see if people are liking/commenting on those photos—will show you just how shallow TV has made everyone. Seriously, though—as long as being shallow isn’t a significant detriment to your decision-making process, it’s fine.

5. Television Stereotypes Will Warp Your Mind

Oh, right. I forgot that, before TV, there weren’t propaganda posters, which depict Chinese immigrants eating rats. I mean, sure, the Jim Crow and Zip Coon characters were featured first on radio, but those probably didn’t lead to eventual lasting stereotypes, which were then moved to television. Thankfully, movies, books, music, comics and video games are totally devoid of all stereotypes.

6. Watching TV Is Bad For You

Okay, so I’ve been pretty sarcastic through most of this list, but I agree with this last point.

Sitting on the couch is bad for your health, and if you are someone who’ll spend a four-day weekend sitting in a dark room, binge-watching TV, you should make time to go for a walk or at least move around. The obesity rates in America aren’t getting any smaller and neither are American people, so…you know, go out there and have some sex in between episodes.

Television also has advantages that people don’t really talk about. Aside from TV bringing people together—people hosting Oscars or Super Bowl parties is one example—it can also act as a helpful distraction. When I’m alone, I often turn the TV on just so there’s noise. I’m a pretty lonely person (but hey, who isn’t?) and the TV helps fill in that space where there’s just nothing. For a long time, probably eight years, I would leave the television on all the time, even if I was reading or writing or sleeping. It would be muted (because who the hell can think when Springer is orchestrating a white trash & skank brawl?) but I could hear the television humming, which I found comforting after getting over how annoying it was.

I think that if you’re using TV to distract yourself from or to cope with something—whether it’s loneliness or sadness or anger or homework—that’s better than binge eating or hurting yourself or taking your frustration out on someone you care about. I think professors are more understanding of the, “Oh, I didn’t read because the new episode of Super Popular Show That All the Cool People Watch was on” excuse over the, “My life is in shambles!” thing. Probably because Jim Halpert always gets better reception than Kim Kardashian (even if she is sobbing).

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