When the first TV set came into our farmhouse I had been away at college for two years. It was in 1953 that the rabbit-eared snowy picture finally made its way into the hill country where I was raised. Back in those days my seminary college allowed no TV or radio.
With four years of graduate-school theology and then 12 years of pastoring large urban congregations, my TV time was virtually zero. It was not until my late 30’s that I finally settled down enough to marry, start a family and buy a TV set; but even then with my preaching, teaching and counseling, it was primarily cartoons on Saturday morning that I watched with great delight with my kids. How many times have I heard people reminisce about TV shows that I know nothing about?
So, sociologists who have been wrestling for the past 50 years over how much influence does TV have on society, would have to skip me since I am someone who has been “out of it” – a TV-less American.
However, there seems to be quite a reversal in the question of influence. Studies now (most recent – Yalda Uhla and Patricia Greenfield of UCLA), indicate that TV is influenced by society, catering to what’s going on with the American people. Over the past 40 years Americans have really changed and TV has been following those changes. The Uhla and Greenfield study, which covers the past 40 years, shows community concerns, benevolence and traditions to be the original dominant TV values. Today, however, they are at the bottom of the list, with fame and financial success heading the list. Dr. Jean Twenge’s 2009 book, “The Narcissism Epidemic: living in the age of entitlement,” identifies young Americans’ empathy and concern for others dropping some 48% since the 1950’s and their concern for self-promotion and personal wealth has increased 68%. TV is right on track, following America’s popularity of turning a deaf ear to: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled…[Mt 23:12]; as well as to, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Mt 19:23]
The bottom line: TV programming is directed by its viewers. May our steps be out-of-step with the direction of our present society and much of its TV viewing.
The Rev. John Burkhart Ph.D, is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology
firstname.lastname@example.org blog at inspirationsandideas