Royal Chrysanthemum
Image used with thanks to New Plants and Flowers.com

We are grandparents, and so we tend to be push overs. It’s true. No use denying it. However, in deference to parental authority, we try to limit the amount and type of television Honey watches. She’s very young yet, and would rather be playing in the backyard at the water table most of the time, so in general it isn’t much of a problem. When we do let her watch, its Mother-Approved kid television, and we tend to stay away from the big name brands. So far, so good.

The other day though, I was watching one of Honey’s favorite shows with her and I started thinking about the messages that were being sent, and I had a qualm. The story line involves a thief/kidnapper. He’s a cute little thief and he steals for love of the object/being (it’s a plant, but it kind of talks) he stole. And at the end, the hero suggests that he be given a job caring for that object/being, even though the object/being was made ill by the kidnapping. (Don’t worry, they watered her and she got well quickly.)

My qualm sat up and took notice.

“Isn’t that,” the qualm said, “like putting a fox in charge of the turkeys?”

“A bit,” I admitted, “but look, he’s really sorry.”

“Yes, ok, he’s sorry. But basically, he’s a kidnapper. And there are no consequences. In fact, he’s being rewarded. What’s up with that?”

The qualm had a point. Perhaps the writers of this show wanted to point out that everyone can be rehabilitated. Perhaps they wanted to show the value of mercy. I can hang with that. But I have to wonder if it’s a good idea to encourage the theory that doing bad things will reap good results. Of course, it’s only a kid’s show and how much damage can they do….ahem. Anyway, it has to be said that children aren’t the only ones who need to be careful in their viewing choices.

The number of messages that slip past our conscious minds every day is immense. From sit-coms to advertisements, everything that parades across the entertainment portal has a message, and most of them are intentional. If you don’t believe me, look at the following sentences:

The culprit slipped past the security guards in the dead of night and lifted a cool two million in blood diamonds from the impound offices.

Or

Electronic records show that a person entered the office building at 1:15 am. Two million dollars in diamonds are now missing from the inventory.

Both statements are technically accurate, but think about the way the first one made you feel. How much more certain are you of culprit‘s guilt than of person‘s?

The point here is not, “never let kids watch TV.” In point of fact, most of the episodes on Honey’s favorite video leave my qualms peacefully slumbering the sleep of the just. But it has to be acknowledged that everything with any kind of message also has a bias and that fact gives us all a certain amount of responsibility.

Writers are responsible for what we write. Even if its “just entertainment,” we need to be careful of the messages we send, especially if it’s intended for children. People need to think critically about the messages coming through their screens, and make their viewing choices accordingly. Notice I said people, meaning readers, listeners, viewers, etc., not just parents.

Of course it’s easier to just gulp down whatever hash the portal is slinging your way. But uncritical acceptance of that hash is mind-numbing and dangerous.  As humans we have a responsibility to ourselves and those who depend on us to differentiate between what is said and how it’s expressed. We need to give up the pervasive notion that all sources are reliable. We need to stop believing that “they wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true” along with the criminally negligent idea that we can’t be influenced by another’s bias. Marx was wrong. Religion is not the opiate of the masses; television is, and a lot of us need to go into rehab.

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3 thoughts on “Responsibility Rag

  1. A really good piece (as ever)- you are right to be concerned. Because I am an old fogey, I worry about the way that behaviour is judged in a relative way. Things are never good or bad. They are ” acceptable” or “unacceptable”- which is a mealy-mouth phrase. There are no absolutes any more. And it worries me. But that’s my problem, because the world is set on a course I never expected, and I have to push on down my own path and let others choose the way they want to live. Does that sound dreadfully preachy ? I don’t want to sound like that. Most people think I’m quite nice really…

    1. It doesn’t sound preachy. I know what you mean, because I do believe there are absolutes, and life has taught me the truth of action/reaction. A lot of things are relative, but some things are not and I worry that we have lost the ability to discern the difference between the two. So many are so desperate to be politically correct that they’ve lost the ability to think for themselves in favor of group-think. It’s the deadly assumption that, “Everyone is saying it, so it must be true,” that worries me the most. Lemmings are cute, but they live very dangerous lives.

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