Escaping The Cyclops

I recall a couple of years back hearing a prominent politician remark that television enriches our lives. Well, it may be enriching her life but it is not, to any significant extent, enriching mine.

The one-eyed monster – reminiscent of Polyphemus, from whom Odysseus so cunningly escaped – is capable of sucking our brains out. This might have been easier to envisage years ago, when TV sets were constructed around cathode ray tubes, each of which contained a vacuum. Nowadays, the more appropriate metaphor has the vacuum inside the viewer’s skull sucking up the garbage being broadcast like a Dyson greedily hoovering up dirt from a neglected carpet.

As with many other technological innovations, television is a great concept but all too often, driven primarily by commercial factors, it delivers instant gratification at the expense of knowledge and enlightenment. Bah! I hear you say, television is all about entertainment! Well, perhaps it is but entertainment is not usually the same thing as enrichment, which is what we are talking about here.

When I look at the fare being shoved down our throats (or not, ironically, in the case of the ever-proliferating food programmes), I see several problems. But if I had to sum up my dissatisfaction in a single phrase, it would be “lack of subtlety”.

As in literature, television often adopts as a theme the eternal struggle between good and evil. But televised dramas, in an effort to be visually captivating, rely on formulas that stretch credibility beyond sensible limits and desensitise us through the overt use of violence, sex and other devices designed to shock us.

Of course, the more shocks we absorb, the more shock-resistant we become, perpetuating the vicious cycle. Graphic mortuary scenes, once novel, are now used routinely in the ever popular forensic science crime shows and are losing their effect through overuse. Our appetite for gore is ultimately limited.

Although I am a little disturbed by the popularity of dark crime fiction on television, I have to confess that it is a compelling genre. I watch it myself sometimes – especially in the form of the brilliantly conceived and executed “Scandi’s”. We all like something a little noir once in a while but I cannot help feeling that the balance has become too skewed to the dark side.

My overriding view of television is that it encourages us to be lazy. It works best when there is a fortuitous alignment of our mental state with the programme scheduling. I arrive home at the end of a long, hard week and my brain wants mild stimulation without the need for much effort. If there is a first class drama, a fascinating documentary or a classical concert airing, viewing is a pleasure.

If, however, television starts to take over our spare time, becoming a sort of addiction, we should take decisive action. Perhaps, like Odysseus, we could plunge a sharp stick, hardened in fire, into the malevolent eye. If you find this idea too extreme, The Knot Garden suggests you simply think about how you could spend the time more constructively. Go for a walk, have a drink in the pub with your partner, read a book or do some writing.

Whatever we do, we must make sure that we are able to escape the evil clutches of the Cyclops.

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