Lies that television told me


As I write this, my in-laws are driving five hours to come visit. According to television, this should frighten me. My mother-in-law will suggest other men my wife should have married, and my father-in-law will glare and sneer at me at the same time–sort of a snare, if you will. Except, this won’t happen. Oh the many splendid lies of television.

Even the best of parents can’t shield their children from television’s grasp, and even the nimblest of minds get corrupted by distorted television portrayals. One of the classic ones to use in a communication class is to ask what percentage of Americans work in law enforcement? Students, having been fed a diet of Law & Order, CSI, Bones, etc. will respond rather highly. Sometimes as high as forty percent or more. The truth is that as of 2004, 3.5 out of every 1,000 people worked in law enforcement (or less than one percent).

In other words, television distorts terribly our view of reality. Watch reruns of The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond, or a variety of other sitcoms and you’d think every mother-in-law hated their son-in-law. This is likely true for some, but for most? Watch Bones or CSI and you’d assume that crime stoppers had almost bottomless coffers with which to battle criminals. Watch Friends or How I Met Your Mother and you’d assume most young singles lived fabulous lives in spacious apartments while having sex with different partners week in and week out.

Of course, most of us are keenly aware television and film are fantasy. We know that Keanu does not know kung-fu, or at least in the manner portrayed in The Matrix. We know that Bugs and Daffy blowing each up with dynamite would kill the average rabbit and duck (this is to say nothing of robo-ducks). But those crime numbers are startling. How many of us would guess the numbers were that low?

As a teacher, I am both amused and troubled by my profession’s depiction on television. Teachers are usually young, good looking types that waltz into a classroom throwing high-fives while explaining Hamlet using a single rap song. These types might exist, but this not only grossly oversimplifies the work of a teacher, but the complexity of Hamlet. In medicine we see Dr. House solve one perplexing diagnosis after another, but in reality? In reality we watch as friends and loved ones die from ailments doctors are unable to diagnose. Maybe if they’d just been smarter, or worked harder? Like Dr. House.

I don’t hate television. Obviously the world of Professor Hobo is a distorted view of academia. But all too often I find myself buying into the small lies of television, if not the big ones. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a show choir team to inspire with improvisational adaptations of classic rock.


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