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Does Television Diminish our Capacity to Love?

According to Mark Shiffman at the Front Porch Republic, it sure seems to:

The attention that constitutes love – love of others and love of the beauty of nature – requires patience and a kind of active receptivity. While a person, or a plant, animal, stream or valley is in front of us, we cannot take it all in at once. There is looking and listening to do, and this involves a real effort on our part, both to direct our attention and to quiet our distractions. We have to let it sink in, and reflect along the way on what is actually there before us and how it all fits together.

By habituating us to follow along impatiently and passively, to filter and frame the world before we’ve had the chance to see anything, television damages our capacity to love well, to love others and the natural world for what they are rather than for what they can do for us. Television is, after all, one of the great tools and purveyors of consumer culture. The culture of consumption and exploitation has every interest in encouraging our self-centered and unreflective egoism and our oblivion to the loveliness of the natural world. Why should we be surprised if the medium that is its most powerful tool encourages the same vices?

Good point. However, to bag on television is starting to become anachronistic. As I mentioned in my post on acedia and visual media, this is a point I take to be extremely important. But personally, I never really watch much actual TV. I do however spend hours watching the seemingly limitless TV shows that are available online. You don’t need a TV to get sucked in. All you need now is a laptop. And generally, I find that watching one’s media entertainment via computer is far more solitary and alienating than traditional TV. At least when I watch TV I tend to do it with other people from my household.

5 Comments

  1. Lee Wyatt wrote:

    From my blog:

    I was reading in Augustine’s CONFESSIONS today and ran across his reflections on theatrical entertainment in III.ii(2). After confessing his own attraction to such entertainment Augustine reflects on the impact these shows have on him (and on all of us). Attraction to this entertainment is “amazing folly” for him because it erodes the spectator’s ability to withstand the passions enacted in front of him or her. In fact, they become a source of pleasure, this vicarious experience of “grievous and tragic events.” It seems he is suggesting that such events have the capacity to shape us thorugh passive viewing in ways we may not find healthy.

    A further conequence of this kind of entertainment that Augustine observes is that it corrupts the quality of mercy. Aroused to such passion by the events happening on the stage the spectator is moved, not to action, but only to grief; and a spurious grief at that because the feeling of the pain that arouses this passion is the source of his enjoyment! Thus not only does this feeling of “mercy” not provoke us to sct (presumably in real life as well as in the theater) but it becomes absorbed into our own search for enjoyment and pleasure.

    In light of our preoccupation with such visual representations of all manner of “grievous and tragic events,” and our national debates over the impact of such on the minds. hearts, and wills of their consumers, it might repay us to reflect on Augustine’s reflections on this matter!

    Peace,
    Lee

    Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  2. Brenden wrote:

    I can see the point, although TV is just one of the means of which views are… Influenced. To rag on tv is like saying video games make children violent, it’s more of a symptom of the problem then the cause. Society tries to teach us that instant gratification is happiness and “success in life” if you will. We are told that to love or be in love is like having an emotional high and staying “In Love” is how long you keep that high.
    However this is not something that just came along with TV… cultures simply use whatever media source that is on hand to influence and justify it’s self interest.

    Brenden

    Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  3. S.A.Laffin wrote:

    I do not so much think that TV diminishes our capacity to love as it diminishes our conception of love. Much more damaging to love than the short attention spans which TV “may” develop is the inaccurate depictions of what love truly is that TV does portray. However, I too would agree that ragging on TV is getting a little anoying. Yet even in this there is the hope of true love being restored to us through Christ.

    Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  4. Andrew Tatum wrote:

    My wife and I still amaze our friends when we tell them that we don’t have a television. They quickly figure out that we’re posers because we are able to talk about the last 30-Rock episode we watched together.

    I see the author’s point, for certain and our son (and subsequent children) will not have the “benefit” of cable in the home. Our only television stays in a closet except for on special occasions when friends/family come over.

    I agree that it does diminish our capacity to know the difference between love and the million other counterfeit “loves” which vie for our attention. This is especially true when it comes to global “consumer culture.” As the author makes clear,

    “Television is, after all, one of the great tools and purveyors of consumer culture. The culture of consumption and exploitation has every interest in encouraging our self-centered and unreflective egoism and our oblivion to the loveliness of the natural world. Why should we be surprised if the medium that is its most powerful tool encourages the same vices?”

    That’s a great post and a wonderful response with good questions.

    Grace & peace,
    A.T.

    Friday, May 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  5. N. Dan Smith wrote:

    “By habituating us to follow along impatiently and passively, to filter and frame the world before we’ve had the chance to see anything, reading damages our capacity to love well, to love others and the natural world for what they are rather than for what they can do for us. Reading is, after all, one of the great tools and purveyors of consumer culture.”

    Lee’s post on Augustine is in line with my thinking on this topic. I am still not sure what this has to do with television per se. Over on Craig’s blog I noted that all of the side-effects of television (lack of attention to loved ones and surroundings, hindered imagination, passivity) are the same side-effects of any media, including books and the internet. Perhaps television has the advantage in terms of degree, but I don’t see a qualitative difference there.

    Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

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