Television and an Idiot Culture

I recently read Os Guinness’ book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What To Do About It. It is a very brief, yet thought-provoking study on the history of evangelicalism and Christianity and culture. In it, he argues how the majority of American evangelicals have come to reject intellectual, theological, doctrinal, and knowledgeable Christianity. One argument he makes is that Christianity is being heavily influenced by secular American culture, particularly through television.

He makes a very convincing argument as to how television is encouraging a culture of entertainment and especially a non-thinking, idiot culture. I thought I would share part of what he says in this post:

“First, television discourse has a bias against understanding. With its rapid images, its simplistic thought, and its intense emotions, television is devoid of the context needed for true understanding. Its superficiality amounts to a form of disinformation. ‘Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.’

“Second, television discourse has a bias against responsibility. The same rapidity, variety, and intensity of images that provides the viewer no context for true understanding also prevents the viewer from engaging with the consequences of what is experienced. The abrupt – sometimes absurd – discontinuities between programming and advertising particularly makes this so. ‘There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political burden so costly . . . that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, ‘Now . . . this.'”

“Third, television discourage has a bias against memory and history. Its very pace and style creates a nonstop preoccupation with the present. Incoherent perhaps, irresponsible certainly, the ceaseless, breathless flow of the Now renders viewers incapable of remembering. As television superjournalist Bill Moyers laments, ‘We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little of the past sixty centuries or the last sixty years.’

“Fourth, television discourse has a bias against rationality. With rare exceptions, television so disdains ‘talking heads’ that the very act of thinking becomes unthinkable on television. A thinker questioned might pause to reflect, ‘Now let me see . . . What do you mean?’ But on television, such thinking is too slow, too uncertain, too boring. As any aficionado of such shows as ‘The McLaughlin Group’ knows, television answering is performing, not pondering. It is theatre rather than thinking, entertaining drama rather than edifying debate. To criticize such shows as if they were anything else is to miss the fun, they would say.

“Fifth, television discourse has a bias against truth and accuracy. Credibility was once linked to veracity – someone or something was believable because of being true or not true. Today, however, credibility serves as a synonym for plausibility – whether someone or something seems to be true. Credibility in the television age has little to do with principle and all to do with plausibility and performance. ‘Is it true?’ is overshadowed by ‘Was it compelling/sincere/entertaining/charismatics?’ The smile and the assured answer now carry the day.”