TV Turn-Off Week - Another view

Larry Adelman (
Fri, 29 Jan 1999 17:24:35 -0800 (PST)

I’ve been watching at first amused but now confused
as the most angry protests since its inception rage
on Video-L. Is the big target the giveaway of the
digital spectrum? The turn in universities away
from face-to-face teaching? Commercialization of
the internet? No, it seems the menacing threat is
TV Turn-Off Week, the audacious suggestion that
Americans do something with their minds other than
turn them over to the global marketeers for all of
seven days duration.

As for me, if anyone can encourage people to shut
off that which normally burns none-too-brightly in
the typical American home for six hours or so a day,
then all power to them.

Some claim this radical proposition smacks of
censorship. Don’t worry, TV lovers, I suspect
television will somehow manage to wiggle through TV
Turn-Off Week intact. Never in the history of the
world has an industry been more powerful and
omnipresent. As Robert Hughes reminds us, Ovid
warned of the siren call of television 2000 years
before it was invented: “I see better things and
approve them; but I go for the worse.”

As for fears about its impact on our precious
videos, might not TV Turn-Off Week, if anything,
encourage quality video use? Television executives,
in their need to deliver eyeballs to advertisers,
must incessantly turn up the heat since today’s
excitement quickly becomes tomorrow’s tedium. They
are stuck in a cycle of producing ever-increasing
sensation, celebrity, and spectacle - all of which
crowds out complexity and nuance and carefully
argued opinion. “20/20” now resembles Jerry
Springer without the guests. “Cops” now feels too
tame so they trot out “Cops: America’s Greatest
Car Chases” or “Cops: America’s Dumbest Criminals.”
And soon, coming to a station near you, “Blowing
Things Up.” In otherwords, TV is everything good
video is not.

But for those of us whose beat is education, just
how “good” are our videos anyway? Video circulation
has risen through the roof. But how well do our
videos really advance education’s goals of
intellectual development, social responsibility,
critical thinking, self-discipline, etc.? Is there
are a possibility our videos might be used - dare I
say it - too much? Can’t each of us name
(all-too-many) professors who screen videos out of
laziness or, perhaps worse, with the whiny excuse,
“My students don’t read anymore”? Well, hello? Isn
’t it your job to make them read? I can’t tell you
how many times faculty or administrators have
screened Newsreel diversity videos in lieu of
developing a real diversity agenda for their class,
residence hall or campus.

And that, perhaps, brings us to the best reason for
supporting TV Turn-Off Week. Watching TV is easy,
so easy it’s habit forming. In part, that’s because
TV demands little of the viewer. One of my
colleagues says, “Watching TV is what you don’t DO.”
You could call it the ultimate labor saving device.
Now, I won’t go so far as to claim it’s the scary
prospect of forsaking the plug-in drug that
motivates TV Turn-Off Week’s critics here on
Video-L. But I will claim that this addictive-like
aspect of television viewing provides an excellent
reason to turn away from it from time to time. If
it goes down better, don’t think of this as TV
Turn-Off Week. Just call it a TV Fast. Giving up
the tube for a week certainly won’t hurt - you or
anybody else. And who knows? You might not miss it
as much as you think.

Larry Adelman
California Newsreel
149 Ninth Street/420
San Francisco, CA 94103
phone (415) 621-6196
fax (415) 621-6522