Magazine article Insight on the News

Restoring Literacy and Honor Is Worth Taking a Few Shots

Magazine article Insight on the News

Restoring Literacy and Honor Is Worth Taking a Few Shots

Article excerpt

Now, here's the plan. Two plans, actually--balm for assorted aches and pains of the body politic. The appeal of these schemes is that neither is ballasted by reality.

This fits our age of rhetoric, when asserting something is, somehow, accepted as the same as having done it. This is a result of living in the first totally televised society--or, as historian Paul Johnson puts it, a "media democracy."

If you are older than, say, 55, you recall television's infancy, when bunches of us would gather at the appliance store to gape at the fuzzy images on the magical device. Or congregate in the living room of the first neighbor to have a set, mesmerized by the wrestling farces (remember Gorgeous George?) that were pretty much the fare.

Remember especially that programming would end at midnight. The sign-off would feature a sermonette by a local cleric, and the national anthem would play as the star-spangled banner filled the screen. Then, quiet!

What we need now is a TV sign-of that comes far earlier than in those antique days. It is needed, that is, if you believe that TV is a substantial cause of the cultural meltdown that accelerates with each gibbous moon.

Because there simply is too little decent programming to fill the chasm of viewing hours--which is to say, all day, every day--the bulk of what is televised is degrading, decadent and mindless.

Well, popular entertainment has been mostly dumb and dulling, if not demeaning, since Zeke and Juk Neanderthal killed time spitting into the fire. Most books, plays, poems, etc., are forgettable, at best.

But no medium ever has been so pervasive as the televised torrent that clogs our discernment.

Therefore, let's admit that the notion of four-plus decades ago that television could be educative and edifying as well as entertaining was just so much gurgling. The eagerness with which media executives (and not just of commercial television) have dumbed down most of what is shown reflects a patronizing premise --that the average viewer has the wit of a pothole.

The ideal regimen for TV would be this: The screen would flicker to life at 6 a.m. with weather and traffic reports and, of course, an update on crime and calamity. The soaps and the Oprahs could stake their distracting claims until 2 p.m. (This is an egalitarian plan.) Then all programs would cease until 6 p.m., followed by a three-hour "prime time"--and the tube would go black at 9 p.m.

The return of the test pattern would be a blessed interlude.

As a result, reading might be rescued from the edge of anachronism, families might reestablish relationships and the competition for fewer TV time slots might result in a level of programming that doesn't subtract from the sum of human sensibility. …

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