In Defense of TV

“Television: Teacher, Mother, Secret lover!” – Homer J. Simpson

“If you read a lot of books you are considered well read. But if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not considered well viewed.” – Lily Tomlin


I wrote some version of this “Defense of Television” in June of 2010. It is unreal how much things have changed for television in a few short years. The novelty of what I wrote then seems irrelevant today when television has gained the respect it now enjoys in its own right. It is still worth a read, if not only to marvel and yell, “Momma, we made it!


Let me tell you a story. In 2008, while majoring in film at the University of Miami (Go Canes!), I took a class called “The Philosophy of Art“. Early on in the semester the professor asked us three things: What standards did we think led to some art forms being more highly regarded than others? What standards decided a thing was good within it’s artistic category? What classified the form as art to begin with? In other words, what decided that anything was art, and who decided the criteria on which to rank it? The consensus, on all counts, had something to do with the thing’s “intrinsic value” to humanity.

While some defended the value of toilet installations and others voiced their perplexity at Jackson Pollock, everyone seemed to agree in the value of “film” (you know, movies — no surprise there coming from a group of college kids). And yet, much to my dismay, every last student concurred that television had no intrinsic value. ALL OF THEM.  I. Was. Hurt.  Aware that the professor was a die-hard Battlestar Gallactica fan, I shot him a pleading glance in hopes of an immediate rebuttal; but alas, in typical Socratic fashion, he instead schooled us on the history of the novel (bear with me here, you might learn something).

Minum = Art? Er...So as it turns out, the novel had about as much artistic value as a Pokemon card up until the late-18th/early-19th century! Literature? What was that? Not until the emergence of works such as Robinson Crusoe (1741) and, finally, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1812) did the novel even begin to garner the kind of respect and recognition it does today as an art! (Remember: Shakespeare wrote plays — events meant to be performed.) For a very long time, novels were the pastime of the expanding middle-class and were written about that very group of people! The upper-class — and self-appointed curators and sponsors of the arts — looked down upon such “trash” and deemed it mind-rotting and insignificant in comparison to the great works of historical fiction and of poetry.

What Professor Battlestar was attempting to impart is the same thing I am trying to convey here in my defense of television: that the “value” of any form of entertainment can only truly be measured in retrospect and by the effect and significance it has on its audience.  So, in this Golden Age of Television, I say: Television is art!

Unfortunately, today and for a long time before, television has been insulted and ridiculed by some of the greatest minds in the world:

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”  – John Lennon

“The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.” – Ray Bradbury (author of Fahrenheit 451; producer of The Ray Bradbury Hour)

“What is a television apparatus to man, who has only to shut his eyes to see the most inaccessible regions of the seen and the never seen, who has only to imagine in order to pierce through walls and cause all the planetary Baghdads of his dreams to rise from the dust.” – Salvador Dalí

Ouch. But, on the contrary. I feel liberated and inspired by television! Get me some peace, John!  I am not made of stone, Ray!  I’ve got plenty of planetary Baghdads (?), Dali!  Hopefully, if you’re here, then you share these feelings with me.  On the other hand, if you’ve never really put much thought into it and you simply enjoy a good TV binge to pull you out of your head, that works, too.

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3 Comments

  1. Mika
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    I clearly remember about 10 months ago when we had a similar conversation. I must say, you really made me look at TV in a new light thanks to this theory and I think you’re probably the only person that could do that (cheesy!). I’m glad you’re spreading your word! Good luck!

  2. Posted June 18, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Well said! Also, I love the look of your blog. Thanks for putting my site on your blogroll, and I’m happy to return the favor.

  3. Patty GD
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I love your writing. And I love your view on Television. I also am loving Dexter right now!!!